Wooing Gen Y: Recruiting/Retaining  Recent Grads Isn’t Child’s Play

They hand out their MySpace pages before ever reciting their phone numbers; they haven't had a land-line telephone since they moved out of their parents' houses; they text faster than you can type; their idea of a commercial is something they saw on YouTube - and their ideas are going to revolutionize your business.

"They" are GenerationY. Known for their irreverence and short attention spans as children, many have now graduated from the country's most prestigious universities and are entering the workforce with enough credentials, street smarts and know-how to make you fear for your own job security. But just because they are going to be your boss one day doesn't mean you should avoid them at all costs; rather, as a communications professional (hopefully) well-versed in Gen Y's preferred new technologies, you must encourage your organization to recruit and retain these employees in innovative ways. If you don't, they're just going to turn up the volume on their iPods and tune you out. Here's a communicator's guide to making them listen (and to making them want you even more than you want them).

Think Outside The Traditional Job-Posting

Whetting Gen Y-ers' appetites with entry-level positions cannot be done through your average job posting on the corporate Web site. Why? For starters, they're not looking on your corporate Web site - at least, not until after their interest has been piqued. Rather, they are playing on MySpace and scanning Craigslist, or getting tips from a friend of a friend of a friend.

So here is reality in a nutshell: As a senior executive, you probably had to compete doggedly for your first job with other, qualified newbies that looked just like you on paper; now, you're still in the boxing ring, this time duking it out with your industry competitors while these 20-somethings sit back, watch and wait for the most enticing offer. With that knowledge as ammunition, develop platforms to set your organization apart.

Take Ernst & Young, for example. E&Y executives teamed up with Fleishman-Hillard in 2006 to launch a page on Facebook. Log on to the company's page, and you'll see corporate information, a message board for Q&As, weekly career tips, videos of new recruits discussing their experiences, as well as links to the 7,497 members' own pages. Not only does this foster a sence of community, but it allows graduates to get a first-hand taste of E&Y's corporate culture.

"The purpose is essentially two-fold: to educate students about the culture and work of E&Y, and to help all students with the recruiting process. The end game for E&Y is to share their culture and to interest the best and brightest minds," says Alison Wille, VP at Fleishman-Hillard. She also points to E&Y's use of wireless games and mobile programs to engage potential recruits at two conferences last year.

As far as best practices go, she says, it is essential to "engage students in the locations where they communicate with each other and where they spend most of their time. Also, engage them in subjects that really interest them, whether it's CSR or work-life balance. Social networking is a big component of that."

If you think recruiting through social networks is a crazy method, consider what J.P. Morgan does. The corporation allows candidates to play "Fantasy Futures," an online trading game that's reminiscent of fantasy football (a hobby of many Gen Y sports aficionados), to learn the business. Then there are the companies that have shifted campus-recruiting sessions from classrooms to bars, opting for cocktail networking receptions over stuffy lecture-style seminars.

Communications execs should also consider teaming up with HR to accept video resumes. Why not, considering the success so many PR execs now have with VNRs? In the right circumstance, allowing applicants to submit a video resume has a number of benefits. It allows you to:

  • Judge their presentation style and comfort in the spotlight.

  • Get a taste for mannerisms.

  • Catch a glimpse of their technical skills; if they make a mean video, chances are you can use their talent for delivering messages in your own department.

Retaining: Don't Look Down; Meet Eye-To-Eye

They may be young enough to be your grandkids, but don't even think about treating Gen Y-ers as such once they are brought on board; unless you plan on giving them birthday cards full of cash, they won't appreciate it. Among the greatest frustrations of this young generation are condescending supervisors and feeling like they aren't being taken seriously. They know they didn't endure four- plus years of higher learning to take orders and have their accomplishments rewarded with shallow "we're so proud of you" pats on the back. They also know that they are as smart, if not smarter, than their bosses. Treat them as such. And if you are condescending, or if you don't offer stimulating work? They will quit. As reported in a recent issue of Fortune, Gen Y-ers are tough to retain because they are quick to quit if they are unhappy. Why? Because they can always move back home, rent-free, while they look for something else. That's why major corporations are stepping up with sexier offerings to nurture new hires and turn them into loyal, long-standing employees. For example (Source: Fortune):

KPMG: Not only does KPMG give every junior employee a mentor, but they have a Web site and social activities to bring the program to life. Plus, this summer the company is sending 100 new recruits to Madrid to get training with new hires from other countries. It also offers time off for community service.

IBM: Flexible hours are very attractive to Gen Y-ers, as many spent the past years in college working all night and sleeping all day. Not that nocturnal work habits are necessarily acceptable, but IBM does allow for flexible schedules and spaces. New technologies serve as enablers.

Here are some other pointers communications professionals should take when grooming new hires:

  • Give them a chance to shine: Media train young employees to be spokespeople for your organization. Not only will this put them ahead of the curve as they mature into more senior positions, but it will benefit you right now: Gen Y-ers are the best communications channel for delivering messages to their peers. Plus, chances are good that they are comfortable with public speaking - after all, it is a required course in many universities.

  • Give them incentives: A monetary bonus? Casual Fridays? A better-than-crappy cubical? Natural sunlight? The ability to work from home once a week? More travel? This generation of employees has higher expectations and greater demands - some would say they are spoiled, but that doesn't mean you have to give them things on a silver platter. Rather, set challenges that seem difficult to meet, and offer incentives for trying. Gen Y-ers are willing and able to work long hours, but they're not gonna do it for free.

  • Let them eat cake: If they want to blog, let them blog. If they like watching videos on YouTube, have them team up with the marketing department to create a viral video advertisement. If they dig social networks, put them in charge of coordinating internal communications functions. If they listen to their iPods constantly, create content - training programs, meeting summaries, etc. - that they can download and listen to while they're, say, at the gym.

If you think recruiting and retaining this new breed of employee is child's play, you are going to turn around one day and realize you are reporting to your grandkid. Your first assignment? Ordering their Venti soy latte and bringing it to their corner office.

Victory can be so sweet.


Alison Wille, alison.wille@fleishman.com