How To Hire & Keep Millennials – From a Gen Y CEO

I was fully expecting to be running my own business by the ripe old age of 25. This blind drive to succeed is as much a product of my own skills, genes and upbringing as it is a relatively common feature among people my age. Most employers balk at the realization, but for me I feel lucky to be able to relate to the Y generation and the Z alike.

I’m in the right age bracket where one is most likely to find those uniquely suited for understanding the ins and outs of the mobile industry. So I employ them without being daunted by the doomsayers, because the age parity gives me a leg up on other employers who can’t seem to get a handle on the Me-Me-Me Generation.

If you’re one of them, don’t worry, I’ve drawn up the following how-to with you in mind, to help you entice and engage the fresh-faced youngsters too!

How To Entice Millennials

1. Get Them While They’re Young And Hungry!

While this may evoke a (creepy) "We Want You!" image in your mind, it’s an admittedly ageist solution I keep coming back to, especially when I’m looking for new people to join our mobile development team. That’s because the younger Millennials or the older Gen Z-ers – depending on where you draw the line – are digital natives.

The younger the developer, the more likely it is that they will:

  1. live and breathe programming for the mobile age, and
  2. be eager to learn even more as well as work their hardest to impress.

If you’re angling for a new hire, I’d suggest you check out the high-schoolers and college students who’d jump at the chance to "earn to learn" through a paid internship within your company. Our experiment this summer with a couple of high-school interns worked out great!

2. Don’t Use Hackneyed "Where-do-you-see-yourself-in-5-years"-Type Interview Questions!

Millennials wince at the cliches and the set pieces bandied about in HR manuals. Ditch the textbook interviewer voice and use your own.

Granted, it’s easier to commute to an equal footing when you’re my age, but that’s no reason to talk down to interviewees if you’re ten years older. The distance that creates between you is a sure-fire way to kill any chance you might have of getting a real feel for the person in front of you.

I ask them about their dreams and career tract, about how they came up in the industry and what they’d add to what they’ve seen of our company do so far.

You could even ask if s/he’s a morning person or a night owl, anything that will give you some idea of how independent they are (a big must in any startup nowadays is independent thinking) and how they might click with the work, the team, the office culture, everything your company’s about.

3. Don’t Just Look For The Best-Fit Skill Set For The Job

At the end of the day, and especially in a startup, the margin for error is narrow, but the potential for greatness skyrockets when you think outside the box.

So look for the person who colors outside the lines, who has a good solid trove of know-how that you can build on, and also who will best jibe with your team. It’s well-known, but always worth reiterating, that friendships at the office keep people engaged and coming to work – consider it the built-in social element.

Even if the interviewee is setting off alarm bells in your head, follow your gut… and test for accuracy. Whenever I get conflicting signals from a would-be Millennial hire, I try to test their skills, whatever s/he claims them to be – or even just their smarts – in order to get a better grasp of who they really are, behind all the interview poses.

4. Don’t Jump To Conclusions With Job Hopping

The 2000s, when the Millennial’s started cutting their teeth at the workplace, were rough, on the one hand, and revolutionizing, on the other. Those growing up and/or starting a career during those times are bound to have developed both an always-on mentality (their mobile device glued to their hands) and a "checkered" past

What that means is their resumes might look like Swiss cheese, with gaps galore and short, scattered employment periods. Your job is to look beyond that.

Use your chance during this one-on-one chat to ask about the thinking behind the winding career path s/he has been on so far. Maybe there’s method to the madness – I sure have found that to be true more than once

Other times, most times really, I’d learn that the soul-sucking corporate environment was what my interviewee had been running from, not the work itself. It’s so easy to bond over a mutual hatred of the corporate monkey life, isn’t it?

5. Chart The Wealth Of Opportunities They’ll Be Getting

Contrary to the general (narrow-minded) view, Millennials aren’t slackers. Actually, the potential for growth is foremost on a Millennial’s mind (as well it should be!). With that in mind, I always try to sketch out how fast we’ve grown and where we’re heading to in the near future. So much is waiting for us just round the corner!

I’ll gauge how much what we do here at T-Me excites the interviewee, by doing a quick overview of each department, even a walk-through if time permits, and watch their face light up. You’ll also want to point out that, this being a startup, their time is their own to make use of as they want – after completing any daily task they might have, they could be learning tons more

Shadowing the leads or each department is one fun way of doing that – the experience-hungry Millennial will usually jump at this chance. ..

6. Sell Them All The Way To The Door

But don’t oversell(!) or your new hire’s trust in you will crash and burn, as will all your recruiting efforts, soon enough.

Having said that, it’s imperative, especially if you’re in the SaaS business like we are, to paint a glowing, accurate picture of your startup, your product, and the industry you’re disrupting.

We Millennials need to feel like we’re working on something great, read: potentially world-changing, so that, more than anything, what makes your startup attractive to prospects is its higher purpose.

Stress the highlights of your company culture – remember, you’re also being interviewed!

7. Be Diligent And Fast In Closing The Deal – Millennials Are Slippery!

I’ve had a few great interviewees get snatched up right from under my nose, because I was too busy to get back to them in a timely fashion, or just took too long to decide. That’s one of the hardest things you ultimately realize as an all-in-one startup founder, CEO and recruiter: wearing as many hats as we end up wearing, the 24-hour day fails us often.

The key to remember here is this: when you find someone you could see working at your company, don’t waste any time in hiring them, even if just for a probationary period.

I’ve even had to accommodate some uncommon wishes – part-time employment for a month or two until the gun-shy Millennial was 100% sure that leaving their previous job for us was be the right call – and I did, on the spot, no questions asked. It’s a win-win especially when you know bringing them on for even just 4 hours a day would add value to your company.

How To Engage Millennials On The Job

1. Don’t Leave Your Millennial Hire To Fend For Him-/Herself During The First Week Or So

Do your best job of showing the new hire around, introducing them to the team and each and every one’s responsibilities. While Millennials are known to be very self-reliant, and many project an overwhelmingly bullish image, you might still need to step in and smooth the path to his/her entry into the team.

As with any young people – and more so with this "entitled" generation – personalities will clash, tempers will fly, but rest assured, if you’ve really worked at putting together a strong office culture, the dust will settle. If and only if you feel there’s a pressing need for you to intervene, do so like a peer, not an overbearing parent.

IMAGE: ITU Pictures | Flickr

Always keep both the good of the team and your bottom line at the back of your head and, no matter the problem, the right course of action will come to you.

2. Don’t Be Too Strict. That’s So Last Generation.

As a true Millennial you’ll know off the bat that shoehorning youngsters into pre-defined and outdated ideas of what an employee should look like is a waste of time, or worse.

It runs counter to everything Millennials have been told about their uniqueness, for one. And setting reams and reams of "commandments" in place will only get you in hot water and told off as a tyrant by disgruntled Millennials heading out to the competition.

Flexible hours, personalized workspaces, regular fun times (forget casual Fridays, we’ve got Happy Fridays, with home-baked cookies and treats delivered right to our kitchen!) – all of these and many more are buzzwords Millennials live for, and luckily, easily enforceable.

Keep asking yourself how you’d like to live half a weekday every week in the kind of environment you set for your people and you’ll see the light. Last but not least, keep a close eye on your people, to check for signs of exhaustion and pre-empt burnout by mandatory time off. It really does pay off!

3. Encourage On-Site Perks That Keep Everyone At The Office For Longer

I’m not just talking about the company PlayStation, gym memberships or constant influx of coffee and healthy snacks. Aside from the laid-backness, it’s also about creating an agile, techie-friendly work environment.

If you ask around, you’ll find the young generation can’t have enough of the newest, coolest workarounds that hack the traditional ways of doing anything. The upshot of that is an office that can be constantly tweaked for better results.

The unwieldy soft with corporate written all over it is out, while new gadgets and apps keep popping up to streamline our workdays. So, always aim to reduce clutter within your tech startup, at all levels: your employees will thank you for it and the savviest Millennials that you surely want to appeal to will expect it right out of the gate.

As an added bonus, if you’ve recently come into an Oculus headset (or whatever other equally hot gadget), bring it round the office for everyone to have a crack at it. Your cool factor will go through the roof!

4. Prioritize The Monthly Task Of Organizing Fun, Social Get-Togethers

Do this at least once a month, or however frequently you feel the mood on the floor is dipping below normal productivity levels. Delegate the task of gauging the mood and organizing impromptu outings accordingly to the friendliest, most sociable person on the team (or, for extra brownie points with your Millennial workforce, oversee this yourself, if you’ve got the time).

It’s also a great way of levelling the fun and the flow of information between different teams – in our case, the graphic artists and the magic devs. Some antics may get lost in translation, but the great inside jokes will crack everyone up, and you’ll know you’ve got the ingredients for a strong, connected team that’s in it for the long haul.

5. Expect Growing Pains, Embrace Results

Don’t reward Millennials like there’s no tomorrow, but recognize that they’ve come up in a world where they were handed just-because trophies for anything remotely resembling an achievement.

So they’ll need to know they’re valued, and not through some "employee-of-the-month"-type scheme, but whenever they deserve it – these can come in the form of pay bumps, but they can also be a shoutout on Slack or in front of the team.

Also, as any startup CEO and founder will tell you, it’s hard to make light of slip-ups when they cost your firm time, money or both – but you’ll need to swallow your anger for the first few missteps that your new hire makes.

At the same time, take advantage of every such opportunity to point out to them how that slipup hurt the bottom line and what the right way would’ve been.

6. Be Approachable, With An Open-Door Policy Running On Slack And Smiles :)

Just make sure those smiles aren’t plastic. Be there for your new hire should he want to bounce off ideas off you, praise or complain or everything in between.

Recognizing the need to for dialogue with your employees is just half of the equation – as noted in the Bain study, and probably felt at some level by all CEOs everywhere – your voice needs to adapt to your interlocutor’s expectations, personality type and indeed, gender.

On the other hand, scrutinizing your team regularly might turn up some question marks that one-to-one talks won’t quite put to rest. So you might find that the idea of an anonymous feedback practice does wonders for your team spirit.

7. Keep Everyone Apprised Every Step Of The Way, No Matter Their Paygrade

You’ll want to keep the failed mergers, the talks that fall through, the hiring and firing decisions etc. behind closed doors – here’s the thing though. You can’t

People notice and productivity levels drop when the gossip mill starts churning. All you can do is get in front of it by being honest with your team – no delay, no fluff, no frills, just the plain truth.

Millennials have a tougher skin than older generations give them credit for – they can take the downturns, they just won’t take the lies.