How (And How Not) to Interview Millennials

Updated 31 May 2020

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Millennials – also known as Generation Y – account for a huge percentage of the UK workforce (around 35%). 

As a cohort, they bring many valuable skills and a new perspective to the professional environment. However, as the generational gap widens, it is increasingly difficult for employers to tailor their recruitment to the millennial mindset.

This article looks at what sets Generation Y apart, and how best to conduct a millennial job interview to attract and retain top talent from this new wave of workers.

What Is a Millennial?

While there are some variations as to the exact dates, a millennial is generally considered to have been born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. The term was coined because the oldest members of this generation were the first graduating classes of the new millennium.

Several social and economic factors have influenced the shaping of this generation, setting them apart from their predecessors. Growing up alongside the rise of digital technology has established them as the first tech generation, whilst increased access to the wider world has broadened their global perspective and social conscience.

As a far more diverse cohort than Generation X and the baby boomers, they are also considered the most inclusive generation to date.

The term also has some associated stereotypes and, whether right or wrong, these assumed generational traits are affecting the way millennials are seen in the workplace.

One such stereotype brands millennials as lazy and lacking in motivation. They are seen to have a sense of entitlement and not being willing to work their way up from entry-level jobs.

The reality is that most millennials work hard to find a career they are passionate about, valuing fulfilment over financial reward. Many were hit hard by the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, resorting to unpaid work placements to gain experience. Many continue to battle against the increasing cost of living.

They are also seen as job-hoppers who lack loyalty to their employers. However, provided they are offered relevant career progression, millennials are as likely to stay with a company as any Generation X employee.

On the flip side, millennials are said to have a work ethic centred on collaboration and innovation. They also bring technical know-how and digital networking skills, often lacking in previous generations, making them invaluable to companies looking to grow in a competitive marketplace.

What Do Millennials Look for in a Job?

Due to generational differences, there is often a disconnect between what an employer assumes millennials look for in a job and what they actually place value on.

Whilst each individual will have their own goals, there are several factors generally known to contribute towards a millennial’s job satisfaction:

Personal Development and Career Progression

Despite the lazy and entitled stereotypes that surround them, millennials actually place training opportunities as a top priority when looking for employment. As a generation, they highly value the prospect of continued learning in the workplace and many see a lack of this as a source of job dissatisfaction.

Millennial workers are also more ambitious and look to progress quickly up the career ladder. While for some this may add weight to the entitled stereotype, their desire for personal development suggests they are willing to put in the hard work to achieve their goals.

Ethics and Social Responsibility

More than any preceding generation, millennials are drawn towards employers that operate ethically and emphasise corporate social responsibility.

They are generally more aware of social, economic and environmental issues on a global scale – and expect employers to promote sustainable practices and contribute towards positive difference.

Work-Life Balance and Flexibility

The traditional nine-to-five office role is outdated in the eyes of the millennial generation. Instead, they look to employers to offer alternative options such as remote working and flexible hours.

While some may associate this with an idle work ethic, flexible solutions can actually increase productivity.

Millennials also prioritise a healthy work-life balance and value accommodating employers who understand and help them meet their increasing professional and personal demands.

Mentors not Managers

Traditionally, employers have been operating under two different management styles:

  • Traditional structures built on hierarchy and micromanagement;
  • Flat organisational structures where employees are left entirely to their own devices.

Millennials prefer a middle ground.

Millennials value mentors that offer coaching over what they consider to be archaic management techniques.

They look for respect from their superiors and value constructive feedback, whilst, at the same time, expect a level of independence. Ultimately, they want the right balance of guidance and autonomy.

Technology and Innovation

As their young adult lives coincided with the digital revolution, millennials expect to work in a technology-led environment. They prefer digital methods of communication and understand how relevant technology can be used to significantly increase productivity.

Millennials are also said to have more of an entrepreneurial spirit than past generations. As such, they enjoy a working environment that allows them to break new ground and move beyond the status quo.

How Does a Millennial Job Interview Differ?

Whilst every interview is unique in its own right, a millennial job interview can present hiring managers with a new set of challenges.

First, millennials expect more from their employers than the generations that came before them. They are far more likely to turn down a job offer if the company in question doesn’t match their ideals or is unable to offer the progression they’re looking for.

For this reason, a millennial job interview is as much about the candidate assessing the cultural fit as it is the employer judging the applicant’s skills and capabilities.

Second, millennials have a different view of the workplace. Their lives are technology-driven and they are generally proponents of the ‘work smarter, not harder’ model.

For those less familiar with the benefits of technology, it can be all too easy to mistake this work ethic for laziness. A successful millennial job interview requires openness to this emerging work trend and how it can contribute to a more productive (and healthier) work-life balance.

In addition, some millennials will be taking their first steps in a professional career. They may have limited work experience and be finding it hard to get a foot in the door. Whilst experience is important, so too is the new skill set this generation can offer.

When thinking of interview questions for younger millennials, employers should focus more on drawing out their potential rather than their existing work experience.

Top Interview Questions for Millennials

A millennial job interview should include the standard questions designed to establish a candidate’s soft skills.

In addition, employers should also consider interview questions for millennials that test their commitment, their expectations and their potential.

Below are five examples of questions to ask millennials during an interview:

  1. “What are you looking to achieve in this job?” – The answer to this question should give you a good indication of the candidate’s commitment, both to the role and their own personal development. If their expectations don’t fit with what you have to offer, you are unlikely to find that their employment is mutually beneficial in the long run.

  2. “Tell me about a time when you doubted your abilities” – This question aims to establish how a candidate might respond to coaching, as well as their need for direction. If they are unable to provide an example, chances are that they see their learning as complete and are unlikely to respond well to further mentoring. If they express overwhelming self-doubt, they’ll likely need more guidance and supervision than you can afford to give.

  3. “How do you like to be managed?” – The disconnect between management and millennial workers is a major factor in unsuccessful employment. In asking this question, you not only suggest that you are open to adaptable management styles – making you more appealing to a millennial candidate – but you should also get a good understanding of how they respond to authority, and if they are someone you feel could be managed effectively.

  4. “How have your past experiences prepared you for this job?” – In a millennial job interview, it’s important to remember that the candidate in front of you may not have much work experience. Asking this broader question allows them to demonstrate their understanding of the role and explain their suitability by drawing on experiences outside of the working environment.

  5. “Tell me about a time you lost out on something you thought you deserved, such as an award or promotion. How did you react?” – This question tests the entitlement stereotype, as well as the candidate’s resilience. If their response carries a hint of resentment, they may well hold a sense of unjust privilege. However, if they can express graceful disappointment and respect for their peers, they’re likely to be a strong team player that works hard for any reward.

What Not to Do During a Millennial Job Interview

Some hiring managers still consider interviews as a one-sided assessment, conducted to find a candidate who meets their needs and expectations.

For millennials, this is no longer the case. They want to be sure their next employer meets their own needs and expectations, and they will be judging you as much as you are judging them.

With that in mind, here are a few things to avoid during a millennial job interview:

Having an Overly Formal Process

Millennials look for a good culture fit when seeking employment. To sell your organisation to a millennial candidate, you need to think beyond formal techniques and construct an interview process that shows what your business stands for.

Consider office tours, informal group chats and informational sessions as part of your interview. These will give candidates a feel for your company culture and allow them to decide if it’s a good fit.

An employee that aligns with your goals and values, and fits well into the team, is far more likely to be of long-term benefit.

Discounting Candidates Based on Experience Alone

Millennial job interview candidates will not have the same experience as candidates from Generation X. In fact, dependent on their exact age, some may have little to no experience at all. 

Don’t discount them on this factor alone. After all, they can only gain experience from employment, and the skills they bring are highly valuable to businesses looking to stay competitive.

Instead, try to look at their potential. As previously mentioned, millennials are keen to continue their development; hiring a candidate that might have little formal experience but valuable skills, great promise and a willingness to learn can be of huge benefit to your organisation.

Using Corporate Jargon or Buzzwords

Millennials don’t buy into sales talk. As a generation, they have been increasingly exposed to mass-media marketing and targeted advertising. Subsequently, they are sales savvy and sceptical of jargon.

They will form a judgement on your company based on their interview experience. Sell the opportunity by being genuine, avoiding buzzwords and corporate clichés that could potentially deter a talented candidate.

Final Thoughts

As with every generation before them, millennials have many valuable skills and personal attributes to bring to the workplace. As they will soon make up the largest percentage of UK workers, companies need to tackle the millennial challenge head-on.

Employers need to be open to meeting individual needs and moving away from any preconceived ideas that might impact recruitment.

Ultimately, while the labels associated with millennials may be fitting of certain individuals, it is impossible to judge the suitability of a potential employee based on generic generational traits. 

When looking to attract and retain millennial workers, it’s crucial to look beyond the negative stereotypes and, instead, work towards an understanding of individual aspirations and expectations.

Further Reading

You might be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

The 15 Best Blogs for Job Seekers

Interview Tips & Advice: How Best To Prepare

50 Common Interview Questions

Typical Job Interviews and How to Prepare for Them

How to Get Hired

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