How to hire millennials

What agencies must do to build the next generation of tech talent.

stylized professionals

The federal IT community has gotten a tremendous amount of attention lately, but one critical issue has been missing from the conversation: the massive IT workforce transition that will take place in the next few years as the government begins to integrate the millennial generation.

Overall, the federal IT workforce trends toward the baby boomers. Forty-eight percent of federal IT workers are over the age of 50, and 32 percent are projected to become eligible for retirement by 2017. Millennials, defined as people born between 1980 and 2000, currently constitute just 10 percent of the federal IT workforce, while private-sector employers have twice that representation.

The federal government cannot afford to continue to under-represent this critical group, not only because of upcoming retirement shifts but also because this "digital-first" generation has the potential to bring significant technical innovation to the delivery of government services.

Our research shows that millennials require a different set of hiring and engagement strategies. Here are a few key steps that agencies can take to stand out and influence this critical demographic.

1. Use social media, but don't overestimate it. Although millennials are more likely than other generations to use social media to learn about organizations, our research shows that less than a third of millennials actually trust the information they receive there. Across all generations, job seekers place the most trust in friends and family, underscoring the importance of using employee advocates to build potential applicant pools.

2. Don't stop recruiting once you get a resume. Millennials participate in the same number of job interviews as candidates from other generations, but they receive 12.5 percent more offers. Thus, the competition for this demographic continues from applications through to offers. Therefore, agencies should create employment brand messages that help candidates make informed decisions based on the agencies' missions.

3. Optimize your website for mobile. Millennials are more likely than other generations to use mobile devices to learn about employers. The number of people looking at job listings and prospective employers on their smartphones and tablets will continue to grow, but a striking two-thirds of organizations have yet to optimize their career websites for mobile devices.

4. Emphasize personal development. Our research shows that future career opportunities are one of the most important attributes in this generation's decision to select an employer. Candidates need to see opportunities to learn quickly and make a difference on the job. However, just 36 percent of federal employees under the age of 30 are satisfied with their opportunities to get better jobs in their organizations, according to the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FedView). To close that gap, managers should highlight potential career maps and growth opportunities to give millennial candidates and employees a sense of longer-term options.

5. Encourage creativity and innovation. According to our research, innovation and empowerment are also very important to millennials. Innovation is a particularly strong engagement driver for IT employees. However, FedView shows that just 35 percent of federal employees under 30 believe that creativity and innovation are rewarded. Millennial IT workers have unique perspectives to bring to discussions about the delivery of government services, and their managers need to ensure that their perspectives are considered and respected.

Millennials have an important role to play in accelerating progress toward the future of government IT services in the digital era. With an understanding of what they look for in a job, agencies can adapt their recruitment and engagement strategies to attract and retain this key segment.

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