I was recently on a panel with some other
local leaders in the tech space. The panel was held in a sterile corporate office park in Hanover, Maryland. Amongst other things, the panel spent a fair amount of time talking about how hard it is to hire young, savvy local tech talent. I, as a 30 year old “millennial,” knew one thing for certain: I would never want to work in such a boring environment. As I listened to the panelists talk, I could pinpoint specific reasons why their companies may be having difficulty hiring technical employees—especially millennials.
I’ve hired many Ruby on Rails developers for my company, SmartLogic, which is based in Baltimore City. Sure, we have to advertise our job openings if we need someone in a hurry. But even when we’re not actively advertising a job opening, many qualified candidates reach out. So what are we doing right, and what are other companies, like the ones on that panel, missing?
Millennials have different expectations than new employees did 40 years ago—though, as a millennial myself, I’m going on word of mouth for what it was like 40 years ago. From what I’ve seen, millennial expectations have carried across the entire workplace, influencing all generations.
If your company is having a hard time hiring technical people—especially millennials–read on. I’ll break down what millennials care about in a workplace, judging from my experience as a millennial, and as a recruiter and manager of millennials.
Culture: This is a point of its own; however, all of the points below speak to culture. Millennials don’t want their parents’ or grandparents’ cubicles. What do they want? We cover it below.
Location: Commutes suck. Often, the largest factor in a business's location is its proximity to its principals. So if the CEO lives in a soulless suburb, the company will be based there too. But that won’t jive for millennials, who thrive on short commutes, lots of options for lunch, and a thriving social scene near work. They want a progressive city life, with low-stress, low-traffic commutes. You can’t get this in the suburbs. Our client Woofound is moving into the city as they grow. Perhaps other companies should consider doing the same.
Dress code: As I write this article, I’m wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, and it’s Wednesday. Our dress code is: nothing with profanity. As long as our employees use their heads, we care more about the quality of their work than the quality of their wardrobes. Millennials and progressive employees expect this. Plus, t-shirts and flip flops are simply more comfortable, affordable, and practical than starched button-downs and pressed khakis. If you have a traditional dress code, that will play into recruits perception of your company’s culture. If you’re still using last decade’s dress code, what does that say about your company’s ability to innovate and change with the times?
Judgmental interviewers: This one plays into dress code. At the same time that companies are struggling to find technical talent, millennials are struggling to find jobs. Why? A recent study says that 50% of hiring managers named wearing the wrong attire as one of the biggest interview mistakes. Casual interview attire is fine by me. Imagine a man and a woman walking out from the gym, covered in sweat and wearing baggy t-shirts. They start a conversation anyways, and end up getting married. If they’d judged each other on attire and appearance, they would have missed out on the loves of their lives. Do your hiring managers judge on attire, or appearance in general? You could be missing out on highly qualified employees.
Unrelatable recruiters: Beyond making judgements on old-fashioned criteria, your interviewers could be unrelatable. Technical people often have a choice between which jobs they take. They’re interviewing your company as much as you’re interviewing them. Are your company’s interviewers technical? Can they have a conversation with a 25 year old without saying “When I was your age”?
Unrelatable leadership: Who are the faces behind your company? If you’re saying your culture is innovative and millennial-friendly, you might be lying if your CEO still only wears suits and makes connections via business cards instead of LinkedIn.
Hours. Forget 9-5: Many technology companies offer flexible hours, from startups to enterprises. At SmartLogic, we have set office hours of 10:00am to 3:30pm, and we work from home every other Friday. Other than that, employees can get the hours done whenever’s best. We care more about outcome than hours. Yet “flexible hours” can often mean working non-stop. Be careful with project timelines and workloads. If your employees are stressed, the quality of their work will suffer. And your company may get a bad reputation among technical recruits. Many technical people are all going to the same tech meetups and happy hours. What are they saying about your company’s work-life balance there?
Size: Your company may be too big—or too small. If you’re a giant company, what are you doing to break down your company into teams and give employees access to leaders? If you’re a small company, what are you doing to show employees that there’s upward potential? When it comes to culture, size matters.
Ability to make an impact: Millennials want to know that their work matters. They may not be as happy fixing bugs all day on a gigantic project as they would be building a small application for a startup. When you’re structuring your development team, keep employee happiness, not just theoretical efficiency, in mind. Your theory of what task division is most efficient may break down when you have bored, unfulfilled employees. This isn’t just conjecture—I’ve had friends move from jobs at Northrop Grumman in the suburbs to Lookingglass in Canton to gain the opportunity to make an impact.
Ability to change the culture: The best cultures are open to change from within. If your employees envision a change in process or policy that would improve your company, you should help them make it happen. If your company is so big that any change, no matter how small, requires endless red tape, millennials will shy away. But this isn’t just a problem for big companies. Small companies’ leaders may not relinquish control, or listen to others’ ideas—which can be a much bigger problem than red tape. Make sure you, or others on your leadership team, are not the driving force behind a millennial-repelling culture.
Opportunities to learn: At SmartLogic, we spend a lot of time and money making sure our employees are constantly learning. This year, we took everyone to RailsConf, and we periodically hold internal conferences where employees can learn from each other. I’ve had friends move to AOL’s Baltimore office, located next to Under Armour in Tide Point, because they provide similar opportunities. If your employees feel like they’re just a cog in the machine—or that they’re too busy to take the time to learn something new—both your culture and your output will suffer.
Reputation: Here’s where getting the word out about your culture comes into play. Is your company on social media, posting pictures of your employees enjoying a conference? Do your employees blog about the problems they solve at work? Do you attend, sponsor, and speak at community events? Just because you have a big brand name doesn’t mean you’re known as an awesome place to work, filled with cool people. You could be perceived as just another cubicle bank—boring.
If your company struggles with any of these factors, now you know why it’s so hard to find technical talent and appeal to millienials during their job search.
Notice that I did not include “salary” in the above list. My company, SmartLogic, pays fair salaries, but we simply don’t have the resources to pay the same as an enterprise. Nonetheless, people leave enterprises to come work with us. No amount of money is worth spending years of your life working somewhere you’re not happy, comfortable, or fulfilled.
If you need more technical people, take a hard look at your culture. And, of course, if you can’t find employees to fulfill your web and mobile app development needs, you can always hire us.
*This article was originally publised on CityBizList.