How to Interview Millennials: The Keys to Hiring the Best Young Talent


interviewing millennial generation-stylized clipart of older woman interviewing young man

The following is a guest post by Aaron McDaniel, the author of the Young Professional’s Edge blog (YP Edge).

Through my 6 years of corporate experience I have sat on both sides of the interview table. While being a headache at times, actually conducting interviews has been one of the best ways for me to see exactly what mistakes interviewees my age make but also how those new to the workforce, millennials, come off to those interviewing them.

Characteristics of Millennial Generation Workers

Certain negative words come to mind when thinking of my millennial generation peers: entitled, impatient, cocky and unrealistic are a few among many.

But at the same time there are many traits that young millennial generation professionals bring to the workplace that are refreshing and beneficial: energy, enthusiasm, creative ideas and better engagement with technology.

What Makes the Millennial Generation Worker Tick?

To learn how to interview a millennial it is best to first understand where we are coming from.

Unlike older (and wiser) generations, millennials are used to being praised for every single little thing we do. We have always had trophies given out for participation, not just excellence. We are used to a world where our input is solicited and — like in youth soccer — “everyone plays,” not just those who have proven themselves the most capable.

This type of positive, unconditional support growing up has become very engrained in millennials’ psyche, a fact that will probably come out when you interview us.

It is important to put this in perspective since, as you know, this is not how the real world works.

Now that we have laid the foundation, here are suggestions to help you hire the best when interviewing a young and talented candidate of the millennial generation.

1. Explore their group experiences; not all group members are created equal

Unlike members of older generations, whose schoolwork was generally performed in a competitive individual environment, millennials have grown up in cooperative educational environments where group work is the norm. This has a downside when it comes to evaluating their value as potential employees!

From personal experience, most group members I have worked with have not carried their full weight (yet seem to claim more than their fair share of the credit).

When an interviewee mentions an example where they worked with a group, really dig in with follow up questions to see what their actual contribution was instead of just allowing them to focus on the accomplishment of the team as a whole. Where they an integral member or just someone whose name ended up on the title page of the group report?

2. Set expectations

Especially in a today’s tough job market, you can be choosy about whom you hire. Whether rightly or wrongly (the verdict is still out), the millennial generation has a reputation of not having as strong a work ethic as other generations.

If you are up front and explicit about job expectations and conditions, including hours of work, stress, and difficulty, you can weed out those who won’t be giving 100% all of the time and prepare those you do hire for success in their new role.

An important part of this is letting the candidate understand the culture of the company and that while they shouldn’t expect to be CEO in 5 years, they can gain experience in other areas (depending on the job/company).

3. Ask candidates about experiences outside of work

One thing that marks many millennials is that there is no typical educational and career path; everyone’s story is different.

Outside of class or previous work experience, many have been community leaders or taken a leadership role in things they are passionate about.

Evaluate these in the same way you would evaluate previous work experience. If you are looking to hire leaders, often young people haven’t had exposure to those leadership positions in a corporate environment, but they have in their community involvements. Something as simple as having been a varsity sports captain in high school can be a meaningful signal of leadership ability.

4. Don’t assume you are the only one doing the interviewing — it’s always a two-way street

Don’t forget to be conscious of how you are coming off to the interviewee. You are not the only one evaluating the person on the other side of the table. The candidate is also evaluating you.

I once was interviewing for a consulting job. My situation was a little unique in that I was graduating a semester early (in December) and wanted to start work the following September so that I could travel for a few months.

The partner interviewing me basically said, “Look, most young people say they are going to do big things like travel the world but most don’t do it. So instead, you should come work for me starting this January.”

I had never been more offended. Belittling me and my goals was not a good move, and ultimately I didn’t go work for that company. I did, however, travel to 18 countries over the next 8 months and didn’t start work until the following September.

5. Be a bit of an ego-masseuse

As mentioned above, millennials are used to having their egos stroked by parents and teachers. Make sure to acknowledge some of their accomplishments when interviewing them. At the very least it will make them more interested in the job and the company.

6. Pay attention to the questions they ask

Candidates that have taken the time to really understand your business and the position show you this when you turn the tables at the end of the interview to hear their questions. If they have done their homework and are really interested in the position it will show here.

Don’t get blinded by a high-flyer with great accomplishments who answers your questions well. They may be good at explaining themselves, but if they do not appear genuinely interested in the position or the company then their questions will come off as rote or artificial, as opposed to penetrating and educated.

You don’t want to hire a young gun that is not really interested in the position or just wants it on their resume for experience. Millennials are a whole lot less loyal than their Baby Boomer or Gen X counterparts and will leave shortly after things get boring. (For this reason you should always watch out for candidates that have numerous jobs where they are only there for a year or so. They will do the same thing to you, and all the resources you put into training them will be used at another company.

Conclusion

If you embrace the points outlined, you will be in a position to accurately evaluate a young millennial generation job candidate. You can understand their goals and the skills they bring to the table. Plus you can gauge their interest in a position, since we are all looking for people who want to build a career somewhere, instead of someone who is just making a pit-stop for a year or two.

Aaron McDaniel, (aka “Mr. Business,” so named after winning a male pageant to raise funds for charity) is the author of the Young Professional’s Edge blog (YP Edge). He is a corporate director, entrepreneur, public speaker, community volunteer and avid world traveler. He has experience in sales, customer care, marketing, operations, strategy and business development and has managed over 110 different direct reports and organizations as large as 60 at a Fortune 50 company while founding multiple entrepreneurial ventures and a non-profit all before the age of 28. Read more from Aaron @ http://ypedge.com

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