Gen Z is idealistic, but also wants to earn a ton of money too

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Photo by Cocoon—Getty Images

It’s probably too soon to predict what Generation Z, born since the mid-1990s, will be like as employees. But that doesn’t stop marketers and prospective employers from trying. A new study from CareerBuilder and Harris Poll asked hundreds of high school seniors about their expectations for their careers, then compared their answers with those of 3,000 U.S. adults currently employed full-time. Some of the differences, and similarities, are surprising.

You might think, for instance, that Gen Z anticipates changing jobs every couple of years, as their Millennial brothers and sisters are inclined to do, but apparently not. Only 16% of high school seniors say they want to make frequent moves, or about the same as 15% of current full-time employees overall who say the same.

The kids do expect lots of promotions, though. Most (87%) agreed with the statement, “One should be promoted every two to three years if one is doing a good job.” That’s pretty close to the 81% of current workers ages 18 to 24 who think so, CareerBuilder notes, but well above the 65% of 45-to-54-year-old respondents who agree—maybe because they tend to be the ones handing out the promotions.


In some ways, Gen Z seems more conservative than its elders. Take, for example, mobile-device etiquette. Almost one-third (28%) of grownups say using emoticons like smiley faces in work emails is fine, but 80% of high school seniors think it’s inappropriate. And, while it may sometimes seem as if kids never put their phones down, only 13% say it’s okay to check messages during a meeting, markedly fewer than the 21% of current employees who think so.

When it comes to getting work messages during family activities, however, the generations switched sides. Two-thirds (66%) of Gen Z thinks that’s acceptable, more than any other age group—notably the 55-and-over crowd, among whom fewer than half (43%) are okay with electronic interruptions during family time.

Note to campus recruiters looking ahead to the Class of 2019: A job that offers “the ability to make a positive impact on people’s lives” is important to almost 80% of high school seniors, versus 47% of the currently employed. Of course, that could change with time, but for now, the students surveyed were more than twice as likely as the adults to define success as “making a mark on this world” (54% and 22% respectively).

Idealism is great, of course, but one wonders how Gen Z plans to square it with some pretty lofty ideas about pay. Most current employees (53%) say they “feel successful” at salary levels below $70,000 (25% at $50,000 or less). But 63% of high school seniors won’t “feel successful” unless they make at least $70,000—and three times as many students as employees say success begins at $200,000.

Hmm, having a positive impact on people’s lives, making a mark on the world, and earning a nice pile of cash for doing it: It sounds as if Gen Z will be launching lots of startups. Or, of course, there’s always medical school.

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