Every new workforce generation gets a bad rep, and Generation Z is no exception. I’ve witnessed many companies struggle to understand Gen Z and refuse to adjust their hiring strategies to entice young talent. But with this generation set to surpass baby boomers in the full-time workforce in 2024, organizations that don’t adapt their recruitment tactics to attract and engage this tech-savvy and socially conscious cohort will be left behind—and will lose out on their unique talents and perspectives.
I always urge clients to remember that Gen Zers, born between 1996 and 2012, came of age in an era defined by consecutive crises. They witnessed family members lose their jobs in the Great Recession, and they attended school or began their careers amid an isolating pandemic. They’re inundated with news about climate disasters and racial inequities. These upheavals inevitably shaped Gen Z’s attitudes toward education and work, inspiring an independent, entrepreneurial, pragmatic, financially conservative, and socially responsible mindset.
While it might be tempting to assume that the recruiting tactics that work for millennials will apply to their younger peers, that’s simply not the case. More than any other generation, Gen Zers are willing and able to switch jobs to find the right match. A 2023 Robert Half survey found that 74% of Gen Zers said they were searching for a new job or planned to search in the next six months.
I’ve been a recruiter for more than a decade, working with companies like Netflix, Imperfect Food, and Patreon, and I currently run my own recruiting services consulting firm. In that time and with my experience, I’ve interacted with candidates across generations, and have learned my fair share about Gen Z. With that in mind, here are seven strategies I’ve seen that actually work when recruiting Gen Z talent—and how recruiters can leverage them.
1. Embrace a Mobile-first Approach
Unlike their millennial colleagues, who were born in the analog era, Gen Z is the first generation that’s entirely digitally native. According to Pew Research, 95% of teens report having smartphone access. It’s their primary device and how they connect with the world. It’s tempting for longtime recruiters to not acknowledge this reality and continue to require paper cover letters, saying, “If they don’t do it my way, they must not want the job.” But that’s not true. Gen Zers are very comfortable with technology, and they expect the companies they work for to be technologically savvy too.
That’s why recruiters need to make sure their company’s websites are optimized for mobile use, because a clunky process will deter young job seekers. Here are some best practices to convey to your company’s tech team:
Implement one-click applying by enabling your application portal to pull information from LinkedIn or only require a résumé.
If you pull information from LinkedIn or ask for a résumé, don’t ask applicants to list all of the same information again separately.
Send text reminders about upcoming interviews.
Monitor page load times and mobile optimization.
Ensure your mission statement, DEI measures, and other relevant information are placed upfront and are easy to read.
Ensure your company site works on all browsers and devices.
2. Use Social Media Wisely
To find promising Gen Z candidates and build your brand with them, go where they spend their time: social media. A Morning Consult survey of Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 found that 54% percent of Gen Zers spend at least four hours daily on social media. According to the same poll, YouTube is by far the most popular platform, used by 88% of Gen Zers. Next was Instagram (76%) and TikTok (68%).
Partner with your social media team to ensure your company has a presence on these platforms and craft a strategy that appeals to young users, utilizing short-form videos and interactive content with clear calls to action. Use popular hashtags to help build an audience. I’ve seen successful recruiters search for hashtags like #jobhunting and encourage those job hunters to apply in the comments. Even if the person isn’t the perfect fit, someone in their network who is right for the role might see the interaction and decide to apply. If you’d prefer to focus on just one or two social media platforms for recruiting, make sure they’re the right ones for your industry. For example, I’ve had a lot of luck finding talented software engineers on Mastodon.
Gen Zers are more likely than previous generations to pass along exciting opportunities within their networks, so be prepared to handle an avalanche of applications if your posting goes viral. I recently posted an internship opportunity and received 300 applications in two days. They also expect a timely response, whether to a job application or a comment on Instagram. Take too long to respond, and they might move on to another opportunity.
3. Emphasize Salary Transparency and Benefits
Because of the political and economic turbulence they’ve lived through, Gen Zers prize job stability and financial security. One thing I’ve seen among my Gen Z recruits is a reluctance to join two- or three-person startups. They want to see at least a Series A or Series B funding round and a solid plan for growth. And because they value transparency, young workers want to see a salary range listed upfront, which is now a legal requirement in several states and cities.
They also understand the importance of good benefits—not just for themselves, but for everyone. For example, many value fertility and parental leave benefits and believe they should extend to LGBTQ+ families. Similarly, healthcare benefits should be affordable and also cover gender-affirming care. Mental health benefits are personally significant to members of this cohort, who are more likely to struggle with their emotional and social well-being, according to a 2022 McKinsey & Company survey, but also because they believe in destigmatizing mental illness. It’s even better if these benefits can be accessed or enhanced digitally. If your company offers inclusive benefits, be sure to mention it in your job postings, social media efforts, and conversations.
4. Highlight Opportunities for Growth
Even though Gen Zers are the most educated generation ever, they don’t necessarily consider the traditional (and increasingly expensive) four-year bachelor’s degree a career prerequisite. One 2023 survey found that only 52% of high school students said they were considering a four-year institution. Instead, more are seeking out trade schools, online boot camps, and on-the-job training.
Employers who require a specific type of degree for a position will exclude a lot of talented Gen Z candidates. Conversely, those who offer educational and growth opportunities—scholarships, certifications, mentorships, or more—will have an advantage over their competitors. Make sure your job description requirements aren’t eliminating talented, nontraditional candidates, and emphasize the growth opportunities at your company in job listings and during the interview process.
5. Spotlight Social Impact
Gen Zers believe that businesses should take a leading role in addressing social issues, ranging from inequality to environmental sustainability, according to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. And they want their work to align with their personal goals and missions, much more so than previous generations. The same survey found that 39% of Gen Zers have turned down positions with companies that do not align with their values.
Yes, recruiters should ensure their company highlights its social responsibility endeavors on its website and social media feeds. But it’s also crucial to make it clear to candidates during the interview process how their daily work will positively impact the world. When I worked for a company that provided cybersecurity for code review, we emphasized how the work helped protect personal information on the websites we worked with, which allowed our clients to build things faster and better. Everyone wants to do meaningful work, especially Gen Z employees.
6. Don’t Forget Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. Nearly half of them are people of color, and just over 19% of adult members identify as LGBT. They want to work for companies that reflect this diversity and in a workplace where all employees feel included and valued. In a Monster survey of 1,000 job candidates, 83% of Gen Zers said that a company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.
Gen Z job candidates may ask for a company’s annual DEI report and, if they do, will take the time to read it thoroughly. Make sure it’s easy to find online and prepare to field tough questions. They might look for data on representation at every level and ask about a company’s goals for increasing diverse representation where it’s lacking. I’ve heard Gen Z candidates ask, “What percentage of your engineering leadership is either people of color or women?” I didn’t get that question as often 10 years ago. Recruiters should anticipate these questions and highlight the company’s plans and progress.
Gen Z candidates will also comb through a prospective employer’s social media feeds to ensure the company’s branding and efforts are genuinely diverse and inclusive—beyond just a rainbow-hued logo during Pride Month. On Instagram, for example, Cisco included photos of its employees participating in London’s Pride parade, noting in captions that the company is not only a sponsor but also provides Wi-Fi for the event. The post illustrated that the company celebrates its LGBTQ+ employees, and that it puts the company’s dollars, time, products, and talent into the causes those employees and their allies care about. If you can, encourage your social team to use similar methods to draw in younger candidates.
7. Prioritize Authenticity
I know that some company leaders and recruiters are worried that providing detailed DEI information to prospective candidates will be a detriment if their company or clients don’t have diverse representation across the board, but that’s not always true. Gen Z candidates value organizations that recognize where they’re lacking and have a plan to improve.
Being honest with your candidates is important because it both signals that the company values transparency and conveys authenticity, another attribute highly prized among Gen Z. In fact, 92% of Gen Z job candidates indicated in a recent EY survey that being authentic to oneself is very or extremely important. The good news is that recruiters no longer need to spend hours polishing every minor detail in emails and postings. Instead, Gen Zers value timely information and genuine human connections, which can be conveyed in honest posts on social media and candid conversations during the interview process.
Conclusion: Embracing Gen Z Benefits Everyone
When it comes to communication with current and prospective Gen Z employees, recruiters don’t have to be perfect—but they do have to be active and genuine. By seeking out companies that prioritize digital fluency, diversity, and social responsibility, the generation is pushing the workforce in a more efficient and inclusive direction.
The good news for recruiters is that many of the best practices for Gen Z are just best practices, period. Everyone appreciates a personal, timely response when applying for jobs. Everyone wants to know what to expect in terms of salary and benefits. By employing these tactics to attract the new generation, you’re making the candidate and employee experience better for every generation.