A Good Place for a Wall-Street-Occupying Millennial? How About Wall Street!

Millennials covet some unexpected dream jobs, survey finds

By Dana Wilkie Mar 21, 2016
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Your organization wants to lure Millennials—those socially liberal, tree-hugging, peace-loving folks, the ones who distrust big government and the big institutions it funds, are skeptical of organizational hierarchy and demand flexible work schedules.

So what better place for a Millennial than the Army, right? 

What? 

That’s right. People ages 15 to 29 ranked the U.S. Army as No. 42 among their top 50 dream employers, according to a survey of 18,000 U.S. Millennials by the National Society of High School Scholars.
Also in the top 50 are the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency, as well as JPMorgan Chase and Lockheed Martin. A little farther down the list, in the top 100, are ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs and Dow Chemical.

“When people talk about Millennials, it’s easy to want to put them into one big box,” said Jason Dorsey, co-founder of the Austin, Texas-based Center for Generational Kinetics, a Millennials research and workplace solutions firm. “The reality is that Millennials are also the most diverse generation in U.S. history.”

The survey, conducted by Hanover Research in April 2015, listed the top 200 companies or jobs that Millennials found most attractive. Some jobs or companies were tied in the rankings. 

‘Peter Pan Generation’

To be sure, some of the top 50 companies where Millennials want to work fit the stereotype for this tech-savvy group: Google was No. 1, Apple was No. 4, Microsoft was No. 7 and Amazon was No. 11.

And could it be that some of this cohort’s dream employers—Walt Disney Company at No. 2, DreamWorks Animation SKG at No. 13, Hershey’s at No. 20 and Build-A-Bear Workshop at No. 50—reflect a “Peter Pan generation”—the term some experts use to describe Millennials’ tendency to delay adult rites of passage longer did than generations before them? 

Among the top 50 companies were some that probably appeal to the civic-minded, do-good nature that experts see as defining many Millennials: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was No. 3, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was No. 10 and Teach for America was No. 34.

“Millennials chose Build-A-Bear because they grew up with the company and view those bears as products that make children happy,” said Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace, an executive development firm. “They choose St. Jude's Research Hospital because they want to help people, above and beyond collecting a paycheck.”

Said Dorsey: “Millennials are very much attracted to careers that have a clear sense of mission and purpose. St. Jude embodies the best of helping people, families, saving lives—and working on cutting-edge solutions. Build-A-Bear Workshop is attractive because it’s hands-on and fun. For many Millennials, the idea that they can work and play at the same time is a great fit.” 

Unexpected Employers 

But the Army? And the Air Force (No. 21), Navy (No. 32), FBI (No. 5), CIA (No. 8) and National Security Agency (No. 19)? 

One theory is that Millennials view the military and law enforcement agencies as dream employers because their favorite movie and TV stars portray these organizations as being not only mysterious and adventurous, but also a way to combat perceived “bad guys,” Dorsey said.

“Millennials have come of age during a time of terrorism,” Dorsey said. “Each of the law enforcement agencies on the list directly deal with terrorism, which, for these new generations, is a reality and something they want to help end. Millennials believe they can make a difference immediately in one of those careers. Seeing those careers on TV does romanticize the positives and downplay the negatives.”

Another theory is that organizations like the Army do a great job recruiting and playing up the perks of their jobs. They have, Schawbel said, “an incredibly powerful marketing and recruiting budget.”

“Media likely plays a role in hyping these organizations and jobs, and making them sound compelling to a Millennial who is searching for a job where he or she can help others,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based BetterWorks, which provides companies with goal-setting software.

Finally, Dorsey said, such agencies are known for providing access “to the most cutting-edge of technologies and gadgets, which Millennials love. Additionally, they all offer job security, which is something Millennials and Gen Z increasingly want—especially since they have so much college debt,” he said. 

What About Global Responsibility? 

Occupy Wall Street—the movement that began in 2011 to protest social and economic inequality, greed, corruption, and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government—was made up partly of Millennials. Protesters occupied banks and corporate headquarters of huge companies, among other businesses.

So how did JPMorgan Chase—which paid over $2 billion in fines and legal settlements for aiding and abetting securities fraud at Enron Corp., which collapsed amid a financial scandal in 2001—end up No. 43 among Millennials’ dream places to work?

And how did Lockheed Martin—which in 2013 paid $19.5 million to settle a securities fraud class-action legal battle that accused the company of deceiving shareholders—wind up at No. 45?

And No. 73 was Goldman Sachs, which was investigated by Congress, the Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly misleading investors and profiting from the collapse of the mortgage market, which contributed to the 2007-12 global financial crisis.

In addition, Millennials are frequently said to put a premium on environmental responsibility. So how to explain their approval of ExxonMobil (No. 67)—responsible for the enormous 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska? Or how about Dow Chemical (No. 79)—fined in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department for practices that regulators found violated federal environmental laws and endangered public health?

For one thing, such companies are “recognizable brands with great reputations of launching employees into their future careers,” Duggan said. “They are also extremely stable. Millennials are going to prioritize things like flexible work schedules and a company culture, but they still care deeply about their future career, especially if they find it particularly fulfilling to climb the ranks within a company and can trust that company will be around for the long haul.”

Moreover, Dorsey said, some big financial houses have recently done a good job of advertising their commitment to global economic sustainability, environmental responsibility, and national and financial security. In addition, they’ve added many perks that appeal to Millennials—break rooms with video games and pingpong tables, for instance, or casual dress codes.

“JPMorgan understands that it's losing talent to the technology industry, so they've made changes to their work environment,” Schawbel said.

Such companies have also “made progress in creating a sense of transparency,” Dorsey said. Many “are feeling the demand from younger generations for transparency and openness,” he noted. “Adding transparency to short- and long-term goals gives Millennials a sense of purpose, because they can see what they’re striving for, what their peers and even managers are working on, and how their work fits into the bigger picture.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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