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8 strategies HR can use to recruit Gen Z

Gen Z is the newest generation entering the workforce. Learn some strategies HR teams and hiring managers can use to recruit the right candidates more quickly.

Generation Z is entering the workforce, and they're bringing their expectations with them.

Gen Z is frequently defined as people born after 1996, with the oldest ones -- at 24 -- just recently entering the workforce. As with any generation, researchers and businesses are prone to overgeneralize their traits. Still, certain themes do arise: Many in Gen Z have watched employers lay off their parents or witnessed their older siblings rack up student loan debt, then struggle to find a job. As a consequence, they tend to distrust businesses and institutions. They have grown up in a world marked by domestic terrorism, school shootings and worsening climate change on the one hand and witnessed grassroots change efforts such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter on the other, and as result are likely to care deeply about social issues and feel inspired to make a difference.

Gen Z is the first generation of true digital natives and have been raised on social media; technology is a natural way to communicate with those around them. All of these starting points are important for recruiters to understand and incorporate into their strategies.

Here's a look at eight recruiting strategies that can help you appeal to Gen Z candidates.

1. Understand Gen Z's tech habits 

As the first true digital natives, Generation Z is reliant on technology and that permeates all areas of their life. Make time to understand what that means.

Generation Z is being raised in a time when technology has revolutionized everything in every industry in every aspect of their life, said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, located in Boston.

Creating recruiting strategies that favor mobile devices, as just one example, is important to recruiting this generation.

"When marketing to Gen Z or when trying to recruit them, know that they're very tech-savvy," said Lauren Sovisky, marketing communication specialist at Erie Insurance, located in Erie, Pa.

2. Use social media to recruit candidates  

Social media has become more than a means of watching silly videos and sharing pictures.

"Social media is now being used way more in the job search," Schawbel said.

Your organization should consider hiring a social media expert who can work with the talent acquisition team.

"Running the social media channels was just kind of a secondary function of the talent acquisition partners on my team," said Jon O'Camb, senior talent acquisition partner at Erie Insurance. "We needed to hire an expert to grow our audiences, to come up with this engaging content and to really give our career channels a voice."

3. Highlight social issues your organization cares about

Current events also shape what Gen Z expects from the workplace.

"Gen Z are very socially conscious in terms of they want to work for a company that has good values and that has good culture," Sovisky said. "They often have strong opinions and are willing to fight for the things they believe in."

Culture groups are one way to show candidates how your organization reacts to current social issues.

In today's day and age, Gen Z is really passionate about working for a company that shows strong values focused on diversity and inclusion and social responsibility, O'Camb said. Just highlighting the things that  an organization does can really resonate with Gen Z.

Showcasing your organization's affinity groups are a great, interactive way to show candidates how you are acknowledging social issues.

"[Affinity groups] are groups that focus on particular dimension of diversity such as race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation," O'Camb said.

One way to do this is posting photos and updates on social media to get your message out to a large pool of potential candidates.

"We do a lot of posting and promotion of the work that these groups do within our company," O'Camb said. "Those posts are some of our most powerful, liked and shared posts throughout our social media platforms."

4. Tailor your message

If you want to draw in Gen Z candidates, you need to show them content that is authentic.

"Gen Z, above every other group, is more sensitive to templated, recyclable language because they've seen it more than any of us," said Katrina Kibben, CEO at Three Ears Media, a company that specializes in teaching copywriting to recruiters, located in Longmont, Colo. "They're tailored to catch the ads and to suss out when people are selling to them -- to them, templates equal scam," she said.

Have your HR team come up with strategies for how to interact with Gen Z candidates in a way that doesn't make them feel like they're just reading another ad.

Take a deep dive into what your company's values are and how you would want to communicate those to a younger audience.

"[Find] some of those more tangible examples and create videos that showcase those moments instead of [just] saying, 'Our value is collaboration and we're a highly collaborative team,' because that's what most companies do," Kibben said.

Find ways to show, rather than tell.

When interviewing employees for the videos, instead of asking them to list off things they like about the company, ask for them to describe an experience.

Ask questions that make them think about a moment and describe it, Kibben said. Some potential questions could be,  "Do you remember how your first day felt?" or "What was it like when you first walked in the door?"

Giving a unique look at the employee experience can help your organization step out of the realm of ads and gives Gen Z something they can relate to.

5. Embrace influencer culture

Social media has carved a path to influencer culture and Gen Z is deeply enmeshed in that.

"We've seen a significant uptick in influencer content and documentary-style content," Kibben said.   

"Something that some of my customers have done was actually pivot their job postings for Gen Z to be letters from the hiring manager to a potential candidate," she said. "This flips it to be more of an influencer-audience model -- influencer being the hiring manager."

"[Hiring managers] can write from their first person perspective and give candidates that sneak peek into their life and show how they're going to work with them," Kibben said.

You can also give Gen Z a taste of what working at your organization is actually like.

"We have a brand ambassador program to showcase that our employees are big supporters of our brand," Sovisky said. "They love to post on social media and I would argue they're probably one of our biggest supporters and maybe even advertisers."

6. Capture Gen Z's attention

In a rapid paced, technology-driven environment that gives people instant gratification, recruiters have a limited amount of time to grab Gen Z's attention and even less time to build a relationship.

Use social media research to find ways you can capture somebody's attention when they're scrolling through their feed.

A lot of times it's about what's trending, said Merrin Mueller, executive director of people first and digital PR at RPM Pizza, a franchise of Domino's Pizza Inc. If there's something trendy you can speak to or use, such as a meme or hashtag, you want to jump on that.

"For example, we may share a funny meme to try to attract candidates to comment and to apply," she said.

Creating a two-way conversation is a good way to capture and hold the attention of a potential candidate.

O'Camb said that anytime somebody sends a message, Erie Insurance always responds to that person and answers their questions. This gives potential candidates the chance to be heard and hear from the organization directly.

7. Understand COVID-19 implications

Despite all these strategies you can implement to recruit Gen Z candidates, the pandemic has made a big impact on Gen Z entering the workforce.

Gen Z is 44% more likely to report tiredness and lack of energy during the pandemic due to depression and stress, according to a SHRM study on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.

"Gen Z's report that their average stress level related to the current state of the nation is higher than older generations," Schawbel said. "They're going to expect the company to be part of a solution and help alleviate the stress that they have."

Employee assistance programs and a flexible work-life balance are a few things your organization can offer to help support mental health issues, he said.

8. Promote work-life balance

Flexibility and balance isn't just a factor during COVID-19, either.

When asked about their most defining characteristics in the workplace, Gen Z considered themselves to be hardworking and financially focused, and they expect flexibility when it comes to their work environment, according to a 2019 survey from Kronos about Gen Z workers.

Remote work was already on the rise, and it is part of that flexibility, especially as a result of COVID-19.

"There's an expectation now for Gen Z's to work remote, because they see their parents working remote," Schawbel said.  

Even the Domino's RPM Pizza stores now offer virtual options to candidates as part of the hiring process.

Although employees have to be in the store to make pizzas and deliver them to customers, we can do virtual interviews now, Mueller said.

When recruiting Gen Z candidates, it's important to keep all these factors in mind, as well as other serious issues.

"In the 2008 recession there was a delayed adulthood for millennials," Schawbel said. "This is now a hugely delayed adulthood for Gen Z's."

Delayed education and fewer job openings means some members of Gen Z may no longer be able to enter into the workforce right out of college.

"I think that's unique to this period of time that will change the future of work," Schawbel said.

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