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This is what your youngest employees are looking for in a tight hiring market

These two things will determine if your young workers stay—or move on to the next opportunity.

This is what your youngest employees are looking for in a tight hiring market
[Photo: Shayna Douglas/Unsplash]

For this year’s college seniors, graduation marks a day to recognize and celebrate their academic achievements and the start of post-college (and post-pandemic) life.

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After more than a year of disruption and remote learning, much of the class of 2021 was able to experience traditional graduation marches rather than watch speakers via Zoom, sitting at a screen. Vaccine deployment and the gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions means the post-graduation job search could return to the more familiar practices of meeting with recruiters, combing job boards and polishing résumés to land that first post-college position.

The job market is filled with opportunities for 2021 graduates. According to iCIMS’ Class of 2021 report, 60% of HR professionals said their companies are opening new positions for entry-level hires. Demand for talent in the current market is significant, with the talent pipeline frequently running dry.

Still, college seniors are likely to find themselves entering a workforce inherently changed by the pandemic. Organizations known for their vibrant cultures and communities, which are bedrocks for early talent development and mentorship, are now either going hybrid or fully remote. Alongside these new models is younger generations’ consistent expectation to have a human-centered workplace.

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To capture the attention of recent graduates, human resource pros and hirers need to balance the nuances of the post-pandemic workforce with the expectations of the next generation of talent.

Job seekers and young candidates are exploring many options

First-time job seekers are fortunate right now, considering the widespread number of opportunities available for entry-level positions. With open job listings reaching historic numbers, this year’s college graduates have more options than the young people before them to find the right fit and successfully launch their careers. But the very nature of the modern job search can make never-ending choices a double-edged sword; the process of navigating job boards and networking sites, while sifting through recruiter emails, can seem like a full-time job in its own right.

Further, a job listing can further complicate a candidate’s search. Many listings are written with outdated language and don’t always address key considerations for first-time job seekers, like pay transparency or DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts. According to iCIMS’ recent research, 72% of college seniors said they strongly expect or require employers to be committed to DEI in hiring practices. It’s not impossible that a candidate may choose to pursue a job with one employer over another based on a job posting’s mention of commitment to DEI.

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This underscores how critical communication is now. Standing out to candidates requires rethinking the informahtion you share as an organization and the channels you use to connect.

For example, pay transparency has emerged as a powerful tool to help ensure equal pay for equal work. This type of information-sharing not only reflects the values of your organization but gives first-time candidates an important frame of reference. With so many choices available, making a strong first impression matters. In this regard, many job listings have a long way to go.

Human connection must rise to the top with hybrid formats

Today’s entry-level employees may be entering a workplace which does not focus solely on in-person experience. With remote work  technology, companies can now rework company policies to maximize productivity by giving employees greater control over how they work.

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With the flexibility afforded by widely used remote-work technology, HR professionals are re-drafting policies to give employees greater control over how and where they achieve productivity. Research conducted by iCIMS shows organizations are increasingly loosening or removing location requirements with remote work and over half (53%) of the firms surveyed are providing stipends or offering hiring bonuses for home office setups.

However, creating a space for human connection is key. Organizations that go all-in on remote work without building an institutional framework for mentorship, career development, and community risk alienating new employees who are just getting started in their careers. In iCIMS’ annual report on college students, only 2% of entry-level job seekers say they want to work completely remotely, while  64% reported they would like to work in an office several days a week.

Companies and HR departments should build connections into their company structures. Make sure younger and new hires are meeting different department colleagues throughout their onboarding, as well as educate new hires to forums where they can share their interests and passions. Some of these lessons will be readily available, because they will have carried over from the pandemic.

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Keep in mind these steps to building a thriving company culture must be location-agnostic. No matter where they are, no matter how many days they spend in the office, workers must be able to find a community where they can share perspectives. Workplace opportunities like networking and on-the-job learning is one way to reinforce cultural identity and values and also keep employees on the team. And understandably, employees want to grow their careers in communities that are invested in their success.

Engaging today’s newest job searchers requires building a talent strategy that answers two key questions: What lasting impact does your brand seek to make on both the world and their careers? And if you’re an HR person, how are you boosting them to a new professional level? The workplace may be changing, but the most recent class of college grads has shared with us human connection and strong mission are still desirable to job seekers.


Jewell Parkinson is the chief people officer at iCIMS. Parkinson joined iCIMS in 2020 as its CPO, a role she brings over 25 years of  experience to, collaborating with and empowering high-performing teams.

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