The Elusive Gen Z Job Candidates: How Employers Can Get on Their Short Lists

April 18, 2019, 7:27 PM UTC

Not so long ago, campus recruiters could sign up all the entry-level talent they needed by sticking with a pretty straightforward script: Turn up at job fairs and meet-and-greets, talk up opportunities at your shop, make job offers to the most impressive and enthusiastic prospects, and hire them. If a soon-to-be grad sent a resume via the company website, he or she got an automatic “thank you for contacting us” email, the corporate equivalent of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Ah, those were the days.

More and more, you’re probably hearing—or, heaven help you, experiencing—something quite different. Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2000), notably the college class of 2019, is hard to please. Consider: 76% of soon-to-be grads have yet to accept a job offer, according to a new nationwide poll of 3,000 graduating seniors from Chicago-based recruiters LaSalle Network, even though most started their job search last September.

There’s more. Gen Zers are becoming notorious for changing their minds when something better comes along.

“If you really want a particular candidate, the process is much more of a negotiation than it’s ever been before,” says a veteran campus recruiter for a major consulting firm, who asked for anonymity. “They’re looking at several offers, so after they accept yours and then back out of it, you have to keep asking, ‘Where do we stand on your list? What would make you come and join us?'”

“Ghosting” is on the rise, too.

“It’s not unusual now for a candidate to start working somewhere else without even letting you know,” observes Brian Kropp, group vice president for HR at Gartner, who oversaw a new study of Gen Z. “Their start date comes and goes and they just don’t show up.”


Even the most persnickety and elusive Gen Z talent will, of course, end up working somewhere. Here are five ways to get on their short lists.

1. Use technology to make applying quick and easy.

The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), a workforce demographics research and consulting firm, surveyed thousands of Gen Zers late last year and found that over 60% are willing to spend 15 minutes or less on a job application. “You really need to use an online application mainly to get the person’s contact information, so you can reach out to them for more details later,” says Jason Dorsey, CGK’s Gen Z expert. “You can also use that quick initial contact as a way to keep marketing your organization to these candidates, returning to the conversation over and over as if it were a half-filled cart on Amazon.”

2. Make it personal.

“This generation, especially the most in-demand talent, expects a customized, personalized experience, and they expect it to happen quickly,” notes Brian Kropp at Gartner. “Sending an automatic one-size-fits-all email response when someone sends in a resume just won’t cut it.” Instead, he says, “Text each applicant immediately, saying something like, ‘Let’s meet and talk!.’ Sign it with your name.” This approach “does take a lot more time and effort,” Kropp adds. “But it’s the cost of competing now.”

3. Get busy on social media.

To hire Gen Z, spend more time where Gen Z hangs out. Twenty-somethings are far more likely than their Millennial brothers and sisters to make career decisions by scoping out YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, according to the CGK study. “Insert short, entertaining videos into the whole recruiting process,” says Jason Dorsey. Especially effective are YouTube videos that “come across as ‘unfiltered,’ like a day in the life of a GenZer who works in your company, with candid conversations about what they do and why they like it.” Likewise, take a hard look at your Facebook page. Does it carry a distinct whiff of corporate PR? Not cool.

4. Talk about skills development. A lot.

Training programs, continuing education, boot camps, workshops—Gen Z is hungry for ways to keep learning. Interestingly, Gartner’s latest Gen Z research suggests that, when it comes to deciding where to work, this cohort cares more about adding and updating skills than about pay or benefits. “As the first ‘digital native’ generation, they’ve seen a truly amazing amount of technological change in their lifetime, and they know it’s always accelerating,” observes Kropp. “They worry about staying current and avoiding obsolescence. So smart recruiters, and managers, are emphasizing that.”

5. Encourage referrals by sweetening the deal up front.

Asking the twenty-something employees you already have to refer their friends “is hands down one of the best ways to attract Gen Z talent,” says Jason Dorsey. Just one hitch: Many companies’ current referral programs pay the referring employee only after a resulting new hire has been on the job for a year. “For most Gen Z employees, that’s just too long a wait to be worth bothering with,” Dorsey says. He recommends splitting up referral bonuses into three parts: Some cash when a new hire signs on, another payment after six months, and a third installment when a year has passed. In companies that have done this, he’s seen Gen Z referrals (and hires) jump.

Incidentally, here’s one more way Gen Zers differ from Millennials: Once you manage to get them on board, the Class of 2019 is almost twice as impatient as its older siblings to start moving up. The LaSalle Network poll notes that 40% of Millennials, in a different survey, said they expect to earn promotions every one to two years. By contrast, the number of 2019 grads who expect to be promoted within a year or two of starting their careers: 76%.

Nice work if you can get it.

Anne Fisher is a career expert and advice columnist who writes “Work It Out,” Fortune’s guide to working and living in the 21st century. Each week, she’ll answer your most challenging career questions. Have one? Ask her on Twitter or email her at