Values. Almost every recruiter and communications professional we spoke to used that word when describing the number-one item Gen Z candidates looked for when considering employment.
But it’s about a lot more than just posting a mission statement—it’s about making an impact. Gen Z wants to be a part of companies that live their purpose and play a role in affecting change. PR agencies and communication departments are paying attention.
“The most important area that we have focused on is our culture and showcasing that we, as an organization and as individuals, align with our values personally and professionally,” says Lisa Vasquez-Fedrizzi, SVP, People and Culture, Lippe Taylor. “[We are] allowing potential employees to see that we do not just check off boxes, but are very true and stand by bringing your authentic self to work.”
Living Your Truth
It’s easier than ever for Gen Z candidates (and consumers) to research organizations, see who they represent and how, to determine whether a company is keeping its values and promises. Search and social media make easy work of that.
According to Sprout Social data, in terms of what Gen Z is looking for in employers, a Jan. 2023 survey revealed 57% of 18-24 year-olds agree or strongly agree that seeing employees post about their company positively impacts their view of the company. Furthermore, 60% of 18-24 year-olds agree or strongly agree that they feel more connected to a brand when employees share information about their company.
So if your organization is doing the work, and keeping employees happy, it may have a much easier time recruiting talented Gen Z candidates.
Connor Blakley, founder and CEO of Youth Logic, started his Gen Z focused agency when he was 15. Now 23, he leverages a network of over 10,000 Gen Z members for real-time cultural understanding, providing important marketing and engagement insights to Fortune 500 companies.
Blakely says an organization’s consumer strategy and employment branding strategy should be “nearly indistinguishable.”
“Gen Z wants to work for companies they especially love and resonate with as consumers first,” he says. “Especially as we take a holistic 'life' approach in our search, we tend to find unique values, personal to us based on our vision for our lives, not just our 'careers.' When we see a brand’s tone, values, executives and initiatives showcased authentically and in alignment with youth culture, it becomes a competition [to work there].”
The Agency Issue
The “Mad Men” era ended decades ago, and yet, agency life still has a stigma. Kristina Markos, associate professor of practice and internship director, Gwen Ifill College at Simmons University, says old adages like long hours and low pay for entry-level positions can cause Gen Z to shy away from agency opportunities.
“Too often, I see agencies fall victim to an antiquated model that is top-heavy and leans heavily on the philosophy that young folks need to 'pay their dues,'" Markos says. “A lot of Gen Z folks are disenchanted with the hierarchy of agency culture and the 'pay your dues' mindset—because they come out of school…as content creators…[already] equipped with creative, strategic ideas [and life experience]. Gen Z has been thriving in an era where digital communications sparks conversations, not responds to it.”
Tiffiny Bolden, global head of human resources, Golin, says the industry is aware that Gen Zers are dialing in on agency culture when they apply for positions.
“They are asking pointed questions and asking for examples of how culture really shows up at different career stages and parts of the agency,” Bolden says. “They’re more apt to hold employers accountable for the culture claims that are being made externally.”
And again, Gen Z is not afraid to ask for answers and transparency regarding company values and impact.
“They want hybrid work opportunities and are keen to understand how they’ll fit into the big picture and make an impact,” Bolden adds. “They want to know what we’re doing as it relates to DEI and sustainability.”
A positive impact of the pandemic that’s helped lift many agencies’ culture profiles is the focus on empathy in the workplace.
Kara Armit, Vice President, Human Resources at 360PR+, says empathy is talked about in relations to diversity, equity and inclusion, but it can also apply to these old adages and generational differences in the workplace.
“The ability to meet Gen Zers where they’re at, instead of just rolling our collective millennial and Gen X eyes and saying things like, 'back when I started in PR…' is crucial to integrating this new generation into the industry and making them feel like they belong.”
Gen Z Hiring Gen Z
The most reliable source for hiring opinions could be hiring Gen Z for your human resources teams. Investing in internal knowledge, with those who know, can not only help build their confidence as coworkers, but provide a better environment for recruitment.
BerlinRosen handed the mic over to its own recruitment team Gen Zer, Courtney Diggs, to give her opinion on recruiting Gen Z for this interview.
"We’re a different generation with a very different way of doing things,” Diggs says. “It’s about bringing in new talent to help continue forming and creating the culture of a company instead of sticking to the same thing all the time."
And this rings true for Gen Z agency owners. Similar to Connor Blakely, Michael Franklin serves as the Chief Thought Leadership Officer for his business, Words Normalize Behavior LLC. His focus, when it comes to recruiting, is raising awareness about the variety of opportunities that exist in communications—something that can sometimes be left by the wayside during high school and college years.
“I've found that the variety of communications jobs are not introduced early in life as viable career paths, and there's a bit of a mystique around who can have these jobs and what they entail,” Franklin says. “Despite my being a speech and debate competitor throughout high school, professional speech writing wasn’t something introduced as a career option until my sophomore year of college.”
“When it comes to applying for and working for a company, my generation cares about the values of an organization,” Franklin says. “As…[James] Baldwin said, "I can't believe what you say because I see what you do." We care about businesses and organizations that won't be silent in moments that matter.”
Franklin says he focuses on securing purpose-driven clients to ensure employees will be working on meaningful initiatives. He believes it is important to champion those project wins for prospective Gen Z employees.
“PR agencies and communications departments should prioritize demonstrating the impact of transformative communications,” he explains. “Becoming a communications professional opens many doors for meaningful impact, and it's something that should be emphasized when discussing the appeal of these roles. Agencies should be prepared to make the case for why the work they're achieving goes beyond the bottom line.”
Blakley sums up the benefits of working for a Gen Z-owned agency—for the employees and the clients.
“We are as real as they come, something that resonates with Gen Z deeply,” he says. "We tend to stay away from projects that involve large partner agencies who are just looking to carelessly check the Gen Z box. We just have no time for BS or disingenuous behavior.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal