What the average 29-year-old business school student really wants out of a job, according to a survey across 72 countries

Smiling young worker on a laptop
Here's the five things that young people want from prospective employers. And news flash: A TikTok presence doesn't make the list.
Elizaveta Starkova—Getty Images

Businesses launching a TikTok channel or an all-you-can-eat breakfast bar in the office in the hopes of attracting younger workers might want to think again.

Really, that money would be better spent on lining workers’ pockets.

A new study surveyed 626 business school students with an average age of 29 across 72 different countries and found that salary was the single most important factor when job hunting.

This was universally true both for men and women in every country and across all industries surveyed by Jan Malte Jeddeloh from ESMT Berlin, who performed the research for his master of management thesis.

Instead of office gimmicks or flashy incentives, the research reveals, young workers really aren’t that different from previous generations; they value traditional standards from their workplace—like a well-paid full-time job.

The 5 most important factors for young people when choosing an employer

1. Salary

Most of those surveyed want to be paid more than the industry average. Jobs with below-industry- average salary were disregarded by respondents.

2. Type of contract

Respondents favored permanent contracts over short fixed-term contracts or temporary employment. 

3. Remote work

In the aftermath of the pandemic, young people want the flexibility to be able to work from home—or from a location of their choice—for at least some of the working week. This was actually more important to respondents in Western Europe and North America than the type of contract on offer.

4. Company reputation 

Reputation matters. And if you thought that those negative Glassdoor reviews weren’t important, think again. Applicants do look at—and take into account—company reputation. More specifically, as well as prestige, young would-be workers take into account your firm’s reputation for sustainability and social responsibility.

5. Status

Globally, participants in the study would rather go for a managerial position than have a manager. Perhaps unsurprisingly, status matters more to men. The position the employee has within the company didn’t make the top five criteria young women look for in employers—they value purpose more. 

What this means for businesses

“For a few years now, Generation Z has been joining the job market, and managers are still asking themselves how they can manage and retain the new generation,” research author Malte Jeddeloh says while pointing to the Great Resignation as a “mismatch” in what employers think their workers want, versus what workers actually want.

“The research indicates that classic work values like salary and contract security are still decisive for the younger workforce, which might be connected to the unstable worldwide situation and the resulting need for security,” Malte Jeddeloh adds. 

In comparison, the size of the company, bonus scheme, DEI initiatives, working hours, and whether the work was routine or varied mattered the least to the young workers surveyed. 

Respondents from Western countries and female participants ranked “new work attributes,” like remote working, purpose, inclusion, and work-life balance, as more important than did men and respondents from Asian countries. Meanwhile, male participants typically placed more value on “classic work attributes” like type of contract, salary, and status of job offers, whereas classic work values like hours and bonuses were also attractive to female participants. 

Nevertheless, salary stayed “with a clear lead ahead” of all career attributes in terms of importance. This was also true for Gen Z respondents (those born between 1997 and 2012). In light of the “global crisis” they’ve witnessed in their short lifetime, Gen Z also cares about employer propositions around social and sustainability issues. 

The results suggest that aside from offering a generous pay package, employers could alter their offerings slightly in job ads to be more (or less) attractive to young men, women, or specifically Gen Z.

The report adds that the findings highlight the importance of transparency when it comes to company values and job adverts. 

“The entire process, the company, the propositions, and everything surrounding an employer should be as transparent as possible,” Malte Jeddeloh writes.

For example, a company with an openly competitive salary will be instantly appealing to candidates. But job offers that aren’t in line with the industry average—and aren’t open about it—will get found out and potentially called out later down the application process.  

“Comparison of jobs is easy in today’s world; thus, a lack of transparency will lead to a lack of trust,” Malte Jeddeloh adds.

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