6 Gen Z Traits You Need to Know to Attract, Hire, and Retain Them

October 8, 2019

For talent and HR professionals, Millennials have been the hot-button topic of discussion for a long time. But as that generation inches closer to middle age (the oldest Millennials are already in their late 30s), Generation Z (aka Gen Z) has quickly replaced them under the microscope. 

Born roughly between 1995 and 2015, Gen Z accounts for 32% of the global population in 2019. By 2020, they’ll make up 24% of the workforce. And as they start entering the workforce in large numbers, it’s vital to know how to hire them effectively. 

The oldest members of Gen Z are already hard at work, so we’ve had a chance to see what makes them tick. This generation has already proven themselves radically different from their Millennial predecessors, so the same hiring strategies might not work for them. 

To help you develop your playbook for hiring Gen Z, here’s everything you need to know about who they are and what they want from a job — plus what they can bring to your company. 

Gen Z is tech-savvy

It’s no surprise that as a whole, Gen Z is more tech savvy than any other generation. After all, they’re digital natives, so they feel perfectly comfortable using the internet as a tool for work, research, and connecting with others. They grew up learning online etiquette in the same way that previous generations learned table manners. In fact, a recent survey of 12,000 Gen Z teens revealed that 91% say the technology offered by an employer would influence their job choice if faced with similar employment offers. 

Gen Z also grew up watching the meteoric rise of social media giants like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, so it’s no wonder they view these platforms as an integral part of daily life — both personally and professionally. Snapchat is the preferred social media platform for Gen Z teens, with 41% naming it as their favorite. Instagram comes a close second, being favored by 35% of teens.

What this means for you: Reboot your online presence

If your company’s online presence leaves a lot to be desired, this can turn Gen Zers away. A poor user interface and buggy software can give Gen Z candidates the impression that your organization is out of touch and behind the times. So if your website is slow to load or not optimized for mobile, or your application process has a tendency to glitch out, it’s time to give it a tune-up or else risk a high drop-out rate among this talent pool. 

Your social media strategy may also need an upgrade. According to a recent study, Facebook is the most visited website across all age groups — except Gen Z. That doesn’t mean you should neglect your Facebook presence altogether, just that you should consider diversifying the channels you use to source, post ads, and share employer branding content. If your company doesn’t already have Instagram and Snapchat accounts, it’s worth signing up. 

Also keep an eye on online reviews and feedback about what it’s like to work at your company. This will help you understand how Gen Z perceives your brand and will go a long way toward getting ahead of any questions or concerns they may have about working for you. Bear in mind, this is a generation for which shopping on Amazon is more normal than visiting a brick-and-mortar store. That’s taught them not make any big decisions without reading a few reviews first — a habit that translates to their job search too. 

Gen Z is risk-averse

Gen Z is significantly more risk-averse than previous generations, likely stemming from growing up during a period of economic uncertainty and unrest. The majority of Gen Zers entering the workforce today were children or teenagers at the height of the Great Recession of 2008. For many, this period of major economic decline affected their families on a deep and personal level, fundamentally impacting their worldview. 

As a result, this is a generation that tends to look for employers who can offer stability, security, and opportunities for growth. One recent survey of 1,000 Gen Zers found that the top career goal among this group is to work in a role where they feel stable and secure, with 40% in agreement. The same survey found that 69% would rather have a stable job than one they were truly passionate about, and 36% are worried about getting stuck in a position that doesn’t offer chances for growth. 

What this means for you: Emphasize job security and growth opportunities

Cool office perks like ping pong tables and nap pods were all the rage for a few years, but those days may be coming to an end. Flashy perks mean nothing to Gen Z if a company isn't catering to their basic needs — like providing good health coverage, paid time off, and clear opportunities for growth and development. 

Since Gen Z is focused on financial stability and responsibility, aspects of the compensation package that might seem dry can actually be big selling points for them. This includes a 401K program, student loan repayment scheme, or other initiatives aimed at helping employees get a firm handle on their finances. In a 2018 survey, 35% of Gen Z respondents said they plan to start saving for retirement in their 20s, and 12% (many of them teens) had already started, so perks like these can be smart recruiting tools. 

Talking candidly about their career path and helping them understand what learning opportunities are available can also build trust and help them envision a long-term trajectory at your company. Gen Z is very aware of the way workforce needs are changing — 62% believe technical hard skills are changing faster than ever and 59% don’t think their job will exist in the same form 20 years from now — so showing your company is invested in learning and skills development is a good way to win them over. 

Gen Z is independent 

Gen Z cares about autonomy and independence, and this mindset is reflected in the way they work. The internet has given them access to thousands of years of collective knowledge, and they’re much more accustomed to Googling things rather than asking for advice. 

More than any previous generation, Gen Z also understands that alternatives to the traditional 9-to-5 job exist and are viable options. The majority (84%) view a healthy work-life balance as a priority — but as you’ll see in a moment, they’re also willing to be flexible in return. They want to advance their careers, and they’ll work hard to make it happen. 

What this means for you: Focus on flexibility and ownership

Offering more freedom and flexibility in a job can be highly attractive to Gen Z candidates. Half of Gen Zers say flexibility is a priority when choosing a job, so be sure to highlight this throughout the hiring process and be open to remote work options

Since working independently is just as important to Gen Z as setting their own schedule, talk in depth about the kind of projects they’ll have ownership over and show them the responsibility that comes with the role. 

Gen Z is competitive

Gen Zers know what they want and are willing to work hard to get it. While the Millennial generation is extremely team-oriented, Gen Z relishes a little healthy competition — thanks in part, once again, to their experience growing up in a recession. As Jonah Stillman, author of Gen Z @ Work and a Gen Zer himself, puts it: “We’re looking to compete a bit more … We saw the downfall of the economy. We saw our parents struggle so much at home. … so as we enter the workforce, money is very, very important to us.” 

Gen Z’s competitive side doesn’t just fuel their drive to receive promotions and raises. Feeling seen and appreciated in the workplace is something most Gen Z employees strive for. They seek out feedback — with 97% saying they’re receptive to receiving it on an ongoing basis — and are eager to know what they can do specifically to improve their performance and advance their career.

What this means for you: Recognize hard work and provide regular feedback

To retain this generation, recognition for hard work is a must. A 2019 survey of Gen Z and Millennials found that an increase in recognition and rewards would make 79% of respondents more loyal to their employer — but 50% believe managers do not currently recognize strong job performance. They don’t need to be coddled, but taking the time to show them that their efforts are valued (whether through a small reward or just a heartfelt thank you) will go a long way. 

To boost engagement and retention, another useful tactic is to encourage a culture of constant feedback. Annual performance reviews won’t be enough — 60% of Gen Zers want multiple check-ins with their manager throughout the week. But this doesn’t have to be a huge disruption to the company’s usual workflows, as 67% are comfortable with check-ins taking five minutes or less

Gen Z is open-minded 

Major societal changes throughout Gen Z’s formative years has also affected their disposition. As a general rule, this is a generation that’s known for being open-minded and deeply invested in diversity and inclusivity. For example, one study found that 70% of Gen Zers strongly believe that public spaces should provide gender neutral bathrooms, compared to 57% of Millennials. 

In the U.S., this could be attributed to the fact that Gen Z is itself the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet; nearly half (48%) are non-white. Significant political and cultural milestones have also shaped this generation’s mindset, like dozens of countries around the world legalizing gay marriage, Barack Obama being sworn in as the first African-American U.S. president, and the #MeToo Movement sparking a global conversation about harassment in the workplace

What this means for you: Shine a spotlight on your diversity and inclusion efforts

Gen Z’s open-minded outlook shapes their attitudes about themselves — and what they expect from an employer. They care about working for diverse companies that provide fair and equal pay and promotion opportunities, so companies that are lagging behind in these areas may lose their appeal. In fact, more than three quarters (77%) of Gen Zers say a company’s level of diversity would affect their decision to work there.

Being genuine in your efforts is essential. If your company has employee resource groups (ERGs), getting their opinion on your employer branding campaigns can help steer you in the right direction. Being open and honest about where you need to improve and how you’re going about doing it can also be far more compelling to them than talking solely about what you’re doing right. 

Gen Z is focused on authenticity 

Gen Z cares about ethical consumption, and they often avoid brands that are involved in scandals or that refuse to take a stand on important issues. They can sniff out lip service and publicity stunts a mile away — and they are vocal when brands come across as inauthentic

The good news is, they gravitate toward companies that are purpose-driven, both from a consumer and candidate standpoint. 

The emphasis that Gen Z places on truth and authenticity also affects how they look at their workplace interactions. The top qualities they seek in a boss are honesty and integrity, with 38% in agreement. And even though Gen Z is highly plugged in to modern technology, 74% prefer having real, face-to-face communications with colleagues, placing a higher value on effectiveness than convenience

What this means for you: Be real, be honest, and be present 

Showing the positive impact their work will have on society can be a big selling point for Gen Z when it comes to choosing a job. Even if the role in question won’t change the world, emphasizing things like company-sponsored volunteer opportunities and a commitment to transparency and pay equity can make your company stand out. As with diversity, authenticity is key here, so if your company is working on improving but not fully there yet, highlighting these efforts can be very impactful. 

Authenticity should also shine through your job descriptions, career site, and employer branding content. Don’t feel pressured to adopt memes, slang, and edgy references to catch this generation’s attention. For one thing, it’s not worth the risk of seeming cringey or out-of-touch. And as one Gen Zer writes, “Just because you’re trying to appeal to us doesn’t mean you have to try to be like us … If you’re authentic, you will stand apart from your competition because authenticity resonates with Gen Z.” Focus on having real and honest conversations with them, and they’ll do the same with your company. 

To strengthen this sense of authenticity, try to have in-person or face-to-face conversations with them as often as possible during the hiring process. Video interviewing tools can help, but if you’re able to bring them in for in-person interviews and provide them an opportunity to shake the hand of their potential future boss, that will stand out. 

Gen Z are on their way, so it’s time to get ready for them

It might feel like yesterday that Millennials were causing a stir in the job market. But Gen Z are hot on their heels, and the time to get ready for them is now. 

Gen Z know what they want and demand a lot from their employers — but they work hard in return. They’ve already got their eyes firmly planted on the next rung of the career ladder and they’re looking for a company that can help them make smart moves to climb it, whether that’s through learning opportunities, regular feedback, or chances to prove themselves. 

Money really matters to them, but it’s not everything. Who they work for is an extension and reflection of their personality, so they want employers who will share their values. If you can match their enthusiasm and commitment to making an impact in the world, they’ll be eager to join your team.

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Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash

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