Recruiting Generation A
By Peter Weddle
There’s been lots (and lots) written and spoken about the generations that make up the contemporary American workforce. Every recruiter on the planet now knows that there are Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys or Millennials, and we are increasingly aware of their identifying attributes. According to generational commentators, for example, Millennials crave upward mobility, Boomers strive for compensation and benefits, and Gen Xers want their work balanced with a thriving social life. Ignore any of those characteristics, the pundits say, and you’ll have a very hard time recruiting and subsequently retaining the fifty-, thirty- and twenty-somethings in the workforce.
It’s an important perspective, I suppose, because we are in the business of sales, and sales success depends upon knowing your customer. You can’t possibly convince a Baby Boomer to buy your organization’s value proposition as an employer if you try to sell them with an argument that will best resonate with a Gen Xer or a Millennial and, of course, the converse of that is also true. But here’s the rub. Unlike in product sales, all of your potential customers in recruiting are not the same. If you’re selling widgets, one Baby Boomer or one Gen Xer or one Millennial is exactly like any other. They’re simply a wallet carrying human of a certain age. If you’re a recruiter, on the other hand, that commonality disappears. Distinctions in talent within generations are real and every bit as important–and maybe more–than distinctions among the generations.
To put it bluntly, all Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys are not created equal, at least in terms of the talent they have and use. Some are “A” level performers, some are “C” level performers, and others, for whatever reason, perform below acceptable standards. We all know that—it’s the reality with which we work. And that reality supports the identification of a new generation of workers, one that I call Generation A. If the traditional age-based generations are vertical silos within the U.S. workforce, Generation A is a horizontal segment that cuts across those silos. It includes the “A” level talent within each generation, the gifted workers all of us most want to recruit.
As with traditional generations, the members of Gen A have a number of unique characteristics that identify and set them apart. The key to recruiting success in today’s labor market, therefore, is to recognize and respect these distinctions. In other words, if you want to hire the “A” level performers in every generation, you must tailor your recruitment messaging not to their age, but to their talent.
What are these defining attributes of Gen A? Here’s a partial list:
• In most cases (even in today’s economy), Gen As are employed. The only way to recruit them, therefore, is to present a value proposition that is compelling enough to sell them on doing the one thing humans most hate to do: change. You have to convince them to go from the devil they know—their current boss, commute and employer—to the devil they don’t know—a new boss, a different commute and your organization. That requires an infinitely more persuasive job posting or recruitment ad than those that typically appear on job boards and in newspapers today.
• Top performers have different motivations. Most “A” level performers are driven by the need to achieve. They have to be the best at their profession, craft or trade, and they crave the indicia of that success. They want the highest salary, biggest office and the most attention from the boss. To recruit them, therefore, an organization must be able to demonstrate that the opportunity for collecting such rewards within its workplace is significant and real. But even that’s not enough to attract all of the superior performers in each generation. There’s another segment that’s equally as talented, but works for a different motivation. Sometimes called “B” level performers, they are driven by what one writer called “mental chocolate” or the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from doing a job well. To recruit that cohort within the generations, recruiters must prove that their organization offers challenging work that enables individual workers to excel.
• Gen As never, ever look for a job. In fact, they can’t even conceive of themselves as job seekers. Why? Because every job change they’ve made in their career was initiated by someone else. In other words, they believe that recruiters look for them; they don’t look for a job. That doesn’t make them passive, however. They do keep an eye out for career advancement opportunities. They are always willing to consider a new position if they can be convinced that it will enhance their standing in their field, enable them to acquire state-of-the-art skills and/or contribute to important work that will be respected by their peers. To activate their interest, therefore, recruiters must tout those advantages and appeal to the Gen A candidate’s ego. Recruiters must sell them on their understanding that the Gen A person is special and not just another resume in the database.
• Gen As are savvy consumers. This attribute presents two challenges: First, because they do not conceive of themselves as job seekers, they have to be drawn to your recruiting (or what is really a sales) process. They won’t visit your corporate career site or send in their resume on their own volition. You must have an employment brand that’s powerful and well promoted enough to catch their attention and entice them to do so. Said another way, your employment brand advertising has to be so good that Gen As can’t help themselves; they are compelled to pay you a visit. Then, you have to provide an experience that will convince them your branding message—the attributes of your employment experience—was true and accurate. Just as you do by test driving a car, they will test drive your organization as an employer by evaluating how you treat them as a candidate. It begins with simple courtesy, of course, but also includes the extent to which the activities of your recruiting process are aligned with the attributes you’ve advertised. Only if that happens—only if the expectation you’ve created with your brand actually comes true in your process—will Gen As buy your organization as an employer.
So, here’s the bottom line. If you want to win the War for Any Talent, tailor your recruiting to the age differences among generations. If you want to win the War for the Best Talent, focus, instead, on the talent differences within generations. Why? Because the best talent—Generation A—was born in 1947, 1976 and in 1990, as well.
Thanks for reading,