graphic of workers

Although it seems like just yesterday we were reading about the rise of the millennials, a new generation is hovering outside the threshold of the corporate world. Generation Z is about to hit the workforce, and their unique motivations will force brands to reevaluate their internal and external strategies. While businesses have a few years before Gen Zers become their buyers, for Gen-Z proofing your recruiting and employee engagements strategies, the time is now.

As children during the recession, Gen Z has grown up with no doubts about the power of corporations to affect far not only products and markets, but also politics, innovation, societal values, and most importantly, individual lives. They see a brand as a consistent value system and persona that guides a company and its interactions in the world. In other words, a way of life, a way of doing things. B2B brand will do well to tailor their recruiting brand accordingly, emphasizing how their “way of being” is one that will make a positive mark—without stifling individual progress.

Who is Gen Z?

Generation Z is defined as those born from around 1995 to around 2010, making the oldest members 24 years old—working, or applying, for their first corporate jobs. More so than their millennial predecessors, these are digital natives: they have always known high speed Internet, online shopping, smart phones, and social media. They’ve known great moments of social progress—gay marriage, greater recognition of LGBTQ issues, Obamacare—but they’ve also lived in the context of a huge amount of national and international tumult: 9/11, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, global and domestic terrorism, gun violence, the recession, the 2016 election….the list goes on and on. As such, they’ve developed an understandably strong desire to express their identity: a beacon of personal certainty in an uncertain world. With an outlook that is inherently digital, always plugged in, prematurely world-weary, and decidedly individualistic, Gen Z is bound to disrupt the workplace—B2B or B2C.

While they are not driving the buying decisions of companies right now, businesses must prepare their B2B branding strategies for their impending rise in the space, which is happening fast. According to McKinsey’s 2018 Gen Z Survey, 42 percent of Gen Zers from 17 to 23-years-old are already employed in either full- or part-time jobs or as freelance workers, reflecting this generation’s adolescence during the “gig economy.” By 2020, they’ll make up 20 percent of the total workforce.

Responding to the motivations of Gen Z

In order to prepare your company for the influx of Gen Zers, it’s important to understand the characteristics that make this generation so distinct. It may be easy for brands to label Gen Z as just an offshoot of millennials, but they are incredibly different from their predecessors. Here we will outline some common characteristics of Gen Zers and how B2B marketers can deploy recruiting strategies that appeal to them.

1. They’re frugal — so demonstrate that you can help build their financial security

Gen-Zers grew up during the collapse of the housing market and watched many of their parents lose their jobs during the recession. They’ve witnessed financial hardship in the news and in the lives of those around them. As such, 60 percent of Gen Zers already have a savings account, and 71 percent want to focus on saving in the future. They’ve watched millennials take on large amounts of debt and struggle to find well-paying jobs. They’ve seen political leaders fail to act on student debt reform. Thus, Gen Z has adjusted strategies accordingly.

The members of Gen Z are in some ways akin to the “Greatest Generation, ” a group that may not even include their grandparents. Gen Z believes in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps; they’ve seen little evidence that institutions or businesses will take on a supportive role. As such, employers can stand out by providing resources that help Gen Z feel secure in their finances. Of course this means traditional draws, such as generous compensation, tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, and good benefits, but it also means programs that promote financial literacy and help employees feel like the driver of their own investments.

Employee testimonials are a great way to leverage brand to demonstrate your company’s support for its employee’s financial well-being. Real world stories from millennial and Gen Z employees can help reassure recruits that your internal brand will deliver its promise.

2. They’re entrepreneurial — so show that you’ll let them innovate and improve

Growing up during the financial crisis has left this generation hesitant to depend on anyone else for work. Notice a theme? Seventy-two percent of U.S. high schoolers want to start their own businesses, and 61 percent anticipate doing so coming out of college. They value hard work and creating their own opportunities.

This motivation is especially important for recruiters to take into account. Gen Zers want an employer that is going to allow them to break the mold. Companies who want to attract this next group of talent needs to convince Gen Z that a B2B career can provide plenty of opportunities to learn, create, and disrupt.

What’s more, even the biggest, most established B2B brands have found that letting employees pursue individual (but still job-related) projects can lead to new, marketable products. Take 3M. Since 1948, it’s given its employees “15 percent time” to tinker on their own projects. This creative time has produced popular products like the Post-It Note, and has inspired similar programs at tech giants such as Google and HP. It’s this kind of initiative that will appeal to entrepreneurial Gen Z.

3. They value authenticity — so stay true to your purpose

Relatability—and reliability—are often more important to this generation than popularity or prestige. A poll by CNBC found that 67 percent of members of this generation agreed that “being true to their values makes a person cool.” Gen Zers are more likely to scrutinize the motives of large corporations and turn away from those who do not articulate a compelling purpose that is translated into a company culture and philanthropic community or environmental initiatives.

To appeal to Gen Z, CSR initiatives must be more than checking a box, however. The Edelman Brand Trust Barometer showed that 56 percent of consumers believe that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell more of their product or service. Corporate social responsibility is not just a tab on a website; it needs to be linked to a company’s purpose and seem like a logical extension of corporate strengths and values. For example, DeSantis Breindel worked with an economic consulting firm whose purpose was to empower clients to assuredly make legal arguments. As such, it seemed natural that its CSR should also focus on empowerment. The firm frequently wins recognition for its efforts, including introducing students to STEM and taking on pro bono cases that protect vulnerable communities from payday lending. This connection between purpose and philanthropy, between business and giving back is made clear in its recruiting materials.

4. They have shorter attention spans — so create short but powerful content

While the average attention span of a millennial—12 seconds—may seem short, Gen Z has them beat! According to Forbes, they stay focused an average of only eight seconds. At first consideration, this might seem aggravating, but when you recognize the sheer quantity of content they’ve grown up around, it makes sense. They have developed a filter that has allowed them to trudge forward in this content-heavy age. They also tend to be able to navigate many digital platforms simultaneously—on average, five at a time.

Thus, short, highly visual, and highly compelling recruiting content is crucial for B2B companies targeting Gen Z. Video is a good solution. While long-form, high-quality content will continue to be important for SEO, visibility, and for targeting older buyers and prospects, Gen Z recruiting efforts need to include shorter components that are readily accessible on mobile devices. You only have a few seconds to make an impression, but if you get their attention, Gen Zers will dive deeply into your content.

5. They are true digital natives — so push the boundaries

Gen Zers were born into a world already saturated with cellphones and the Internet. They never had to adjust to technology, so they are poised to bring an unprecedented level of technological skill and expertise to the workplace. They are comfortable customizing technology to meet their specific needs, and expect leading companies to do the same.

Thus, being “digitally savvy” isn’t good enough anymore. Gen Zers want to work for companies who are pushing the envelope and looking for new ways to engage employees, recruits, and customers. Try incorporating podcasts, interactive infographics, social media campaigns, online chats, or other new media tools to create a snapshot of your work experience, rather than simply publishing bullet points of perks or stats about prestige.

For example, consider the Washington Post, which has recently started its own TikTok channel. No doubt Ben Bradlee ever imagined his newsroom’s personalities posting to a platform which also hosts viral lip sync videos. However, the paper has used this less-than-serious account to shake off its stuffy Washington reputation for prospective Gen Z readers and reporters.

Ready, set, recruit!

Millennials may be the most studied generation to date, but this is likely to change as Gen Z matures into adulthood. Soon, all businesses, not just consumer-facing brands, will be vying for Gen Z’s wallets—and their talents. The most successful employer brands will be those who start experimenting with new strategies now. Although marketing will play an important role, creating a Gen Z-friendly recruiting strategy—and workplace—will involve many departments pulling together to appeal to a new and promising generation of young adults.

To learn more about recruitment branding, contact us.

About the author

Kiley Burns

Kiley Burns is an Associate Strategist at DeSantis Breindel. She fuses strong business acumen with a passion for creativity to uncover what makes clients unique and develop new, innovative ways to refresh and evolve brands.

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