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What to Look for When Hiring Millennials

Written by Emily Peirce

Millennials now make up the largest share of the United States’ labor force.  They also experience the highest percentage of unemployment compared to other groups, about 11.5%.  With so many articles written about how to attract and engage with millennial talent, it seems odd that the most over-analyzed generation (and their potential employers) can’t catch a break.  But when it comes to hiring millennials, companies just have to know what to look for.

One of the biggest challenges companies face when hiring millennials is what’s often referred to as the skills gap.  Employers are looking for a specific set of skills in their employees but can’t seem to find any applicants who fit the bill.   Part of the problem might not be with the lack of qualified candidates, but with the expectation that these perfect potential employees should exist at all. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always realistic to expect candidates of any age to come equipped with all the knowledge and skills you think are pertinent to a position.  There are certainly cases where specific skills are crucial when considering an applicant for a particular role (you probably shouldn’t hire a welder who doesn’t know how to weld).  But for many entry level jobs, it’s more practical to train a bright, adaptable employee than to wait around for the perfect candidate who might not exist.  Especially for junior or entry-level positions, you shouldn’t be so focused on your candidates’ lack of learned skills that you miss out on applicants who may require a little extra training, but could grow into top performers.  The question is: how do you identify these diamonds in the rough?

Identify Potential

If you find yourself consistently struggling to fill certain positions, try looking for potential in your applicants instead of focusing solely on work experience.  For example, your candidates’ cognitive aptitude, or their ability to think critically, solve problems, and digest and apply new information, is a much better indicator of future success in a role.  In fact, cognitive aptitude is three times more predictive of success in a role than prior experience.  It’s particularly useful when evaluating long-term potential, because it provides an indication of learning ability. You’ll have a much easier time identifying top millennial talent if you consider how far an applicant could go in your organization instead of only focusing on where they’ve been.

Take Their Experience Seriously

That being said, you should still be interested in the experiences your applicants have had.  You can learn a lot about a candidate by asking them about their educational experience, volunteer work, and any insights from previous jobs even if they don’t seem directly related to the position they’re applying for.  You can get a window into what kind of worker someone will be from how they learned, improved, and evolved from their experiences, even if they don’t necessarily seem job-related.  Maybe your candidate saw and enacted a way to make table turnover more efficient in their wait staff position.  Maybe they learned how to effectively navigate and resolve conflicts as a resident advisor in college.  Try asking your candidate to describe what they learned from their very first job or how they feel their prior experience has prepared them for the job they’re applying for. The point is to make sure you’re hiring someone who has proven their ability to learn and adapt from the experience they have had.

Of course, these tips do not exclusively apply to hiring millennials. There’s a lot to be gained by looking beyond a lengthy “professional experience” section on a resume when hiring for any position. Plus, it won’t hurt to keep these strategies for identifying potential in mind; Generation Z’s debut into the job market is just around the corner.

Emily Peirce

Written by Emily Peirce



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