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Q&A: Author Curtis Odom on how to Get Gen Z Workers Excited to Work for You

Q&A: Author Curtis Odom on how to Get Gen Z Workers Excited to Work for You

By: Anne Fisher

Nipping at the heels of their Gen Y predecessors, today’s Gen Z graduates are anxious to explore the world. 

If your company has already interviewed these new or soon-to-be college grads for internship positions or full-time jobs, you may have noticed a subtle but significant shift from their Millennial big brothers and sisters. Gen Z is likely to ask different questions, and more of them. 

Author Curtis Odom says smart employers and recruiters will take note. 

“Companies are still operating as if the classical model of full-time employees with one-size-fits-all benefits, working fixed eight-hour shifts, is still dominant and relevant,” he observes. “It’s not.” 

The reason: The rise of the so-called gig economy is changing the way people—especially these young people—think about work. 

Odom’s newest book, From Campus to Corner Office: How Co-Ops and Internships Will Help You Win in the Workplace!, is aimed at young workers just starting out. It’s a cohort he knows well, as founder and head of Boston-based Stuck On Start Coaching

The firm, which advises recent grads on career planning, is an extension of Odom’s role as a professor in the MBA program at Northeastern University. With a 20-year background in talent management at Fortune 500 companies, he finds himself constantly fielding questions from students about finding, or creating, work they’ll find satisfying.

Monster recently spoke with Odom to hear how Gen Z sees their future, and how employers and recruiters can entice this new generation.

Q. How exactly has the gig economy influenced the way Gen Z thinks about work?

 A. What the open-source model did for software development, the gig economy is doing for the current workforce. 

Gen Z—the first generation born in the 21st century—is completely comfortable with online platforms that create larger and more efficient marketplaces to connect freelancers with buyers of their services. More and more, this group is looking at careers as independent contractors, or contingent workers. 

The appeal of that model is a chance to enjoy a level of independence that, until recently, would have been considered too good to be true. With proper planning, they can create a freelance career that’s at least as stable as a full-time job, one that provides greater control over their life and work. 

Q. Millennials have had lots of opportunities to freelance, too. Why is Gen Z more inclined to do it?

A.  First, the acceleration of technology has become the new norm. Gen Z is conditioned to look for a constant stream of new challenges in a way that just didn’t exist before. 

Secondly, they know from seeing their parents (and even their older Millennial brothers and sisters) get laid off that “job security” is a thing of the past, no matter what kind of work you’re doing. 

Consequently, Gen Z is much more interested in trying out a variety of new experiences, and a variety of different employers.  It’s also partly a “try before you buy” mentality.  

When they do choose a full-time job, they’re looking for one that comes closest to the gig they’ve liked best so far.

Q. If you want to recruit regular full-time employees, how do you appeal to Gen Z talent? 

A.  Even more so than Millennials, this group is impatient to make its mark. They don’t want to wait around for three years or five years and “pay their dues.” Gen Z wants to contribute and be able to point to specific accomplishments, right now. 

Employers should take a page from the military’s playbook. Recruiters for the armed services say to potential enlistees, “Let me tell you about all the cool stuff you’ll be able to start doing right away.” 

It’s important to have a current employee affirm that message. Ask a young person who already works in the area where you’re hiring to sit in on the interview and explain what she has worked on, what kinds of projects she’s done, what she has learned, and so on. It’s much more convincing that way. 

Q. What about emphasizing benefits—for example, health insurance? 

A. Flexible hours and the chance to telecommute are crucial. Gen Z cares more than previous generations about pursuing interests outside of the traditional 9-5 work day. 

Beyond that, the research I’ve seen points to two common gripes about freelance work among people of all ages, including the lack of benefits and concerns about career development. 

If you’re trying to interest a Gen Z candidate, think about what you can do for him or her in those areas. Be ready to discuss the career path they might expect with your company. 

Since constant variety and new challenges are a big part of what appeals to lots of people about the gig economy, talk about the chance to learn new skills and to move on to bigger, or at least more varied, roles in-house.

Employers who still have traditional one-size-fits-all benefits packages might also want to consider replacing those with a “cafeteria menu” of different choices instead, where you let people choose which benefits matter most to them personally. 

Finally, keep in mind that Gen Z is likely to care a lot more about paid time off and pet insurance than about retirement benefits, for instance. What’s important to you at 22 isn’t the same as what matters when you’re 40. 

Q. Speaking of that, will Gen Z be more interested in traditional full-time jobs when they get older?

A.  It’s hard to say. I do think Gen Z will be more willing to settle down with one employer as they get older and take on more responsibilities, like families and mortgages. 

Down the road, I think companies can continue to attract them by offering more chances to make real contributions and more learning experiences.