Do Gen Z and Millennial Job Candidates Expect Too Much, Too Soon?

Members of Generation Z aren’t shy at all about asking for a promotion. A recent survey by InsideOut Development, a workplace coaching firm, finds that 75 percent of Gen Z members believe they should be promoted within their first year on the job, while 32 percent believe they should get a promotion within their first six months.

Ruben Moreno, an executive recruiter who leads the HR practice group at Blue Rock Search in Knoxville, Tenn., says he’s seen this firsthand—among the candidates he speaks with and the people who work at his firm.

“Almost everyone else here is a millennial,” says Moreno, who is 50. “They think differently and act differently. Finding the right way to motivate and engage with them is a huge deal.”

Moreno recently shared his thoughts on the matter with Wall Street Journal “Work & Family” columnist Sue Shellenbarger. I recently caught up with him to get some additional perspective on how HR leaders can address the phenomenon of young employees who feel entitled to promotions that may not actually be warranted.

Ruben Moreno of Blue Rock Search.

You mentioned to Sue Shellenbarger that you’re seeing young recruits push for titles that exceed their skills and experience. Can you provide some examples?

I was talking to a young candidate who’d never held a director-level position but felt he was perfectly qualified to fill that role for one of our clients. He said “I’m ready to be a director where I am, but they won’t make me a director, which is why I’m talking to you.” This person was not ready for such a role in any shape or form. From an internal perspective, the typical career path here at Blue Rock is that you move from researcher to recruiting manager to client relationship manager to practice leader. We had someone who’d worked in corporate talent acquisition come in at the recruiting manager level, and within three months of arriving told us “I don’t want to recruit anymore, I want to be a practice leader.” Now there was no way on God’s green earth that this person was ready for such a move within three months of being here, and they’re no longer with us. But we learned from this experience, and today when we interview candidates for internal positions, we’re diligent about explaining upfront what the career paths here are.

What do you think accounts for this phenomenon? Do you think it’s youthful hubris or is something else at play here?

I think what’s going on now is the world of social media and the immediate access to so much information. Back in the 90s when I got into this line of work, there was a limited amount of information generally available. It took you time to gain access to information, knowledge and experience. As you gained that knowledge, you slowly grew more confident in your expertise. Today, all that information is almost instantaneously available. If you want to know what’s going on within your company, a quick search lets you see all kinds of information. That feeling of “I have what I need to know and the confidence to do other things” comes much quicker than it did back in the day. So that’s a big part of it. The challenge is that knowledge does not equate to skills and experience. People think they’re ready once they have knowledge, but they’re not.

What’s your best advice for HR leaders on how to prepare and plan for this?

The most progressive clients and organizations I see out there start by identifying their employee value proposition and building their message to candidates around that: When you come here, here’s what you’ll encounter in terms of our values, our culture and the career path you’ll have here. Then, once they’ve made a hire, they follow that up with a very deliberate and detailed onboarding process. The goal of onboarding should be to get new hires ramped up as quickly as possible but it can also help in managing career expectations by exposing them to senior-level people in the organization and also to the size and complexity of the organization itself. It helps them gain some perspective—they realize how big the world is beyond just their job.

What I’m also noticing in organizations is that they tend to be much more horizontal today than when I was starting out, when the career objective was vertical progression as quickly as possible. There’s a trend of careers progressing horizontally across different assignments, so it takes longer to get those bigger jobs than in more traditional organizations. When this is done right, I’m seeing that millennials are less focused on job title. I think what’s key is matching new hires with peer advisors or mentors to have an ongoing dialogue with them about how things are going, what their next step should be, and so on. In the absence of giving them an opportunity to have those conversations with a mentor, then they’ll have them with someone like me—and that’s not what you want if you’re hoping to hold onto talent.

Do you think this is about candidates wanting more money more quickly, or is it something else?

I have seen less money motivation now than when I was growing up. I think there’s an expectation that the job they do should have an impact, and that it’s noticed. They want to know that they’re doing meaningful work and be recognized for it. If you’re paying them a ton of money but offering little in the way of recognition or development, that won’t do—they can easily go make money some place else.

What else are young candidates telling you that you think HR leaders should know about?

There’s definitely a focus on the workplace itself—a space where you can opportunities for socializing with coworkers but also have some privacy to make a personal phone call and concentrate on certain tasks. Access to lots of natural light is big today—where I started out, the office had bright orange carpeting, dark wood paneling and little natural light; that’s not going to work these days. Here at our offices, we designed the layout so it’s like walking into someone’s living room that happens to have a full coffee bar. Everyone has their own individual office but there’s also the common area where you can get coffee, sit on a blue velvet sofa and hang out. That’s very important to candidates these days. Everything else you have to offer could be perfect, but if your office space isn’t like that, that could be the difference-maker.

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