Millennials—The Future Generation of Your Workforce

BETWEEN 2011 AND 2029, 77 million baby boomers will transition into retirement. The natural offset will be found in the 70 million or so "millennials taking their place.

Workplace demographics in the United Stated have traditionally been categorized into four segments:

1. Traditionalists—born prior to 1946

2. Baby Boomers—born 1946-1964 (who will begin retiring in 2011)

3. Generation X—born 1965-1980

4. Millennials—born 1981-2000

It s this fourth group that seems to be getting the most press coverage because it represents the future of corporate America. Being the largest generation since the baby boom, millennials represent a huge economic and social force and may already be the most-studied generation in history.

The millennial generation, also known as ''Generation Y, the ''Net generation, and the ''IM generation, is the most tech-savvy generation that s ever graced our planet. And navigating generational politics in the office has never been as critical as it is today, thanks to this workforce that has no recognition of life without cell phones, the Internet, iPods, instant messaging (IM), e-mail, text messaging, and personal electronic entertainment.

Millennials grew up in a society where children s self-esteem was consciously nurtured, and they've benefited from the longest economic boom in history. As a result of their experience, unique values have developed that make them different from generations that have come before them. And due to their sheer size and the key responsibility that s befallen them—picking up where the baby boomers will leave off—they ve become a force to be reckoned with, both in terms of hiring and retention.

This generation is known for its confidence—not just the natural confidence of youth, but an assuredness that comes from growing up in prosperous economic times. They demonstrate high levels of trust and optimism and can balance ambition with practicality. They're socially conscious, focused on achievement, diverse, and fairly street smart. In short, most demographers would sum them up as bright, ambitious, concerned, and amazingly connected through technology.

That being said, millennials represent specific challenges to employers. Negatively characterized as narcissistic and entitled, these newcomers have been accused of demonstrating a penchant for self-indulgence, IM shorthand illiteracy, and shorter attention spans. In addition, you'll be faced with a generation that is used to getting a lot of praise and not much censuring, so the traditional understanding of what constitutes constructive criticism may become a common workplace issue—and one that needs to be addressed during the interview process.

In addition, remember that millennials tend to blur private and public communication. Because of the availability of technology that's allowed them to post their innermost secrets on MySpace as well as videos of themselves on YouTube, their level of sensitivity toward protecting company confidential information may not be well developed.

Most important, remember that this generation communicates differently. Shorthand IM and text messages don't require a lot of face-to-face negotiation, and they may be less inclined to communicate in person. This is particularly an issue when there is conflict. As such, you may need to provide special care when it comes to the appropriate amount of structure, direction, and feedback that they'll require on a daily basis, as well as guidance in terms of face-to-face communication with customers and older co-workers.

That being said, you may very well find that this younger group of newcomers may be looking for more appreciation and open communication than you're normally used to giving—especially during the initial interview process. And maybe they're right. Perhaps it's time to simplify the interviewing equation on both sides so that the interview itself becomes an exercise of value rather than a game of wits, strategies, and defenses that simply provides gateway access into a company.

The key to this kind of simpler, more open interviewing style lies in engaging candidates' hearts as well as their minds by employing an open and honest dialogue that focuses just as much on the candidate's needs as on the needs of your company. If you tend to hire lots of workers under age 30, this chapter is for you. Let's look at some interview questioning strategies that may identify the best and brightest that these younger workers have to offer while avoiding some of the potential pitfalls that may come your way.

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