What You Need to Know About Today’s Entry-Level Workforce

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Hiring for any role is complicated. But hiring at the entry level brings special challenges—so many that 41% of employers say entry-level roles are the hardest to fill. Why? Candidates don’t have track records. They don’t have work references you can check. They don’t have previous work accomplishments to show you. Plus, most of today’s college graduates (55%, in fact) will leave their first job within a year—up to 20% of new hires may quit within their first 45 days.

A New Generation (GenZ) Enters the Workforce. But They’re Not Alone.

On top of those daunting figures, employers today are anxious about welcoming a new cohort (hello, GenZ!)—who may have very different ideas and expectations about what a first job should be—into a workforce where different demographic groups (Boomers, Millennials, GenX) sometimes struggle to get along. GenZ is by far the biggest group in this category—they will soon make up 20% of the workforce. But entry-level roles may be filled by other groups, too: career changers, parents returning to work after raising families, or workers transitioning from the military to the private sector.

Whoever your new hires are, there are some important things you can do to help them be successful—during the hiring process, once they are employees, and beyond.

What You Need to Know About Today’s Entry-Level Workers

  • Most of Them Are True Digital Natives. While Millennials can tell you what a VHS tape is, the newest crop of young adults (Generation Z, born after 1996) have always lived in a world with email, the Internet, and phones that could do lots more than just make calls.
    • Guard your reputation. Entry-level job seekers will carefully research your company, including on review sites, where you can’t control the message. Your reputation is everything, so develop a strategy for assessing and responding to online reviews.
    • Power up your social media presence. More than 54% of GenZ job seekers expect to find their next gig through social media, and they favor channels like SnapChat and Instagram. Will they find you there? And how will you keep them engaged after they’re hired?
    • Enable personal connections. Although this is the most tech-connected generation of workers, 74% actually prefer connecting with colleagues face to face.
    • Don’t assume they know your tech. Yes, most entry-level workers today have been surrounded by technology all their lives. But that doesn’t mean they know how to use your office systems—benefits portals, video-conferencing systems, or your inventory-management tools.
  • They Were Shaped by the Great Recession. GenZ watched their parents struggle with layoffs, foreclosures, and shrinking wealth. Older entry-level workers (returning moms and dads, military veterans) experienced those scary times firsthand, too. And they learned some valuable lessons about security, stability, and planning for the future. Only 56% of GenZ thinks they’ll enjoy a higher standard of living than their parents. And 35% say they plan to start saving for retirement in their 20s.
    • Help them grow their skills. Skills mean employability, and today’s entry level workers know it. According to one recent survey, 2019 college graduates ranked professional development as the most important factor in choosing a job. A survey from a few years ago found that while 80% of entry-level hires expected their new employer to offer formal training, less than half of those companies did so. You can use training to set your company apart and improve your retention rates.
    • Show them there’s a path forward. Entry level hires want to see that they have opportunities to advance—and that you’ll help them do it. Earn their loyalty by taking time to learn about their individual strengths, setting clear goals for growth, and following through. This could also mean setting up internal mentoring or networking programs.
  • They value transparency. As a group, GenZ wants authenticity and accountability. They’ve grown up with unprecedented access to information, and they don’t want their employers to keep things from them. This holds true for older entry-level workers, too. They want to be in the loop, and they don’t want spin.
    • Show them why they matter. Today’s entry-level workers don’t want to be cogs in a machine. Help them see how the work they’re doing impacts your company’s business.
    • Provide regular feedback. Especially as they transition—from school, the military, or being at home with kids—they are likely to be unsure of their performance. Conduct regular, informal feedback through check-ins, conversations, project debriefings, and more.
    • Give them clear goals they can achieve. At the entry level, workers are hungry for the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done. That’s why it’s important to provide a combination of short- and long-term goals that are challenging but reachable—like managing a small project or delivering a presentation by themselves.

Don’t Rely on Stereotypes. And Be Patient.

There are broad characteristics that may hold true across groups, but no generation is a monolith. GenZ is the most diverse cohort to ever enter the workforce—in fact, the most diverse generation in U.S. history. Don’t assume that your fresh-out-of-college hires will adhere to all the stereotypes you may have read about.

And whatever age your entry-level hires, patience is key. Entry level workers make mistakes. They won’t understand every aspect of your business right away. And they may take time to adapt their behavior, expectations, and attitudes as they transition into the world of work. But you’ll need to adapt, too.

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