by Emily Enger
You’re hiring. You have a shortage of young people on your team but few Millennials ever apply. So you assume they aren’t interested in the kind of work you do. But that’s not quite fair.
Millennials are a generation as diverse as any other. Some want to be artists, some are in technology, others like to work with their hands. It’s a mistake to assume that no one wants your job; instead, take a closer look at how you speak about your job – marketing.
Most job descriptions make the error of only listing what a company is looking for in an employee: Must be willing to work occasional overtime; must have a good work ethic; must possess good written and oral communication skills, etc. But employers often forget to list why they, the company, would be someone employees want to meet. Don’t forget: you’re the one who needs something. So put yourself in the hot seat. Sprinkling in more “we’ll offer…” sentences between all the demands you are putting on employees may go a long way.
But the next question, of course, is what should you offer to attract those elusive Millennials? The answer may surprise you.
The Ernst & Young’s Global Generations Research recently did a massive generational survey where they found that, especially among young people, employees are looking for more than money:
“Across the board, Millennials are more likely to have made, or be willing to make, sacrifices to manage work and family/personal responsibilities. For example, U.S. Millennials are the most likely generation to say they would change jobs (77-percent) or careers (76-percent), give up an opportunity for a promotion (65-percent) or ‘move my family to another location’ (66-percent). They would also be more willing to move closer to family (62-percent) and to ‘take a pay cut to have flexibility’ (66-percent).”
This means a couple different things for small businesses. It means being family-oriented is still important for employee retention. It also means that small businesses have a way to compete against businesses that pay more. But in order to compete, you must know how to leverage the benefits you can offer employees.
If flexibility and personal time are what young employees are looking for, then are you communicating your willingness to provide these options? Can you offer a line in your job ad that says: ‘Our company values our employees’ talent and time and does our best to work with individual schedules to negotiate a fair and flexible work environment.’
Millennials are also young parents, and benefits are on their mind as much as pay. That same Ernst & Young study found that businesses that offer both maternity and paternity leave do much better among Millennials. Even if that isn’t something a business of your size or type can offer, willingness to be flexible goes a long way.
And of course, how you say things are just as important as what you say. To catch the eye of young professionals, there are certain words and phrases to emphasize, and certain ones to avoid.
Do use: Use words like ‘flexible,’ ‘adaptable,’ ‘willing to discuss/negotiate,’ ‘open.’ Millennials also love humor and pop culture references snuck between the lines; it shows that your job will be one that is enjoyable.
Do not use: the phrase ‘family friendly.’ Millennials grew up with this phrase as a movie rating; it conjures the idea that the job will be strict, so unless you actually have a swear jar in the office, find another way to describe your point. Also don’t use words like ‘hip’ or try to sound hip; you might be looking for young people, but you aren’t hiring children. If you are trying too hard to be ‘cool,’ it will come across as patronizing and juvenile. There’s a difference between young people and young professionals!
There will always be a long lineup of individuals who need jobs and will work any job for any pay, but those employees are temporary; they use your business as a stepping stone up the ladder to something bigger. To find the employee that makes your business a more permanent spot, let that employee find you – by presenting your business as a job opportunity they don’t want to miss out on.
Emily Enger is a millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as Communications Director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at