The Great Recession may have made many Millennials more sober about their job prospects but for the most talented of my generation, the economic difficulties of 2008 hardly registered as anything more than steeper online shopping discounts. In fact, in the last 8 years, they have become increasingly difficult to court in the labor market as demand for their skills has increased. At The Data Incubator, we work with hundreds of hiring companies looking to hire Millennial PhDs from our selective data science fellowship program. We’ve watched hiring companies kill their buzz with a few poorly chosen words and others overcome widespread prejudices to win even the most skeptical of candidates. Here’s how:

Be flexible. The most talented millennials often don’t emphasize financial remuneration as much as workplace flexibility. Millennials love flexible hours and take-as-much-as-you-want vacation policies. They prefer telecommuting for one-off meetings on another coast and view face time as a waste of time, especially if it cuts into time with family and friends.

Some employers would call this laziness. But in our experience, Millennials are not seeking fewer hours but control over when they spend their hours. The most talented Millennials are workaholics. These bright, ambitious workers will work in the evenings after taking off early to meet with friends. They never manage to take more than 2 weeks of vacation a year but hate being nickeled and dimed when they have to take a few hours off to take their kids to the pediatrician. Savvy employers understand that good employees will find this freedom liberating and feel empowered to do their best work.

Obviously, the company culture may not be be compatible with the entire workplace-flexibility wishlist. But many traditional large corporates have started moving (either at the Corporate level or the individual group level) towards greater flexibility. Competitive pressure may force others to catch up.

Channel your inner startup. Startups are all the rage. Everyone wants to be a part of a dynamic organization on the cutting edge of disruption, especially Millennials. What’s an established corporate to do? One of our hiring partners is a large multinational looking to hire data scientists to shore up an aging multibillion-dollar franchise. Yet, they are one of our most popular employers and have dozens of our top PhD fellows vying to work for them each quarter. What are they doing differently?

The hiring group markets themselves as the successful startup within a larger organization. They don’t talk about the headcount of the entire corporation but emphasize how their nimble teams of 30 are having a disproportionate impact on the wider organization and “disrupting” pre-existing industry business practices. They emphasize how most of their personnel come from bona-fide startups and how they have maintained a flat organizational structure and a  “fail fast” mentality.

It doesn’t hurt that they have a ping-pong table and beer keg in the office and have abolished the dreaded cubicle. And while many employers might balk at these perks, keep in mind that they are inexpensive compared to the cost of a good employee leaving for a startup. Think of the perks as a form of cultural signaling — you “get it” if you have a ping pong table in the office — and they have a positive side effect: your employees are more likely to discuss work when they grab subsidized after-work drinks in the office than if they are at a sports bar watching a football game.

Avoid generalities and platitudes. The brightest employees enjoy a challenge. For younger employees, this often revolves around learning the ropes. They want to better understand the interesting challenges they will be tackling, the cool technologies they might be using, or the sophisticated analysis they will be performing. More senior candidates are often looking to have a broader impact with their work. They want to understand the business case behind their work, who within the organization their role would be serving, and specific managerial responsibilities the role entails. Both groups groups hunger for details.

A job description couched in well-worn business cliches or peppered with vague TLAs makes it hard to get candidates fired up and applying for your opening. Millennials don’t just want any job, they want one that excites, challenges, and motivates them. Smart companies craft job descriptions to paint a picture of a day-in-the-life as an employee, their possible career trajectories and an inspiring mission for the organization. They emphasize their workplace flexibility but also honestly discuss the challenges they expect their employees to meet.  In short, employers must project that most cherished but elusive of Millennial values — authenticity.

Every new generation possesses different tastes and preferences and Millennials are no different. While they expect to be fairly compensated, a large paycheck may not be at the top of their wishlist. Growing up in unprecedented prosperity and financial security, has shaped the preferences of this generation and pushed those preferences higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. To remain competitive, employers need to understand what drives these Millennial workers.

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Image: Dave Schumaker

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