Generation Z’s debut in the American workforce (the oldest Gen Zs are creeping into their mid-20s already) has brought both unique opportunities and unique challenges for employers. Gen Z workers can be highly self-motivated, and many have tech and media skills that come as second nature. However, it can be difficult for old-school business types to understand the values and culture of Generation Z.
Some business operators misunderstand this cultural divide as laziness, lamenting that “kids don’t want to work anymore.” You make this reductive mistake at your own peril, though. While you are writing off an entire generation, your competitors are figuring out how to leverage their unique talents and attitudes.
The truth is that people still want — and need — to work, but many Gen Z workers are skipping out on the time-tested tradition of entering the workforce through back-breaking, minimum wage roles. Instead, they’re going to work for themselves online. This can mean flipping used goods on auction sites, monetizing videos, hustling on rideshare and delivery apps, or promoting brands on social media. Often these jobs offer a better hourly return than traditional entry-level work. Why spend eight hours at a hot grill when you can make videos with your friends for the same paycheck?
With these additional options lessening the pressure to “get a real job,” Gen Z workers have different priorities. Younger people want a positive working environment, meaningful work, and a flexible workplace. They value a paycheck like anyone else, but they also value their own free time and mental health, and many of them are inflexible about protecting those things. Companies that aren’t putting enough on the table in terms of compensation and benefits will likely see their median staff age increase over the ensuing years as Gen Z candidates land elsewhere.
Rethinking the Interview Process for Generation Z
Because of Gen Z’s unique priorities and values, employers that bring in young candidates for interviews should be tailoring the process to speak to them. Create a dialogue instead of performing an interrogation. Young professionals won’t hesitate to ghost a callback if their interview didn’t leave them feeling like they would be valued and respected at your company.
Treat your Gen Z candidates like any other qualified, adult job hunters. There is no need to be cute or reach for artificial ways to make yourself relatable, such as asking if they think your company is “lit.” You also shouldn’t attempt to “hit the griddy” or any other TikTok dances as an icebreaker. This would be “cringe” in the parlance of our times, and cringe is not good for your brand. Simply treat young people like people, and you may be surprised by the results.
Here are some great questions to ask your Gen Z candidates when interviewing:
- Do you work well as part of a team? With the pandemic causing many young people to finish out their high school or college careers online, certain basic social skills can get rusty. Ask candidates to provide examples that show they can work well with others. Don’t laugh it off if they turn to an example that you consider frivolous, such as multiplayer online gaming. If you’d accept someone’s high school football experience as an indication of their team-building skills, there’s no reason virtual activities shouldn’t be given the same consideration.
- How do you stay focused and inspired when working on tasks or projects that you don’t personally find interesting or important? Self-motivation is key. Even in an industry you love and care about, part of most people’s workdays is going to be tedious and repetitive. That’s just the nature of work for many of us. Learning what tools a candidate has to help power through the drudgery can be key.
- What is motivating you to transition from your current situation? Unless the answer is obvious (someone just graduated college and is looking for their first job, for example) there is a lot to be learned about someone’s personality and ambitions by finding out why they’re leaving their current situation behind, be that an existing job, self-employment, homemaking, or a mental health break.
- What do you know about this organization? This isn’t specific to Gen Z candidates, as it’s always nice to know if someone has done their homework. Gen Z candidates, however, tend to be particularly fast at using Google and other ubiquitous technologies and are constantly plugged into online spaces. If they haven’t used that to their advantage before the interview, it can be a red flag.
- Who is the person you admire most, and what job do they have? Because Gen Z candidates may lack real-world job experience, it can be valuable to know what they aspire to.
- Have you ever waited tables or worked fast food? If the answer is yes, ask what they found most challenging about that work (also find out how long they stuck with it, and why). If the answer is no, ask why they’ve avoided it and what they think they would find challenging about it. There is no particular right answer you’re looking for, but whatever someone has to say about repetitive, low-wage tasks can give you great insight into their values and priorities as relates to the workplace.
- What does your ideal workspace look like? There is no right or wrong answer here. Rather, you’re trying to figure out if your office setup will work for the candidate. Gen Z workers tend to place a high value on “vibe.” This may seem like an intangible, but you can directly impact your company’s vibes through an open and welcoming layout, reducing the use of cubicles, and providing thoughtful perks and amenities. Cultivating a great vibe is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to hiring because a good vibe attracts good candidates — yet nothing will help your vibe more than hiring great people who bring positive energy to the workplace.
Gen Z workers can bring many benefits to your workplace. You just need to know how to harness those positive qualities and skills, and asking the right interview questions is a great place to start.