With tweaking, a single, well thought-out message that describes what your company offers to applicants can appeal to different generations of prospective employees. Job candidates all want good managers, flexibility, respect and learning opportunities.
But, it is how you sell your company’s unique blend of assets to applicants from each different market that closes the deal.
Cam Marston, president of Marston Communications, Charlotte, N.C., and other workplace experts divide the generations now in the workforce into mature job candidates who are over 61 years old, baby boomers who are 42 to 60 years old, Generation X workers who are 27 to 41 years old and Millennials (sometimes called Generation Y or Echo Boomers) who are under 26.
To customize your message to these different generations, “When you’re talking to a baby boomer or a mature worker, you want to emphasize your history, where you come from,” Marston says. But, “with Generation X or Millennials, talk about where your company is going, where they will go with you.”
Understanding the Generations
Carol Verret, president of Carol Verret Consulting and Training in Greenwood, Colo., says baby boomers—who may be planning to put off retirement because of money concerns— are not necessarily looking for a career path but for “a good, steady work environment.
They are looking to be included, to be on the team.”
With Generation X job candidates, “if you don’t let them know their input will be valued, they won’t buy in,” Verret says. A critical segment of the workforce now filling management positions, Generation Xers are often seen as unwilling to make the sacrifices that their baby boomer parents made to be successful in the workplace, perhaps because these Generation Xers have a different idea of what “success” means.
Millennials “want constant positive feedback,” Verret says.
“They want to be told they’re the most wonderful thing since sliced bread, that managers value their uniqueness.” Marston says members of this group have stayed closer to their parents longer and “have big ambitious goals but are clueless on the execution.”
Younger workers are impatient, says author Robert Morison. “They want to hear they can hit the ground running.
They don’t want a prolonged breaking-in experience.
They want training and then to move to the front lines quickly.”
They also care about “getting to work for other bright people, about getting experience,” Morison says, adding that they “want the workplace to be enjoyable, to have fun. They care that they individually receive respect; that’s probably one of the top things.”
Morison is co-author of Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), which addresses management’s challenges of attracting and engaging different age groups—mature (55 and older), midcareer (35 to 54) and young (18 to 34) workers.
He finds that mature workers respond to the message: “We’re the right organization for putting the punctuation mark on your career.”
“Show respect,” Morison says. “Don’t assume they are out of date, out to pasture. They want to contribute, learn and teach—put them in roles where they can. They have just as much hunger for learning new things. They want the opportunity to continue to learn.”
Morison says that mature workers enjoy knowledge-sharing roles such as mentoring and coaching and that the message to them might be “You can be a leader in this organization.”
With midcareer workers who are re-entering the workforce, the message needs to be that the company “recognizes your time and recognizes what you’ve accomplished even if you don’t have a recent track record,” Morison says. “The other important message for midcareer job candidates is ‘We have the flexibility to accommodate and support people with different lifestyles.’ ”
One message that resonates across generations, according to Morison, is “we’re not just going to give you a job; we’re going to keep your career in motion. Everybody wants to hear that, but midcareer candidates may need it most. By a slight margin, they are most likely to feel dead-ended.”
To customize the message for each group, Morison suggests that you say, “Here’s what respect means in our treatment of young, midcareer and mature workers. Here are our learning commitments to each group.”
Verret and Marston emphasize that it’s important for recruiters to really understand the need to customize how they “sell” the employer’s offerings to various candidates.
Customizing this message “may take more time, but the success ratio is going to be higher. You are in a sense a marriage broker,” Verret says.
Crafting a ‘Value Proposition’
Your HR “value proposition” is the message your HR department sends to applicants describing the core differences between your company’s offerings and your competitor’s offerings.
The message should answer the question “Why would I want to come work for your company?”
It “goes beyond the mission statement,” Verret says. “It’s what you deliver to your employees.”
To develop an overarching proposition that’s faithful to your company’s values, she suggests, talk with current employees and ask, “Why do you work here?”
Marston agrees with that approach. “You should ask employees: ‘How are we unique as a company?’ ‘What do we have?’ ” Marston says, “You should rely heavily on people who have worked other places and have chosen to work [at your company].”
Then use that information to shape a portrait of your company’s distinctive appeal. The most common mistake, according to Marston, is not making the value proposition distinguishable.
Too often it’s a vague statement such as “people are our most valued assets,” a message that’s too anemic for applicants in today’s competitive market.
Verret recalls one of the best value propositions she’s ever heard: "I will give you all the skills you need. If I can't provide you with enough challenge, I will help you find it. Have fun!"
'My Personal Enterprise'
Enterprise Rent-A-Car's value proposition "stresses what an individual can do to be a success as part of a team-oriented culture," says Marie Artim, the company's assistant vice president for recruiting. "Our brand is 'My Personal Enterprise.' It's a fun and friendly place."
While the St. Louis,Mo.-based company has opportunities at all career stages, Artim notes that much of its current recruiting is focused on Millennial candidates.
Entry into an Enterprise career is through the company's management training program, which it promotes as "an MBA without the IOU." Within two years of joining the company, employees will find that "the door is open to different facets of the business," Artim says, such as vehicle acquisitions, loss control, HR, marketing or Enterprise's internal insurance business.
"Our goal is to have many career paths within the organization.
Business skills and learning are important to the Millennial generation," she says. "They can have new challenges and be promoted rather quickly. They can grow, even change careers, without changing companies."
Enterprise's 57,000 employees have "a lot of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit. You are able to promote yourself and gain marketable business skills. These are the key points that tie to our value proposition," Artim says.
In its value proposition, defense and aerospace systems provider Raytheon Co. emphasizes flexibility, the ability to solve problems, and the ability to learn and grow. It sells that package, in different ways, to prospective employees from different generations.
With Millennial job candidates just out of college, "we address straight up the fact that they've been getting the message that they will have five or six career changes," says Jeff Goodman, manager of Raytheon's National University Program.
Millennials "approach the job from what can they get out of it, what kind of learning situation it offers.We are very much onboard with that. We speak with them about the kinds of flexibility we can offer them within Raytheon," Goodman says.
Goodman adds that many graduates are looking for more experience so they can figure out what they really like to do.
"Our role is to try to help them assess that and put them in situations where they can capitalize on what they like to do and are good at."
Part of the approach to selling the company to Millennials, according to Goodman, is that a lot of employees have been with Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon a long time. "It's a company that will provide people with challenges once they decide the direction they want to go. When they identify what they really want, they will always find someone to help them take that challenge."
And he calls it "a huge advantage for young people coming in" to work with so many experienced professionals. "Millennial engineers have somebody to go to when they get stuck."
With more-experienced workers, Raytheon emphasizes the flexibility that exists within the large defense and aerospace system supplier as a result of its wide variety of locations and projects.
"We have a tendency to have a large set of projects going at any time," Goodman says. "That means more program diversity.
We are constantly assigning people to a program, looking to see where they are on a program and where the next step might be to place them."
Raytheon understands that experienced professionals want different career paths, says Goodman. "There's the program management path; there's line management. Or someone can grow and be compensated for their technical knowledge. A skilled engineer or technical worker can become a senior fellow, which is almost an internal consultant."
At Raytheon, whatever the generation, it's about engineers. More than a third of Raytheon's 80,000 employees are in engineering and technical work. And in spite of differences among the generations, Goodman finds one universal:
"Engineers like to solve problems; they want to continue to grow and learn.
Stephenie Overman is managing editor of STAFFING MANAGEMENT .