by Sarah Wright
Millennials have faced a steady stream of criticisms over the past few years — they’re lazy, unmotivated and killing every industry from petrol cars to marriage. ‘Millennial’ has become a catch-all term for the young. But with the oldest millennials nearing 40, a new generation is beginning to enter the workforce: Generation Z.
Carving up the population into generational cohorts is limiting at best. Like all such terms, ‘Gen Z’ is made up — a handy shorthand for a supposed set of unifying characteristics for those born roughly between 1996 and 2010. But there’s a considerable difference between the oldest Gen Zs, like me — the tail-ends of the millennials, born in the mid-nineties — and the youngest, yet to enter secondary school. We vary further in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, geography and more. In many ways, more divides us than unites us.
But the fact remains that, in a professional context, older generations are unsure how best to interact with their youngest colleagues. At a PUBlic Relations Oxford event earlier this year, ‘Joining the dots: from internal communications to brand brilliance’, much of the discussion centred on how to manage this new generation just entering the workforce: how to attract the best candidates, improve recruitment processes and optimise internal communications with younger employees. The challenges faced in recruiting and retaining talented PR professionals are not unique to the youngest generation, but are particularly hard-hitting when candidates are reaching for the first step on the career ladder.
I don’t pretend to speak for all Gen Z. I’m a sub-section of a vastly disparate and divergent group of people with nothing but a fifteen-year span of birthdays in common. But, in my experience, employers should consider the three questions below when trying to attract Gen Z for PR roles.
- Are job adverts realistic and candid?
Job adverts are often the first encounter applicants will have with your organisation, but they’re notoriously opaque. Many employers don’t state salaries, or if they do, give a five- or ten-grand range — the difference between making rent and not. Phrases such as ‘competitive salary’ have no meaning when applicants are trying to work out if they can afford to live, and only goes to ensure that candidates without a financial safety net will be less likely to apply. As for unpaid internships, my patience has worn out. The lack of salary means the pool of applicants is limited to those who can afford to work for free.
Be realistic about what level of experience and expertise you can demand, especially from junior roles. Two years of experience for an entry-level position? Catch-22. There’s a well-liked tweet doing the rounds somewhere, calling out a job advert for requiring seven years’ experience — in a coding language which had only been out for five years.
Think about, and make clear, what you can offer in return. Are flexible working hours possible? What about part-time work, or a job share, or working from home? What childcare, travel subsidies and accessibility options are there? Not all applicants will want or need this information, but being clear from the outset helps to ensure that great candidates don’t slip away at later stages.
- Is the application process fair and accessible?
When arranging interviews, be proactive: ask if the candidates have any accessibility requirements or preferences that you can take into account to make the process easier for them. Offer travel bursaries where possible, or offer phone or Skype interviews, particularly in the early stages of multiple interview rounds.
Do not ask candidates their current or expected salary. This inevitably results in propping up existing systems of inequality, meaning that people of colour, people with disabilities and all those whose salaries are likely to be lower due to systemic inequality are caught in a cycle of low wages. Pay what the job is worth, not just the lowest salary you can get away with.
Where possible, accept CVs rather than making candidates fill in lengthy and laborious forms that list the name, exam board, grade and date taken for each and every GCSE. Most people already have CVs written; let them use them.
Setting tasks during the application process — writing a blog post, delivering a presentation — is a mixed bag. It can be a good way to recruit based on the skills required by the role, rather than on past experience, which is often ringfenced by privilege; but it’s also a lot of work to ask of candidates, many of whom are likely applying for hundreds of positions. Use with discretion, only where appropriate, and ideally to distinguish between the final few frontrunners at the end of the interview process.
- Are working conditions flexible and supportive?
Following recruitment, it’s crucial to support your Gen Z employee as they join your organisation. Set clear expectations and boundaries in terms of expected conduct, sick leave, dress code, holidays and so on. Consult with them to see how they work best — would they rather check in for regular feedback, or be left to their own devices? Make sure they’re aware of the complaints and disciplinary procedures, and that they know who to go to — line manager, HR, external body — with questions or complaints. If appropriate, give them the option of filling out a Wellness Action Plan, such as this one developed by Mind.
The practices outlined above aren’t applicable only to the youngest generation of PR professionals. Organisations that are open, clear and proactive throughout the recruitment process are more likely to attract and retain the best applicants. For many organisations, this will mean a lot of change. It may well be difficult to implement all of the practices outlined above. But the best places to work are those who treat their employees — and their applicants — like people. That’s how you attract the best employees, both in Gen Z and beyond.
Sarah Wright is a Communications and Events Officer at TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities