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Achieving Success in Hiring and Retaining Millennials

According to recent figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest living generation. By 2020, it is estimated that nearly half of all U.S. workers will be millennials. Although the dates used by demographers to define the millennial generation often differ slightly, the term generally refers to the roughly 80 million young adults that were born in the last two decades of the twentieth century (approximately 1980-2000).

In the time since millennials first began to enter the workforce in significant numbers at the beginning of the 21st century, it has become clear that they are different than workers from previous generations (Generation X and baby boomers). This fact has sent corporations like GE scrambling to adjust both recruiting techniques and corporate culture in order to attract and retain high quality millennial talent. Companies can’t rely on the typical avenues that they implemented for baby boomers. In this blog, we will explore some of the characteristics that make young workers from the millennial generation unique and different from their elders.

Millennial Characteristics

Possibly the most defining feature of the millennial generation is their high level of familiarity with and use of digital technologies – social media, broadband internet, wireless technologies, smart phones, laptops, etc. Millennials are the first generation to come of age in the digital era, with relatively easy access to computers and all things digital. Those entering the workforce thus frequently have a better grasp of business tools and technology than their more senior managers. Millennials are well-networked and very self-expressive through their high level of engagement with social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit.

With vast amounts of information available at their fingertips, millennials are used to getting their answers online and doing their own research. They generally don’t do well with the traditional, top-down pyramidal corporate structure, especially when in an authoritarian setting.  This is not to say that management structure needs to change, but instead millennials work best in a collaborative, supportive environment that promotes teamwork and idea generation from every position level.

In a recent survey conducted by the University of North Carolina (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Young Entrepreneurs Council, millennials prioritized meaningful work over high pay, and 65% of millennials rated personal development as the most influential factor in their current job. Millennials are, in fact, driven by purpose and want their work to somehow contribute to making the world a better place.

Some of the other millennial characteristics captured by this survey were:

  • 80% of millennials said they would prefer feedback in real time rather than via traditional performance reviews.
  • 70% of millennials are planning to change jobs once the economy improves.
  • 1 in 3 millennials said “social media freedom” is a higher priority than salary.
  • 24% said social media policy would be a key factor in accepting a job offer.
  • 71% Millennials would like to work abroad.

With these defining characteristics of the millennial generation in mind, how can organizations best adjust to what is rapidly becoming a millennial workforce and achieve success in hiring and retaining millennials?

Attracting and Retaining Millennials

It seems fitting to begin the discussion on how to hire and retain millennials by highlighting companies that are extremely effective in this arena – Google and Apple. While these companies don’t specifically target millennials for recruitment, their company culture, management and recruitment style are very attractive to the millennial generation. While not all companies have the opportunity to be the tech giants of the world, we can use some of their strategies on how to attract and retain this talent.

  • Engage with Social Media. It is important to have a presence on social media if you hope to reach millennials. Additionally, millennials want to interact with real people. An anonymous post on a corporate page every month or so is not going to create interest – you need to build an online community with a personalized and active account. Start with one social media site and building your outreach over time.
  • Utilize Inbound Marketing to Sell Your Brand. Inbound marketing utilizes targeted content (social media posts, blogs, newsletters, podcasts, white papers, etc.) to earn people’s attention and interest them in your company. Millennials like to interact via digital technology, and inbound marketing strategies help to define your brand and start the conversation with potential candidates.
  • Refine Your Brand. Millennials are very socially conscious and are attracted to brands they admire as a consumer. Does your company have social and green initiatives? Does your mission statement include making a contribution to your community and world at large? That said, changing your company culture takes time, and the brand you present has to be honest and real. Millennials are used to changing jobs, and will not hesitate to do so if they discover that your company culture doesn’t live up to the brand values you present.
  • Engage Candidates Respectfully. Millennials are well-connected through social media and other digital platforms and technologies, so if one person has a bad experience with your company, word will likely reach other potential candidates. The golden rule applies here – treat candidates (and employees) how you would like to be treated. Acknowledge candidates when they apply for a job, and let them know and thank them for applying when the position is filled.
  • Create an Internship Program. Engaging with students before they graduate via a quality project-based internship program is a great way to attract top talent. A millennial who has a positive experience at your company over the summer becomes a recruiting asset for you as they share their experiences with other students verbally and on social media.
  • Offer Flexible Work Options. Millennials love the ability to work when and where they want to, and blend their professional and personal lives in ways that allow a balanced lifestyle. Some flexible work options that are appealing to millennials include: work from home (telecommuting), flexible schedules with non-traditional work hour options, and a results only work environment (ROWE).
  • Create a Customizable Benefits Program. Millennials love choice and flexibility over rigidity. Offer different performance bonus options, for example, and allow them to pick and choose what best suites them.
  • Offer Training Abroad. For global enterprises, offering a 3-6 month training program abroad in an appealing location is a great way to help satisfy the millennial desire to work in another country, while also engaging their love of learning.
  • Offer a Quality Professional Development Program. Millennials are attracted to employers who offer quality training and development programs. Create a professional development program that allows them to grow both professionally and personally. The best training programs for millennials utilize diverse delivery methods – classroom instruction, self-directed study, online modules, webinars, coaching, group learning, etc.
  • Have a Clearly Defined Career Path. Millennials are intensely ambitious, and they want to advance up the career ladder quickly. Clarity is crucial here – let millennials know where they are going and how they can get there. It may also be useful to create more opportunity for advancement by adding more levels or other forms of recognition (badges, points, etc.) to your corporate structure in order to meet their needs. If upward mobility is not immediately available, movement to new departments or sites within an organization help create a career path that keeps them engaged.
  • Give Regular Feedback. Consistent with their preference for a collaborative work environment, millennials prefer to receive regular feedback instead of the typical structured performance reviews. Companies that are most successful at managing millennials set clear performance targets and deadlines, and provide detailed regular feedback, as well as frequent on the spot recognition when warranted.
  • Create an Open Corporate Culture. Millennials are uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures, and instead love a collaborative, engaging and creative work environment. Be open to feedback, new ideas and opportunities, and be willing to see things in a different light. Whether its implementing standing desks, or stocking the office refrigerator with popular drinks, be willing to explore, and even create your own, new trends that keep your workplace lively and interesting, and ultimately more productive.


Millennials are a talented, dynamic and creative generation, the best of which can be hard to find and even more difficult to keep. A strategic approach, which takes into account the unique facets of this generation, is necessary to attract and retain millennial talent. That said, the strategy has to be reality-based. Superficial changes dreamed up in a boardroom to connect to the younger generation will not work. Don’t expect token diversity, greenwashed mission statements or products, and a contrived social media campaign to help you keep high quality millennial talent on staff. The conversation that is established with millennials must be genuine, and the corporate culture must change to accommodate the expectations of this new generation. Those companies that successfully adapt to the incoming millennial workforce will ride the wave of creativity that these talented professionals bring to reach the greatest levels of success in this digital age.

About the Author

Mary Schwans is the Managing Director of Astrix Technology Group’s Staffing Division and is a recruiting expert in the Scientific field. She joined Astrix in 2006 where she has been responsible for the startup and success of the division by growing it from its infancy into an emerging leader in the scientific recruiting field. Ms. Schwans has a strong technical background. She graduated with her BS in Biology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and first began her career as a scientist in academic laboratories. Ms. Schwans is also part of several Scientific organizations and has held board positions with ALMA