Poised to be the next force to contend with in the world of work, the oldest members of Gen Z have begun entering the workforce. Typically defined as individuals born between 1996 and 2010, Gen Z is the country’s most ethnically diverse generation in history and about 74 million members strong.
With Gen Z entering the workforce, employers – many of whom are still reeling from the stampede of Millennials who rocked the workplace a few years ago – are left wondering what this new generation of workers will bring and how to best brace for the impact.
When Millennials came along, the workforce didn’t know what hit it. With a much larger population than Gen X, Millennials arrived at their new jobs with a different set of ideas and demands than previous generations. While initially lauded for their tech savvy and civic-mindedness, some choice criticisms have since been lobbed at Millennials. The generation has been labeled everything from entitled to narcissistic and has been criticized both for its penchant for questioning the rules and its insistence on workplace flexibility and maintaining a work/life balance. This all leaves many recruiters and hiring managers to wonder: Will Gen Z be just as disruptive?
According to Sarah Hamilton, a graduate student services advisor at UC Berkeley – who is a Millennial herself – while it may have been tough for employers, it wasn’t always easy to be a Millennial at work, either.
“I think that there was a false notion of the American dream among millennials. There was this idea that you went to college and got a job and that everything was going to be great. But then a lot of us wound up graduating during the recession and found that not to be the case,” she said. “It was a rude awakening for a lot of people. The current population that I am working with have a much firmer grasp on reality, and they understand that they need to prepare for life after graduation and, as a result, do a lot of work towards that, such as taking internships to be ready to enter the workforce.
Who better to ask about how they feel about entering the workforce than members of Gen Z themselves. BOLD sat down with six members of Gen Z in various stages of life – some are still in school, some are recent graduates, and some have already entered the workforce – to find out what motivates them, what scares them and what their hopes are for their professional lives.
What are/were your thoughts about leaving school?
“I was definitely more nervous when I was in school because everyone was trying to figure things out and there was this constant pressure to know what you’re doing by graduation. Now that I’ve graduated, in some ways, I feel less stressed… I’m talking to people in my industry, and I’m living in a great city. [But] I’ve sent out 30-40 resumes and had three interviews, and I think the whole process has been humbling in some sense. Unless you are doing something like nursing with a large surplus of jobs, finding a job is stressful, and it’s been a lot harder than I thought.” -David
“Panic and general concern that I won’t make enough money to support myself and pay off my student loans. I’m also dreading the loss of social freedom and the return to practically micromanaged scheduling.” – Carrianne
“A mixture of excitement and fear. I’m excited because I’ve grown bored in school and want to start making/writing/creating things outside of a university environment. The anxiety part kicks in when I think about how little I know about “the real world” and how I hear everyone wants to run back to college once they’re in it.” -Elizabeth
If you’ve already graduated college, how did you prepare for the job search?
“I didn’t have a concrete plan at all. I definitely thought about the future a lot and took advantage of as many internships and opportunities as I could, but I never had a title or company in mind. Maybe I should have had more of a concrete plan, but I wanted to [do internships] so that I had a leg to stand on when I started looking for a job.” – Logan
“I was hired full-time after about four months of being an intern [at my company]. During college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. College was a very exploratory time for me… I knew I liked people and I took a lot of computer science classes because I knew that I wanted to go into tech. It wasn’t until my senior year that I thought about product management. It was a real discovery process.” -Vivian
How much did/does salary factor in when you think about getting a job?
“As someone entering the workforce, I just want a job. Salary is not the most important thing to me straight out of college.” – Elizabeth
“About 60 percent. Usually, my concern is whether or not the salary is sufficient to make my commute worth it.” – Carrianne
“I would say salary was a large factor in considering my career. I wanted to have a job where I could live comfortably and travel.” – Alexandra
“It was definitely a consideration, but I wouldn’t say it was the end-all-be-all. My company offers a great benefits package, which came into consideration. But I knew that in an entry-level position I didn’t have much leverage when it came to salary, and I knew there wasn’t going to be much difference between different offers, at least in my case.” – Logan
“I knew it was going to be hard to find an entry-level product management job, so it was more about the experience for me and the work culture and whether or not I liked my team. Salary still held some weight, but it didn’t tip the scales. Even if I’d had another offer that paid more, for me, it was about the values – my value system and the values of the people I work with.” – Vivian
If two companies came to you with offers for the same job with the same salary, what other factors would you weigh when deciding which to choose?
“I would consider my commute, the feel of the company and how I felt working there, and if I would be able to move up within the hospital.” – Alexandra
“For me, I would say prestige because I think, typically, a more prestigious company will offer more opportunities for growth. My friends who’ve worked for larger companies have made connections and salary gains that I’ve seen to be valuable.” – Logan
“If I had two offers at companies that I had never worked at before I think reputation would play a role. I would also factor in the level and type of work I’d be doing.” – Vivian
How important are flexibility, such as PTO or working from home, and work-life balance at this stage of your lives?
“I think it’s a really big deal. I like that I can travel when I want and not be bombarded by constant work. At this point, I value it because I hear horror stories about people working 60 hours a week and that’s just not how I want to live my life. The way I see it, my job is very enjoyable, but at the end of the day, it’s still a job. The point is to earn a living, and if I’m not taking advantage of the living I’m earning, what’s the point?” – Logan
“It’s really important. For me, after work, I have commitments to my church and other things. I can’t work an 80-hour week and do those things, so work-life balance is really important to me. My life doesn’t revolve around work, so it’s a big consideration.” –Vivian
How much input do your parents have on the career choices you have made/ are making?
“My parents gave me advice when it came to choosing my career option and helped me to look at it practically but also taught me to follow my passion and drive.” – Alexandra
“They’re happy to talk about the pros and cons, but they’re not going to tell me that I’ve chosen wrong, or that they think my career choices were stupid. Their input is helpful without being overbearing.” – Carrianne
“For me, my parents just wanted me to find something that I was interested in and something that would help me grow. As long as I’m not living out of a box or headed towards a dead end, they are very supportive.” -Vivian
How do you think your parent’s attitudes about money have impacted the career choices you are making?
“My parents always encouraged me and my younger siblings to be the best that we can be and to believe that if we do, the money will follow. I am the oldest of six kids, so I definitely want to do well, but I can’t say that money is a huge factor in my career pursuits.” -David
“My parents’ attitudes about money have impacted my career choices in a good way. Happiness and financial security are more important than making tons and tons of money.” – Elizabeth
“My parents always had me purchase things I wanted so I could learn how to save and taught me to work hard and appreciate the money I earn. Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of saving money and living frugally.” – Alexandra
“My parents are terrible with money, and when they were both at the peak of their income, they failed to preserve enough for the hard times ahead. I’m now hyper-conscious about having adequate benefits and how a salary can or cannot help build a nest egg.” -Carrianne
How do you think your parent’s attitudes about their jobs have impacted the career choices you are making?
“Both of my parents are extremely hard-working. Neither of my parents has a very glamorous job, and my mom immigrated here from Kenya, so she really had to work her way up from the bottom. I think that seeing that and having better opportunities and education has encouraged me to work hard and dream big.” – David
“My parents’ attitude impacted my career choices in that I could see their own frustrations with their jobs, and that led me to find a career where I could change my scope within my field without having to go back to school and get a degree in another area. With nursing, there are many avenues in which I can take throughout my career just by training in a different department.” – Alexandra
“Both my parents are teachers, and even though there have been terrible days and God-awful students, parents, and administrators, we all agree that some the best times of our lives have been our interactions with students. There’s never been any doubt that I wanted to do what my parents do.” – Carrianne
Does the last recession hold space in your mind when you think about career choices?
“It does somewhat. However, I am lucky enough that my career will always be needed somewhere.” – Alexandra
“As a preteen, I remember the effect the recession had on my family and those in my community. It’s something that plays in my mind, so I want to be able to withstand a recession. I’d like to have a high-level career so I can bank some money having witnessed such an economic low.” – Elizabeth
“I was fortunate enough that the recession didn’t affect me directly, but I have a lot of friends whose families were hit hard, but I wouldn’t say that it affects my decision-making. I think that one takeaway for me is to be skeptical about certain things. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I think the recession left me with a healthy sense of skepticism.” – Logan
For those of you who are working, how different is your job/career than what you imagined?
“I realize now that the only ideas I had growing up about what a career would look like were so media-saturated. I think I imagined wearing a business suit and high heels and taking the train to work and walking in with my cup of coffee. I imagined work being really hard because that’s what the media shows us. But that’s a distorted reality, and I’m grateful that work is nothing like that. I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in the work I’m doing here… and I’m really glad my office is business casual. It’s been a really pleasant surprise.” -Vivian
When you imagine yourself in 10 years, what does your life look like?
“I’d like to have more responsibility, but that said, I don’t have a specific title in mind or a specific path I have to take. I have to put more thought into the future, but right now my career is going well. I am learning a ton, and I’m hoping that will lead to good things eventually.” – Logan
“I don’t have a specific path or plan, but I want to be doing something that I enjoy, and become skilled at the work. I feel like I am still in the phase of exploring, but hopefully, by that 10-year mark, I’ll have more of a clear idea. I hope that my character and skills will have grown and that I am still working with people I like.” -Vivian