Decoding Gen Z: What Gen Z candidates are looking for from employers and their careers

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Want to learn more about how to welcome Generation Z into your organization? We've partnered with Mary Barroll, President of TalentEgg, for a free webinar on January 25. Click here for details and to register.

This year, we’re welcoming Generation Z into the workplace for the first time. By 2020, Gen Z will make up nearly 25% of the workforce. They’re the students that are currently enrolled in college and university and are applying to your internship, co-op programs and entry-level jobs. Millennials are growing up – many already in management roles – and are no longer the focus for campus recruiters. And while you may think the way Gen Z respond to your job opportunities isn’t all that different than Millennials – trust me, it is. Employers need to adjust their recruitment strategy to engage this new cohort that differs considerably from their Millennial predecessors.

At TalentEgg, we’ve done an extensive amount of research and surveying of our student networks to learn all we can about Gen Z. Read on for those insights and some actionable tips to attract, engage and recruit top young talent.

Who is Generation Z?

Generation Z were born in the mid-90s to early 2000s. They grew up in a wireless world and are digital media natives. They don’t remember a world without smartphones or wireless Internet. This generation is “connected” for an average of 7.6 hours a day and are served non-stop media from all directions on multiple channels simultaneously. Accustomed to on-demand content at their fingertips, they’re expert multi-taskers but also easily distracted. Consequently, they have an average attention span of 8 seconds. They’re not lazy, but they might get bored easily. Capturing their attention and engaging them is the biggest challenge for recruiters.

Hardworking and career-focused

Gen Z grew up during the global recession, and many had to watch their parents – typically of Gen X, who themselves grew up in a recession – struggle with finances or job loss. This uncertainty has made job security much more appealing to Gen Z than to Millennials. They’re prepared to work and expect to pay their dues to succeed. 41% are more interested in growth opportunities and career development than a high salary when looking for their first job. In contrast to Millennials, members of Generation Z see professional development as a long-term process with stepping stones towards future success. By the time Gen Z apply to your entry-level jobs, they will likely have already been planning their careers for some time. 100% of our survey respondents which included post-secondary as well as high school students, said they were thinking of their career, and 55% had already “absolutely” decided on a career path.

Generation of volunteers

In our recent student survey, over 80% of Gen Z students reported that they volunteer at least sometimes. Because of this increase in volunteer experience before entering the workforce, often encouraged in their curriculum at middle school and high school, this generation will be applying to your internships and entry-level roles equipped with more practical skills than ever before. This early volunteer activity is a great way for employers in the nonprofit sector to engage with young candidates early. By interviewing once, but hiring twice, nonprofit employers can use their volunteer roles to engage and build relationships with young talent and have them return for internships or entry-level positions later.

Passion for careers with purpose

The high percentage of Gen Z volunteering reflects their desire for careers with social impact, a trait they share with their Millennial siblings. Generation Z has proved to be innovative, creative, and dedicated to making a positive impact on society – even more so than Millennials. Nearly a third of Gen Z students say that they would take a 10-20% pay cut to work for a cause they deeply care about. This generation is sincerely committed to pursuing a career with a more profound purpose – a huge competitive advantage to organizations in the charitable and nonprofit sector.

Employer culture

In our survey, students reported that second to “negative culture and workplace,” the “inability to make an impact” within an organization was enough to make them turn down a job offer. As a generation that tends to thrive in flatter hierarchical structures and more collaborative environments, being able to contribute to something bigger than themselves while growing in their careers is the ideal professional situation for a Gen Z candidate. In addition to making an impact on society, your Gen Z hires want to make their mark in your organization. Knowing that their work directly impacts the organization is something this generation finds rewarding. In some ways, these tendencies favour smaller, leaner employers who, by necessity, typically require employees to wear many hats and offer more responsible roles earlier in a career path. This desire for responsibility is an advantage to many non-profit organizations and charities with smaller staffing and resources. Gen Z will embrace the opportunities to take the lead on projects and collaborate in a team environment.

Improved retention

Gen Z are a departure from the Millennial “job hoppers”. Our survey results demonstrated that 33% of Gen Z students plan to stay in a job for 1-3 years, but a close 29% said they plan to stay at an employer for 4-6 years – a massive change from the average stay of 18 months by Millennials workers. They want to grow with your organization as they grow in their careers. That doesn’t mean that they won’t leave if they don’t feel engaged or continually learning. A great way to encourage Gen Z hires to remain is by incorporating rotational programs in your recruitment initiatives. Rotations through different functions and departments provide them with novelty and opportunities to test out a variety of different roles while still contributing to the overall organization. Rotational internship programs are uniquely valuable in allowing the employer to identify top candidates by providing a verifiable skills assessment and “fit” before extending a formal offer of employment.

Digital media savvy

Gen Z expect to see ads and information on all the channels, and in all the media they consume, even recruitment messaging and employer branding. As digital natives, Generation Z is even more media savvy than Millennials and are experts at spotting authentic content – they’ll tune out what isn’t genuine or is too “commercial”. 54% of students polled believed that it is highly important for employers to have a strong social media presence and online visibility – but with their “phoney” meters on high alert, how you do this is key. To this generation, authenticity is magnetic. Use Snapchat or Instagram stories and shareable videos on social media to foster a meaningful connection with this group. Consider having your employees host an online Q&A about their jobs or post behind-the-scenes photos or videos of your staff working on special projects. On social media, engaging stories with high impact imagery using photos, graphics and video are the medium of choice for this cohort. Long text-based communications without engaging imagery bore Gen Z who perceive them as outdated and out of touch, negatively impacting your employer brand.

Resourceful and tech experts

While with Millennials we’ve found that a parental push is often what’s behind a student’s career “motivation”, our survey revealed that behind 48% of Gen Z’s career success is themselves. They also have more realistic expectations for career advancement with 32% of Gen Z stating that they hope to be in their “dream job” 10 years from now. On the job, Generation Z proves to be very resourceful. They rarely need to be taught how to use the internet and its resources, and if they don’t know something, they instinctively know how to find this information online. Despite this, they do yearn for extensive feedback from their superiors – and although they are fluent in the world of social media, text messages, and email, Gen Z would much rather have genuine face time with higher-ups.

Recruiting Gen Z

Because of Generation Z’s keen eye for authenticity, it’s important to be as transparent as possible when recruiting them, featuring real stories of your employees making a difference in the world. This is an advantage for nonprofit organizations, which almost always have inspiring examples of real-life heroes who make positive change their life’s work. Make sure to highlight your organization’s contributions to social impact, along with rotation or mentorship programs and potential career growth paths. When interacting with Generation Z, it’s all about being real. Share real content on your social media pages, provide real feedback and meaningful work experiences that help students and new grads feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves and your organization. With Gen Z’s keen desire for careers with purpose, the nonprofit sector is poised to take the lead in attracting top young talent in Canada, if recruiters know how to express their employer value proposition in a compelling way.

Learn more at our free webinar on January 25! Click here for more details and to register.

Mary Barroll, President of TalentEgg and General Counsel & VP of CharityVillage, is an online business executive and lawyer with a background in media, technology and IP law. A former CBC journalist and TV producer, in 2013 she was appointed General Counsel & VP Media Affairs at, Canada's largest job portal for charities and not-for-profits in Canada. In 2016, Mary took the reins as President of, Canada's No.1, award-winning job board and online career resource that connects top employers with top students and grads. Mary is a certified Employer Branding Professional recognized by Universum Global and the International Employer Branding Academy.

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