Retool Recruiting to Attract Millennials

Communications, culture and a clear career path matter to younger workers.

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe Mar 21, 2017
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It might be an exaggeration to say Millennials are taking over the world, but it isn’t much of one. Members of this generation—defined as people born roughly between 1981 and 1997—aren’t just the largest segment of the workforce, they’re the fastest-growing one, too. By 2025, they are projected to make up 75 percent of all U.S. employees, an increase from about 1 in 3 workers today.

Despite common negative stereotypes about younger workers—they’re entitled, they’re job hoppers, they rely too much on technology—many recruiters value their fresh perspectives and tech-savvy attitudes. “They speak up, and if they have ideas, they want to share them,” says Lisa Chui, vice president of finance and HR at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, a San Francisco-based retirement benefits services company.

There’s little doubt that Millennials can bring a unique and important viewpoint to the workplace. “They walk in the door with a greater awareness and a greater sense of balance and new ideas” than many of those from other generations, says Steve Wolfe, executive vice president of operations and administration at the Chicago-based staffing and employment agency Addison Group. “That contributes to bringing about better solutions. They can come in and contribute right out of the gate if they have the right environment.”

Note Wolfe’s caveat: if they have the right environment. Many HR professionals are finding that they may need to update their recruitment strategies to successfully connect with younger workers who expect faster and more-informal communications as well as frequent feedback.

“What recruiters fail to grasp is that this is a generation where the accelerated speed of communications is extraordinary,” says Warren Wright, president of consulting firm Coaching Millennials in the Washington, D.C., area.

“It’s not the old days of ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ ” Wolfe says. “Recruiters and hiring professionals need to recognize that career choice is a two-way street, not a one-way street.”

And their jobs don’t end when a hire is made. That means updating their strategies for retaining younger workers by showing them a clear career path forward for promotion. “The trend is for HR to be a resource, not just a rule enforcer,” Chui says.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: College Students]

Apply the Personal Touch

Recruiting is no longer a transactional process. Twenty years ago, hiring managers could just place an ad in a newspaper and wait for candidates to apply. Today, they need to do more to attract qualified workers, including Millennials, to their company, Wright says. For instance, HR professionals may need to identify specific skills, search on LinkedIn for the right talent and reach out to the perfect candidate directly.

Millennials welcome this type of personal interaction. A 2016 LinkedIn survey of more than 13,000 members of that generation found that 93 percent are interested in hearing about new job opportunities and 66 percent are open to talking to a recruiter. In fact, 30 percent say they see themselves working for less than a year at their current company. A 2016 Deloitte survey found similar results, with 44 percent of Millennials saying they would like to leave their present employer in the next two years. In comparison, most U.S. workers from other generations tend to stay on the job longer, changing positions every 4.6 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Companies have a huge opportunity to get top talent because Millennials are looking for the next shiny opportunity,” says Hannah Ubl, a generation expert at BridgeWorks, a generational consulting company in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

​Yet that same LinkedIn survey shows that there is often a disconnect between recruiters’ messaging to Millennials and what these young people want to know about new job opportunities. Consider these survey findings:

  • When Millennials hear about a new job opportunity, they are less likely than members of other generations to know anything about the company.
  • To find out more about your organization, they are more likely than members of other generations to follow it on social media.
  • The most important information they want to know about your company is its culture and values.
  • The top obstacles to accepting a job for Millennial workers are not knowing what the organization is like, applying and not hearing back, and not understanding the role.

Update Your Communication Style

​Over the past two years, Milwaukee-based staffing company Manpower has streamlined its outreach to job applicants by using text messaging and website chats. Doing so has had a positive effect on recruitment, says Frank Armendariz, the company’s regional vice president in the Phoenix area. When a person applies for a job, he or she may opt in for a preferred form of communications, he says. Increasingly, text messaging is the top choice for candidates because of its immediacy. “If it’s a difficult process, it’s not going to be attractive to this generation,” he says.


Slow response times can be irritating, too. “You lose Millennials when you don’t respond right away,” Ubl says, adding that recruiters should reach out to thank an applicant for applying and then offer a timeline for when he or she will hear from HR again. “Texting might feel like it’s bridging into personal space, but Millennials don’t see it as an issue,” she says. “It’s old-school to wait for a phone call.” If applicants sign a waiver, she says, you can text them.

Be careful that your communications don’t sound too formal or too standardized. “It could be a 22-year-old recruiter talking with a 23-year-old job candidate, and if it feels like it’s scripted, that’s a turnoff,” Ubl says. “Millennials are looking for authenticity.” They want to understand what the company is about and who works there.

7 Social Media Tips for Recruiters

1. Use social media to project your company’s values and mission, highlight your best employees, and showcase organization-led volunteer opportunities that support the local community.
​2. Be aware of what’s being said about your organization on social media and respond when necessary.
​3. Partner with universities, colleges, and friends and families of workers to help get the word out about your company.
​4. Tie social media messaging to your organization’s values, particularly if they are identified on your website. If diversity is prized, reflect that in the staff images on your social network pages.
​5. Work with your public relations and marketing departments to create an appealing narrative around your organization.
​6. Encourage workers to share creative photos that align with the company’s values and mission.
​7. Be authentic. Don't rely exclusively on the HR and PR departments to take and post photos.

​Wolfe recommends creating a specific message for each candidate that shows you are familiar with his or her background. Focus on engaging with the individual in your communications with him or her, he says.

Too often, social media is underutilized as a hiring tool. Most recruiters use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like only to post job opportunities. However, if you want to attract Millennials and other tech-savvy talent, you need to do more than that. “From an HR perspective, social media is about creating an aura that you are the employer of choice,” says Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at research firm Future Workplace Recruiters in New York City.

Use social media to show your company’s personality, values and culture. “Millennials will look at your social media to see if they want to work there,” Ubl says.

Highlight Culture and Mission

​Culture is a top factor when recruiting Millennials. Pay is also important, but the biggest pull for many younger workers is whether the company’s culture aligns with their values.

Job seekers want to know if a position will help them make an impact on their community and environment, Armendariz says, and recruiters need to keep that in mind when they’re posting openings. For instance, if you’re a recruiter and are hiring for a call center position, don’t just include the basic requirements. Instead, explain the opportunity that the job presents and talk about the organization and its mission. Is it a fast-growing industry? What is its approach to corporate responsibility? That’s what Millennials identify with, Armendariz says.

Ubiquity posts its values on its website. “I want to make sure [candidates] know what kind of place we are, and I want to know that they can assimilate into the culture and have the same mission,” Chui says. Since the company is based in San Francisco, it often competes for talent with Google and Facebook. Chui spends a significant amount of time explaining Ubiquity’s mission and why CEO Chad Parks believes it is important—which she thinks candidates will find more compelling than hearing her talk about retirement benefits. “Millennials want to feel that the people in senior positions also believe in the mission,” she says.

​They are also looking to forge a connection with the people they’ll be working with. Many young people even like to think of their colleagues as family. “If they are working with good friends, even if another company wants to give them extra money, they are less likely to take the offer because they don’t want to leave behind their work family,” Schawbel says.

Those types of bonds are even more important to those who are new to the work world. In fact, a 2016 Addison Group workplace survey found that 21 percent of young Millennials (18-25 years old) describe their ideal manager as a best friend, compared with 12 percent of older people in that generation (26-34 years old).

Of course, with many carrying student loan debt, there is no question that Millennials want to be well-compensated. The LinkedIn survey found that the No. 1 reason younger workers accept a new job is because of better pay and benefits. But another reason they may join a new employer often gets overlooked: future prospects with the company.

Provide a Career Road Map

One of the best ways to recruit and retain younger workers in the early stages of their careers is to show them a path forward with the company. Millennials also want to know whether the organization is invested in their growth. “If they can’t see a path up, they will move on,” Schawbel says. “They want to know that if they do A, B and C, after two to five years, they’ll potentially be here and then move here.” They need to understand where they fit into the future of the company and how management and HR will help them get there. (Millennials show enthusiasm for management opportunities, as 67 percent want to be a manager compared with only 58 percent of the broader workforce, according to the Addison Group.)

Many of today’s younger workers also want to have a firm grasp of the company’s management structure. Is it hierarchical? Do leaders manage or coach the staff? Do they empower people or are they focused on technical skills? And do employees get an opportunity to see and interact with senior leaders? “Many times recruiters won’t address this, but it has such huge selling power if the company is more of a flat organization with coaching or if the CEO is the type who goes to all the branches and knows everyone’s name,” Ubl says.

One of the best ways to recruit and retain younger workers in the early stages of their careers is to show them a path forward with the company.

Young candidates will likely ask about company growth, how many employees have been working there a long time and whether there is an overall family-like feel. “They want to know how much communication they can have with leadership and if they can make a quick impact,” Chui says. Millennials expect to work on fun projects and not be overlooked for potential opportunities based on their age and lack of experience, she says.

They hope to have a manager who has a vested interest in their success, and they’d prefer to look at that manager more as a coach than as a supervisor. “It goes back to providing clear goals and expectations,” Wolfe says. They want it spelled out: Here’s what we will do for you, here’s what we will expect from you, here’s how it will be mutually beneficial, and here are the things we will do to help you accomplish it. If they don’t see that road map, they will make their own—with a different employer. 

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.

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