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Kids These Days: Tips for Interviewing Millennials

November 19, 2013

Recently, we hosted a Select Interviewing Workshop, where we delved into the key components of behavioral-based interviewing.  One topic that never fails to surface in these workshops is the challenge of hiring millennials—inevitably, there are some individuals who believe 20-somethings are indolent, feel wrongly entitled, and lack basic etiquette in the workplace.  They enjoy citing example after example of young adults that can’t stop texting at work, are just in it for the paycheck and expect costly benefits packages and vacation days too soon. This isn’t true with every 20-something, and the problem may lie within the hiring process rather than something that is classified as a “generational issue”.123097615

Let’s focus on how to effectively interview millenials, so these issues don’t arise.

The ultimate goal of any interview is to identify the “best fit” for the company and position; someone who will be productive, get along with their coworkers and make the organization better than it is.

Here are a few tips for your hiring process:

Interview for Motivational Fit

Ever had a job you dreaded?  Was it a major struggle to get out of bed every morning and muster the strength to “give it your all”?  You may have been more likely to call off, and were probably eager to jump ship for a new opportunity. 

It’s no different for a 20-something—even if you think they should just be grateful to get their foot in the door.  A major reason for absenteeism and turnover is poor “Motivational Fit”.  If individuals are fulfilled by their daily work, satisfied with their work environment, benefits and compensation, and aligned with the organization’s values, they are more likely to be positive, productive contributors and less likely to turnover.

In an interview, ask 20-somethings about past experiences they enjoyed or did not enjoy; explore their career goals, both short and long term; and discuss their preferences for leadership.  Asking these questions in an open-ended way encourages your candidates to do the talking, rather than agreeing with the job characteristics you outline for them.  If their responses do not match what is offered by the position and your organization, that’s a red flag they may not stick around for long.

Gauge Work Ethic

Think about a time when you put in overtime to accomplish a difficult goal.  What was driving you?  How did you persevere through obstacles?  Now think about a time when you slacked off, didn’t go above and beyond, or chose not to do your best.  While some of the differentiating factors between those situations may relate to Motivational Fit, gauging candidates’ Work Ethic will provide valuable information about their ability to follow-through with commitments. 

During an interview, ask 20-somethings about their past experiences at work, school, and in the community.  Was there a situation where they put in extra hours or effort to achieve a higher level of performance or produce a better outcome?  What about a situation where they weren’t motivated to put in the effort, but persevered anyway?  How have they handled taking work breaks and vacation time in the past?  Gathering information about these situations will be indicative of 20-somethings’ ability to deliver in tough situations, even if they’d rather tweet about their weekend plans and head to happy hour early.

Dig for Past-Behavior … and Deliver Stellar Coaching

You may think 20-somethings expect a lot of their first jobs—decent salary, opportunities for advancement, benefits packages, vacation days and even free coffee.  After all, what happened to earning respect and your keep?!  For this, I submit to you some insight from Winston Churchhill: “First we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”  What I take Churchill for bringing to light here, in a metaphorical sense, is that who we are today is a product of what we crafted yesterday.  20-somethings grew up in a fast-paced, technology-driven playpen.  Information and communication were available at their fingertips.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine have allowed us to share our lives with the world almost instantaneously.

So how do we spot potential hires that will be so wrapped up in social media they can’t focus on the job?  Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this.  To a certain extent, you can ask past-behavior questions around your organization’s policies, such as, “Tell me about your last employer’s policy on cell phone use and visiting personal websites during the work day.  Did you find any aspects of the policy challenging?”  However, many employers may not have a specific policy around cell phone use or social media access, and in fact may encourage their use to support the organization.

The other alternative is to accept that these behaviors are commonplace, even among many adults, and perhaps are better managed than pre-screened.  Think of it as a learning opportunity to discuss work etiquette – how to write a professional email, why you shouldn’t be texting during meetings, and the fine line between promoting your company via social media and handling your own personal matters. 

It’s important to keep in mind that 20-somethings are still developing in all aspects of their life, especially in their careers.  Success in the classroom is a lot different from success in the workplace—the guidance you provide for them will be incredibly valuable in the long-term.


Bekah Regan Bekah Regan is a Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She provides client support across many different industries including retail, manufacturing, technology and healthcare. Her areas of expertise include developing selection tools and interview guides, providing training and support for PSI’s applicant tracking system, as well as assisting clients with requests and questions regarding tools and processes.