The millennials are coming. But are federal agencies ready for them?
Also referred to as Gen Y, millennials will account for more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means federal human resources managers and chief human capital officers must know how to connect to this generation, in the interest of talent acquisition and retention.
There’s no time like the present to start making this connection, especially as baby boomers look to retire. By 2014, 53 percent of full-time federal workers will be eligible for retirement, according to a forecast from the Office of Personnel Management.
The exodus already appears to be underway: In March, OPM received more than twice the number of new retirement claims than it projected — nearly 10,200, rather than the 5,000 expected. This marks the third straight month in which claims exceeded anticipated numbers. In the first quarter of this year, more than 52,700 federal employees retired — outpacing the first quarter of 2012 by 51 percent.
The ability to replace the ranks with qualified professionals will depend on how effectively agencies can target, reach and engage with millennials. The first step is to know who these people are. For starters, it’s essential to dispense with predetermined stereotypes and understand this is a generation of focused and tenacious individuals determined to get a great start on their careers. The following survey findings offer a glimpse into the way millennials search and prepare for a job:
- Nearly 70 percent will spend time practicing before an interview, more so than Gen Xers (60 percent) and boomers (52 percent), according to a study by research firm Millennial Branding and the career network Beyond.com. In addition, nearly 60 percent will customize résumés and cover letters for the positions they seek, compared with 54 percent of Gen Xers and 57 percent of boomers.
- Some say millennials should be called “Gen N,” as in Generation Now. In fact, 33 percent of them are able to find employment in less than a month, according to the study. And 88 percent are optimistic about landing somewhere — significantly more positive than the sentiments expressed by Gen Xers and baby boomers. Millennials won’t wait forever to be hired at an agency. Not when other options are available, including those in private industry, which often has faster hiring practices.
- They consider the job search an “always on” activity, and 81 percent are either looking for new jobs or are open to new opportunities, according to findings from the professional network CareerBuilder. Millennials are enterprising too, consulting with as many as 15 resources in their efforts.
- Social media and information sharing play a huge role. A whopping 96 percent of millennials discuss their job search with others both in-person and online, CareerBuilder reports. According to LinkedIn, more than 30 million students and recent graduates use the popular professional site to find and share jobs, making millennials the fastest growing demographic among the company’s 225 million members.
Given the distinguished characteristics and preferences of millennials, government agencies must adjust recruitment strategies to more effectively reach this audience and ensure a positive job search, application and interview processes.
Here are six best practices agencies should follow:
1. Engage Early and Often
Millennials are drawn to technology and social networks more than any other generation. Posts from hundreds — sometimes thousands — of Facebook friends flood their pages. It can be challenging to get on their radar, so agencies have to initiate a dialogue much earlier. Instead of targeting college or early military age groups, federal hiring managers should reach out at the high school level.
At NASA, for example, it’s critical to provide information about the value and importance of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education. Agencies can do this through one-on-one conversations, online or off, and job fairs, physical or virtual. Once an agency establishes itself as a resource for guidance about such topics, it gains instant credibility with a valuable pool of potential employees, which makes a lasting, favorable impression.
2. Individualize Every Experience
Invest in automated solutions that provide reminders to email or text periodic messages to those in the pool with great promise. Find out what they’re asking about on social media sites and come up with insightful answers. Interactive tools boost the fun factor, so deploy multimedia and game technologies to draw them to the agency’s site. A game link that requires visitors to solve a puzzle to qualify for a particular position, for example, offers an engaging customized alternative to mundane prerequisites in a job posting.
3. Build Talent Pools
While developing a personalized presence with various candidate groups, assemble a database of prospects that can be searched by talent niche — and niches within those niches. Readily available IT solutions enable tracking of each contender’s educational progress, anticipated arrival on the market and work history. Creating complete real-time awareness of each and every promising applicant can sharpen a hiring agency’s competitive edge.
4. Stay on Top of the Application Cycle
Millennials aren’t likely to wait through a lengthy hiring process, especially when it takes more than 100 days to recruit and hire new federal employees, according to the OPM. Fortunately, there are technologies available to increase visibility into every stage of the process and dramatically reduce this lag time. Agencies can monitor how long candidates are spending at a particular phase of the hiring process, and pinpoint bottlenecks that might be causing delays. Agencies also can determine how many job contenders are dropping out at each stage and target those areas for improvement. Talented professionals will move on if they don’t hear back within what they consider reasonable time.
5. Establish Flexible Standards
Aspiring government professionals often complain about the rigidity of the hiring process, saying people often are eliminated based on what seems like arbitrary criteria. An application that asks a candidate to document three years of managerial experience, for example, might not take into account supervisory experience in the military. This could make applicants ineligible for the job if their responses fail to fit the square peg on the application. With the right technology, agencies can build a flexible model that is less likely to screen out candidates with strong skills if they fail to meet certain qualifiers.
6. Go Where They Are
It’s impossible to overstate the value of a dynamic social media strategy. This is where millennials live. Agencies to not only must participate in social media outlets, but also look beyond the traditional sites — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter — and include emerging tools such as Google+. An agency’s reputation as an innovative and engaging place to work can spread rapidly when strong one-to-one engagement between agency and candidate lays the groundwork for one-to-many exchanges between the candidate and other promising prospects.
None of these best practices involve HR wizardry or impossible mission directives. They simply address the need to establish an agency early on as a trusted resource and an engaged potential employer. Thanks to available and developing technologies, coupled with a highly personalized touch, agencies can become the No. 1 choice for millennials looking to begin a career.
Liam Ackland is president of NGA.NET North America, a talent acquisition and management technology firm.