MBA Millennials: They ARE Different

Even seasoned professionals can use tips on hiring and managing millennials. Get the details in this new series designed to keep you current with industry trends, and provide lifelong learning.

From the Winter 2013 edition of Vanderbilt Business

The workplace today is different from the one our parents knew—and it’s different from the one in which many senior executives began their careers. With that change comes different challenges—one of which is recruiting, managing and retaining millennials—typically, those workers born in the 1980s and 1990s.

Whether they’ve been out of Owen a few years or a few decades, some characteristics of Owen alumni remain the same. One trait is the desire to continue exploring and gaining lifelong learning. In this and future issues of Vanderbilt Business, we explore topics and concepts that will allow alumni to add to their knowledge base, continue to build skills and keep current with industry trends. This issue’s article explores the challenges of managing and motivating millennials.

If you have responsibility for hiring and supervising younger employees, then you probably already know that what worked 20, 15 or even 10 years ago might not be appropriate for working with today’s young professionals.

When Eileen Stephan, managing director and head of graduate recruitment and program management at Citi, visited Owen, she shared insights on recruiting and retaining top talent among today’s millennial generation.

Stephan, who oversees Citi’s university recruiting programs, pulled some facts about what motivates today’s talent pool from a millennial source: MTV. According to MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study:

Millennials on the job

  • 83 percent of millennials are “looking for a job where my creativity is valued.”
  • 95 percent are “motivated to work harder when I know where my work is going.”
  • 76 percent believe “my boss could learn a lot from me.”
  • 65 percent say, “I should be mentoring older coworkers when it comes to technology and getting things done.”

Those types of attitudes point toward a kind of “emerging adulthood” phase among millennials, she says. That means employees in this generation tend to continue searching for their personal identities, making them wary of firm career commitments.

“This is opposed to previous generations who said, ‘All right, I’ll take this role, do it for a few years, establish a platform and a network, and I’ll see where it takes me,’” Stephan said. “How do you manage expectations around a two-year training program where you don’t even know what your job will be at the end of it? Millennials can’t wrap their heads around that idea.”

Different priorities

Targeting the millennial mindset requires adjustment in everything from a company’s recruiting materials to the type of training human resource professionals receive.

For example, Stephan said that today’s recruiting videos aimed at millennials tend to feature college-age students talking about a typical day in the office, including the mentors they work with and after-hours social activities they participate in with co-workers. That compares to 15 to 20 years ago, she said, when a similar video might have involved a senior executive extolling the firm’s financial stability.

Eileen Stephan
Eileen Stephan was the keynote speaker at Owen’s second annual Human Capital Connection conference, which focused on talent acquisition and retention of MBA millennials.

Those in recruiting and hiring need to make further adjustments. Stephan said it’s important for today’s recruiters to spot the difference between job-hopping—which she views as someone who has failed at a job and been forced to move on—versus millennials who are moving on to new opportunities.

“Don’t be alarmed if you interview someone who has had four different jobs by the time they go to business school,” she counseled. “You cannot make hiring decisions based on whether this candidate will stay or not. You’d never hire anyone.”

A study by the Pew Research Center backs that up. It found that nearly six in 10 younger workers say it is not very likely or not likely at all that they will stay with their current employers for the remainder of their working life.

So why millennials?

According to a study by the Young Entrepreneurs Council, millennials are idealistic, diverse, digitally enabled, social and perhaps most important, ambitious. Millennials will be roughly 36 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2014 and 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.

Which brings up another point. Stephan said that the same trends don’t necessarily hold true for international applicants in the millennial generation if the person was primarily educated abroad. “We see Europe lagging about 18 months behind the U.S. in these trends,” she said. “And in Latin America and Asia, it’s much further behind.” If most of a person’s education occurred in the U.S., however, Stephan said they tend to exhibit the same millennial characteristics as their U.S.-born peers.

Millennials are connected, confident and ready to change. They also value the contributions and connection with other generations—75 percent of millennials want a mentor and 90 percent want senior people in their company to listen to their ideas and opinions. This comfort with different age groups may come from the closeness millennials have with their parents … and their parents with them.

“We are seeing companies in many industries actively including parents in the recruiting process,” Stephan says.

To learn more about the Millennial generation and how closely your attitudes align with those you might be hiring—or working for—take this quiz from the Pew Research Center at