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Today’s workforce includes four to five generations, depending on the specific workplace:

  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials – born 1996 and later
  • Millennials or Gen Y – born 1977 to 1995
  • Generation X – born 1965 to 1976
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946 to 1964
  • Traditionalists or Silent Generation – born 1945 and before

Millennials comprise the largest generation in the workforce, with roughly 35 million people employed.

Opinions and judgments abound regarding how Millennials differ from other generations. Many perceive that Millennials:

  • Value equality over hierarchy
  • Want flexible schedules and ample time for personal pursuits
  • Have no problem challenging authority or the status quo
  • Want collaboration and transparency in companies

A Pew Research Center report tells us that Millennials – more than all other generations – claim that characteristics such as “responsible,” “hard-working,” “willing to sacrifice,” and “self-reliant,” did not describe them. Further, 59% of Millennials describe the members of their generation as “self-absorbed,” 49% say they are “wasteful,” and 43% describe them as “greedy.” Many people of other generations label Millennials as extremely needy and self-centered. Entitled.

That’s the anecdotal evidence from the mouths of Millennials themselves, and from their surrounding generations.

But how much of it is based in fact? Not much.

Instead of believing the hype, let’s look at data gathered and analyzed by Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson, senior research scientists at the University of Southern California. They surveyed and interviewed more than 50,000 workers in 22 countries and found hard data that contradicted the Pew report – a report compiled from asking Millennials to describe themselves.

Deal and Levenson compiled their data into a book titled What Millennials Want from Work, which tackles the misconceptions to reveal that at least when it comes to work. Millennials are more similar to people from previous generations than they’d like to think. Levenson does not believe it’s meaningful to identify different generations of people in the workplace because it fosters divisive stereotypes that claim people are profoundly different than other people. A major point to keep in mind is that it’s too easy to confuse life stage differences with generational differences. We look at employees just beginning their career, who often don’t have a spouse, a child, a mortgage etc. and we’re tempted to think: “This generation is so detached, so different.” But we’re really commenting on a stage of life, not a generation.

A few of the generational differences Deal and Levenson found among Millennials at work:

  • Millennials are more accustomed to communicating electronically (by text if talking to friends). But when it comes to critical feedback around careers, they want that feedback in person.
  • Millennials tend to be more impatient with companies who don’t adapt to all the new technologies as quickly as they might like. The reason, in part, is their familiarity with new technology; they tend to see how it can benefit everyone in the workplace.
  • Millennials are the first generation who have no illusions about what to expect from an employer. They hold no idealized notions of working for the same company their entire career, for example. Millennials understand that a company is going to look out for its best interests. Levenson says it’s that orientation toward work and career that really distinguishes Millennials from previous generations.

All in all, Deal and Levenson found that what Millennials want does not differ from what older generations have wanted: work satisfaction, the opportunity to learn, grow, and advance in their job role, and to do work that’s satisfying and that supports their lifestyle.

More Data

A survey of 4,000 Millennials conducted by TODAY and fitness company Greatist found these attitudes about work and success:

  • 75 percent agreed that finding a sense of purpose in their work is more important than salary
  • 60 percent said social responsibility plays a significant role in choosing where they want to work
  • 57 percent of Millennials feel that they have a good work-life balance
  • 30 percent plan to own their own company one day

The study also found that Millennials like to have a flexible work schedule.

Tips for Interviewing Millennials

With the above information in mind, here are some interview questions tweaked a bit toward Millennials’ supposed viewpoints. Experts also recommend that you ask questions about the soft skills – personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people – that young people sometimes lack.

Tell me about a situation where you worked in a diverse group with different opinions. Millennials are considered the most inclusive generation, and this question should reveal good examples of inclusive behavior and collaborative efforts.

Tell me about a time you failed. Millennials have been stereotyped as getting their way, and this question will help you assess how they learn when life doesn’t turn out the way they wanted.

Would you rather work at home, in a traditional office, or in an office with an open floor plan? Millennials have preferences for how to work and you will want to ensure that you have a workplace aligned to this (or provide clarity on your work environment).

Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult customer, in person or on the phone. Many Millennials consider it disrespectful to call someone without first texting. It’s not unusual for them to never have phoned someone they didn’t know. If the position they’re interviewing for entails interacting with people over the phone, a behavioral question about interpersonal skills will help highlight gaps in their experience.

Tell me about a large project you worked on that took longer to complete than planned. Many Millennials grew up with constant stimulation, which results in a tendency toward impatience. It’s therefore important to understand how they react when things take longer than they expected.

What kind of relationship do you expect to have with your boss? Millennials may never have had a formal relationship with a boss, and tend to want people to be friendly with them. A relationship with an authority figure may be challenging for them. This interview question may prevent a mismatch in expectations.

Tell me about a time you were passed up for an award or promotion you felt you deserved. Millennials are accustomed to participation rewards, and can get frustrated if they don’t achieve quickly. This question will give you an idea of their resiliency.

If we gave you time off to be involved with the community, what would you do? This generation is passionate about giving back, so asking this question lets Millennials know you value philanthropy. It further identifies the candidate’s enthusiasm about contributing to a holiday food drive or a charity walk.

Remember, despite the few peculiarities between generations, people are people. We’ll always search for and find distinctions among us. But human needs and motivations transcend generational differences. We are more alike than we are different.