The Millennial generation increasingly streaming into the workforce is less focused on money and more on being challenged and contributing to the larger good, preferably at a job where technology is important to the overall operation and where it's acceptable to chat with friends via instant messaging and Facebook.
"This is the generation that wrote term papers while IMing and chatting on Facebook," said Scot Melland, CEO of Dice.com, a career website for technology and engineering professionals and their employees. "This is the ultimate multitasking generation we've seen so far."
Millennials are loosely defined as those born after 1980, who hit their 20s in 2000, and although they currently make up only about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, as that percentage climbs, recruiters and prospective employers will find notable differences from other generations, Melland said.
"Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials ... have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change," found a major study of Millennials from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is amassing a growing body of research and issuing reports about that generation. "They are history's first 'always connected' generation. Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking, hand-held gadgets almost like a body part -- for better and worse."
On the better side of the equation, at least as far as employers are concerned, Melland said that Millennials ask of prospective jobs, "is it challenging and is it giving back to the greater good -- these are admirable qualities." Those job attributes are far more important to this generation than a big paycheck, he added, but that presents a challenge for job recruiters.
"This is not just about putting up job postings and making people aware of your opportunities. You really have to sell them," he said. "It's a whole lot more work" for recruiters and employers to appeal to a generation that is focused on relationship building and social networks.
To that end, Melland is encouraging employers to establish a strong presence at sites like his, but also at Facebook -- that social media site came up again and again in a half-hour interview with Melland. Millennials also are more likely to be attracted to companies with well-developed corporate websites, regardless of the size of the business.
"We think the best way to reach them for recruiting is through the Internet and online because that's what they're accustomed to," he said.
On the flip side, employers and recruiters that check out information about job candidates at social media sites and personal blogs are likely to encounter information about religious beliefs, sexual orientation and other potential landmines. "When they go and they look at candidates at individual sites, we counsel them to be very careful because they may be exposed to information early on in the [recruiting and hiring] process that may be inappropriate" for them to have knowledge of, Melland said.
Oddly, for a group as Internet-savvy as Millennials, recent research has found that while the vast majority of employers use information they glean from social networking and other sites to evaluate candidates, only a small fraction of those candidates figured that prospective employers would be doing that, Melland said.
"Really, it was such a disconnect," he said, adding that he believes "they will definitely learn."
Other Pew research released in July, though, found that technology experts believe that Millennials will continue to share such personal details of their lives even as they age. Perhaps this suggests a way in which Millennials will influence and change the workplace and society, though at this juncture looking that far ahead is just guesswork.
Meanwhile, Melland suggested that employers who hire Millennials should focus on "continually reinforcing with them how their role adds to the success of the overall organization. They seem very sensitive to becoming a small cog in a big machine. They don't like being a small cog. ... They're less hierarchical. They believe they should be able to tap into senior people."
As part of that, Millennials are proving to be a generation that thrives on being mentored and coached. "When you coach someone or mentor someone, that tells them that they're special," Melland said.
While Millennials are proving amenable to tapping into the knowledge of those who have more experience, their expertise also should be tapped in return, Melland said.
His advice to employers: "First, use what these kids know. They are a window into how the market is changing. They are the early adopters of the Web technologies and the mobile technologies and the social networks. Use their knowledge to help you with your business."