In today’s workplace, young job seekers hold the advantage

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Companies are having a hard time recruiting and retaining young talent, and as a result are accommodating what would have once been considered extreme demands. “The scales have tipped in favor of knowledge workers, creating a seller’s market for the next 5 to 10 years,” writes to Stan Smith, National Director of Next Generation Initiatives at Deloitte.

Here are some reasons why so many younger workers have gained the advantage when it comes to negotiating the terms of a new job.

The workforce is shrinking.
The Department of Labor reports that from 2000 to 2010 there will be a 30 percent decrease of workers in their 30s and 40s. In addition, many Generation X parents are choosing to leave the workforce or cut back on hours in order to be home with their children. This trend is so pronounced that it’s creating a shortage of managers already.

Many young people want their own businesses.
The barriers to starting an Internet business are low. Viral marketing via a personal e-mail list and a few key mentions on prominent blogs can potentially catapult a good idea into a successful business. Since young people can effectively fund their own companies this way, many do not want to pay their dues by working for someone else and learning the ropes. The flexibility of owning a company is not only appealing, but also a way to avoid menial labor at the bottom of the corporate ladder. In fact, many young people are choosing the excitement of entrepreneurship over the stability of a good salary.

If entrepreneurship is the first choice, a corporate job is a backup plan. Matt Humphrey, 20, and three friends just founded SlapVid, a company that cuts the cost of providing video content online. Humphrey thinks of the MBA program he is now in as sort of a backup plan in case SlapVid does not take off at the end of the summer. And in the event that he does not have another idea for a company before he graduates, getting a job at someone else’s company is a second-level backup plan.

Parents are a safety net.
More than 50 percent of college graduates will move back home with their parents this summer. And most parents will like it. It used to be that returning home after college was seen as a sign of failure. Today, however, economists and sociologists see such homecomings as a smart response to exorbitant housing prices in big cities, and entry-level wages that do not cover living expenses.

Three out of four of the founders of SlapVid are getting financial help from their parents. And Humphrey’s parents are typical in their enthusiasm for their child’s adventure, and the tight relationship they share. “They know they might have to support me for longer than they planned for,” Humphrey said. “They’re definitely up for that. If I want to do something really, really cool, they’ll support me all the way. They call me every day to see how I’m doing.”

With such parental support, there is no need for a company to play the parenting role, which is what happened when baby boomers entered the workforce. And if there is no paternalism in corporate life, it becomes a scramble to figure out what businesses can leverage to scoop up young employees.

The intimidation factor is diminished.
“People going to college today are working harder than I ever did in school,” says Bill MacGowan, chief human resources officer of Sun Microsystems. “These kids will find work easier than I did.” In return for their effort, they expect to be well compensated by employers. As consummate consumers, they use technology to customize the way they view information, and they expect the same kind of customization when it comes to selecting jobs. They negotiate for vacation time, mentoring and training, flexible schedules, and even tricked-out laptops.

And when it comes to negotiating, young people assume the adults at the office are on their side. Generation Y has been raised by parents who often acted more like friends and mentors. In fact, often a wide community was involved in helping a Generation Y child succeed — including teachers, coaches, and private tutors. As a result, young people bring unprecedented confidence to the negotiating table. Some even have their parents in the room for added help, and many respected companies are willing to engage parents in the hiring process if that’s what the candidate wants.

Indeed, the scales have tipped and young people are in charge. For people who have been in the workforce for a long time and expected to be in charge, the new reality is difficult to accept. But it’s possible all employees will benefit from some of the changes. After all, demands such as more flexible schedules, are appealing to all employees, regardless of age.

41 replies
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Wouldn’t many of the parents of gen y be the same baby boom hiring managers and executives who are struggling to hang on to gen x and gen y workers or who are alienating them? that is, the same people who you tend to argue “don’t get it?”

    Given how different today’s workplace is from the one our parents experienced in their 20s, I would question whether having a parent in the negotiating room would be an advantage.

    I’m sure some parents would be…but I can’t help but think that most baby boomer parents would be telling their kids that they need to “pay their dues” if they want the perks later on. My parents are continually shocked at what I can negotiate — and I know that I’m not particularly talented at the negotiating table. They’d never think to ask for what I do, let alone that the company would agree.

  2. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    I think this phenomenon is kind of global.
    Here in India, people want to grow fast, and earn more in least period of time.
    Building a career is no longer a focus, or I can say has kind of got neglected amongst other pursuits.
    When it comes to people in the range of 30-40, people want to become managers as early as late twenties, I personally feel there is no shortage of managers here. But If you look at really experienced technically good people, they seem to be restless, mostly due to lack of quality work in multinationals. They end up disillusioned and reach out to offshores in search of better work.

    Young are looking out for money and good work, and really lack vision, including me that is. Sad part is the lack of people with proper knowledge to guide us along.

  3. Ivan Yong
    Ivan Yong says:

    Over here in Asia, I am in agreement that now the idea is to start a business and working for someone else takes a back seat.

    Sometimes I do wonder if I can help some company make money why not help the company which I setup myself ?

    The next questions is when ? The answer would not be “Well , son after you learn the ropes from someone else” but more of when i figure out a great idea !

  4. Terry
    Terry says:

    Ah this is all very interesting. Here is how I am competing against those pesky 20 sumptin whippersnappers. Both the wife and I are over forty and we have both embraced the IT world. We both own websites (not blogs, but with actual databases) and the wife's will be a blockbuster site with already 100,000 visitors (a zillion page views) some months. By day I am also a SAP It consultant which is the highest paying It job – period. And I am creating another blockbuster website and have venture capitalists eagerly knocking at my door. I blend experience and IT constantly and senior execs really appreciate it.

    I guess that is how I deal with "and young people are in charge"

    Best always


  5. David Harper
    David Harper says:

    I think there is an important caveat: talented, high-performing young job seekers will hold an advantage.

    If the cited demographic trends are US-based, it is an incomplete picture. Globalization implies that developing nations will fill some of this gap in supply. And this is already happening, companies are sourcing globally to reduce costs (e.g., I just went from $65/hr to $12/hr for IT help, with a noticeable service improvement. I am offshoring and I am not looking back). So, if you are young but your services aren’t concretely premium valued added, it’s hard to see how you will hold an advantage.

    I definitely agree that career paths are getting unbundled; it is easier to try to start a business (entirely different from succeeding, most of these will fall flat); and young people are *culturally* in charge (as they should be).

    But, at the same time, it’s unclear if globalization has limits and I think it is equally important, to all of this, that if the world is spiky (www.creativeclass) then the ‘war for talent’ will put in charge not all young people but the (global) swath that finds a way into the upper tiers.

  6. Susan D.
    Susan D. says:

    Friends come and friends go. Don’t count on friends for your survival, nor for your happiness. Choose your location and career for your own personal happiness. There will be new acquaintances who can offer chances for personal growth unforeseen by those who “know you.” Family and friends can hold you back due to their own insecurities or lack of initiative. Their hidden anxiety can manifest in lack of support, like when you get a raise or promotion.

  7. Fran
    Fran says:

    As a person with an exceptional work ethic, great skills and a solid career track record–and the albatross around my neck of being almost 59 years old–I am competing with these kids for employment. My job is being eliminated, I am geographically constrained as to where I can work, and, without a master’s degree (I have a bachelor’s degree), I am being categorically eliminated from consideration for many positions.

    Employers seem to want my experience, my ability to handle crises, to manage staff, etc., but they also pre-judge me and ask (even though it’s illegal), “Why don’t you just retire?” I need to work for another ten years.

    So while these new college grads can go in and say, “I’ll only take this job if I start at 10 and leave at 4, have six weeks of vacation, and take two-hour lunches, and wear jeans to work,” and they get the job, there are a lot of us out here who are skilled, ready, willing and able to work hard without those restrictions.

    And, by the way, we’re the parents with whom these kids would be moving back in because we have been working hard for lo these many years…

    And I’m competing with the 40-somethings as well.

    The last job for which I was a finalist was, ironically, with AARP!!! They hired a much younger person, and the local people didn’t even send me the “thanks but no thanks” letter–it came from corporate headquarters in California!!!

  8. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Every time I read an article on this subject, I get a little more frustrated, because this is not at all the world I’ve been living in.

    I’ve got a degree from a well-respected school, above-average work experience, and an incredibly marketable resume, but I still feel like I’m on the losing side of a job search.

    Why is it that all these advantages don’t apply to me?

    * * * * * *

    Jacqui, this is a good question. There are a few ways to look at this problem. First of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re in high demand if you don’t know what you want – in that case the workplace is still very difficult and probably not fulfilling.Second, a lot of the companies that are trying the hardest to recruit young people are doing that becuase the jobs they offer are so unglamourous to begin with. And it never feels that great to be popular with the unpopular kids.

    Finally, you also need to consider that if you are in a hot job market and you can’t get a job, you might need help — help with your resume if you are not getting interviews or help with your personal presentation if you are getting interviews but not getting jobs.

    PS Based on the comments you leave on this blog — which are thoughtful, smart and well informed — I have to think that you will figure things out. It seems very normal to go through periods in life when transition is hard.


  9. Maureen Rogers
    Maureen Rogers says:

    More power to those with the skills to negotiate the deals they want. But as someone who’s done a bit of hiring over the years (including recruiting those who have just graudated), I would not perceive having parents involved in an interview or a negotiation as a sign of confidence. I’d see it as a sign of infantilism and co-dependence. After all, I will not have Mom and Dad working for me, so I need Junior to be able to operate autonomously. Fine if he/she calls the ‘rents for advice, but having them participate in the job-getting to this level of involvement would be a non-starter for me.

  10. Eric Pennington
    Eric Pennington says:

    Those who know and read me, have heard my views on the coming shortage of skilled workers. The demographics (baby-boomers) don’t lie, as well as the different mind-set that younger workers bring to the table.

    Penelope Trunk (author and columnist) brings us a great post on how younger workers will have an advantage in the coming years. I would go one-step further and say young thinking workers.

    What do you think are the barriers for employers in managing and leading in this new environment?

    Here’s my list of barriers:

    Today’s managers and leaders don’t read. Consequently, they won’t take the time to read people either.
    Too fixated on quarterly numbers at the expense of people.
    No reliable and authentic voice to help them navigate.

  11. Chuck Westbrook
    Chuck Westbrook says:

    I think that the Gen Y attitude is one big hairball in the throat of the corporate and traditional ways of thinking about labor.

    Gen Y seems to demand that they are valued as individuals whereas much of the current structure is geared toward homogenization.

    It’s an interesting perspective in light of my most recent post about hating the HR machine. Thanks!

  12. Fran
    Fran says:

    With the continuing increase in cost of living and student loans, more college students will indeed choose to go home than take their risk of sacrificing for the hope of getting it all back when the time comes..

  13. Alan
    Alan says:

    No doubt about that. Young job seekers are always in pursuit of better jobs and companies are looking for fresh and young employees.

  14. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    It is true that the barriers to entry are very low for an internet company/blog; however, there still must be a very large value-added service in order to warrant a huge return. Low barriers of entry simply means extraordinary competition. Generic advice will not make you an overnight millionaire. You have to provide people with something unique and make them want to come back.

  15. Rob O.
    Rob O. says:

    The nagging thing that bothers me about Gen-Y workers is the attitude of entitlement that they have. I’ve been struggling in the workplace for 20 years to get what few perks I have. These book-smart, wet-behind-the-ears, Gen-Y guys show up and start making demands before the first week is over. And their work ethic is largely crap. They show up late, take off for breakfast about 8:30-9-ish, start planning lunch at 10:30-11. In the course of the day, they might actually put in 2 hours of solid, um, pretend work. And their workload is always considered oppressive, despite the fact that it is a fraction of that of most of us older guys.

    Those of you Gen-Y workers who are diligent, hard-working folks who value the opportunities you’ve earned need to take the rest of your generation out back and whoop ’em. They’re giving you a bad name…

  16. Jim Goebel
    Jim Goebel says:

    As I kid growing up I always had a *gut feeling about the real importance of growing up with technology as such a theme in our lives. Only in the last 5-15 years can young workers honestly say that technology has become so integral that to function socially and professionally, you really have to embrace it. This country and world is headed in an exciting direction, led by innovation, science, and technology, and soon to be led by those that best understand and appreciate it. Booya

  17. Bootstrap
    Bootstrap says:

    Younger generation has an earlier introduction to technology, as well as business and ideas,and business today are going digital in many aspects. So they indeed have an advantage over older job-seekers. The youth can keep up with fast-changing technology.

  18. Ed
    Ed says:

    I believe that the young are the only people who actually understand the true social and business effects of the internet. The true value of the internet isn’t that you can set up shop cheaply, or that you can interact with customers instantly, but that the internet *democratises markets* (including the job market!). Thus many of the conventional business fundamentals of last generation no longer hold. In particular, if you create something of worth and put it out there, then people will now find it, even if you have zero marketing and zero ‘business’. What counts today is *worth*, not business skills and marketing.

    The sad thing is, older people are not able to keep up with such changes because they simply spend too much time working. The world would be so much more productive if employers recognised how much could be attained if 20% of peoples’ days were spent on education about new technologies. Sadly though, I believe this view is too strategic for most instant-reward-driven businesses. If only we could live in a world where everyone spent every Friday learning…then everyone would be like the young ;)

  19. Fran
    Fran says:

    I disagree that “older people are not able to keep up with such changes because they simply spend too much time working.” I spend a significant amount of my so-called free time at home researching and “playing” with new technologies so that I can incorporate them into my business life. I am far ahead of many of my peers–younger and same age–because I take the initiative to learn. And I am not afraid of asking the IS people where I work what my next technological adventure should be. When I go to conferences (rarely these days because of budgetary restrictions), I always choose the sessions on technology. My first job in life was as a secretary at MIT in 1968, and I have been fascinated by technology since then. So to make the blanket statement that people in my age group cannot keep up with technology paints the entire generation with way too broad a brush.

  20. Ed
    Ed says:

    Fran-it sounds like you keep up-to-date, which I find very commendable. "Older people are not able to keep up with such changes because they simply spend too much time working." is a sweeping statement. But I still consider it to be true. I’d love to return to college where I can spend whole days digesting information again.

  21. Dave Bowman
    Dave Bowman says:

    This piece seems very short on empirical data and long on vague opinions about generational politics….

    * * * * * * * *
    Hey, click the links. Every point is backed up with data.


  22. Mark
    Mark says:

    I hear all of this about “knowledge.” Data and facts may seem important. But it is wisdom that is lacking in our nearsighted work culture today. Else, we fall for the next bit of information that flies around the corner without any discernment of it’s value, unless it’s for a quick buck. Lots of data. Lots of intensity. Little substance.

    Wisdom differs from intellect. I’ve seen the most intellectual individuals blunder because they lack the consciousness of wisdom that only comes from time, experience and an openess to receive it.

  23. Rae
    Rae says:

    It would be nice if researchers would break the Baby Boomers down into the uphill and downhill BB groups. I have 3 older brothers and sisters who are solid Baby Boomers (born in 1950, 1951 and 1954. I am on the other side of the peak, born in 1961, and I see a lot of stuff about the Boomers that really doesn’t apply to me. I can see the difference betweein the pre and post peak gens in my own family. The post-peak Boomers definitely do NOT have the same opportunities. They have plenty, just more Gen X than Baby Boom opportunities

  24. DK
    DK says:

    I agree with the general point of the original post…but given the ridiculous treatment that many of us young people receive from HR departments when applying to jobs, and how often we’re treated as “just kids,” I think the example you use of people successfully negotiating for “tricked-out laptops” and the like is absurd. Maybe at Google or new-fad companies, but for the vast majority of companies that just isn’t even in the ballpark.

  25. BS (for real)
    BS (for real) says:

    I am a 2007 graduate of a very rigorous, selective, and well-known college. I have been very actively looking for a suitable job since May and it’s been one of the most frustrating and fruitless experiences of my life.

    This difficulty is no doubt at least in part due to the fact that a) I have a liberal arts degree and b) I’m looking for work mainly in New York City, which this time every year seems to see thousands of people exactly like me begging for work.

    I did have a brief flirtation with Google, going so far as to have them fly me to California, and that whole experience was just about the one time a company has seemed to value me as a candidate. But receiving that kind of treatment as a new job-seeker is the exception, not the rule. Opportunities from those companies are few and far between for even the most qualified of recent grads, and we’re mostly interchangeable to HR people.

  26. LM
    LM says:

    I’m a GenY’r, and have been working in tech/digital related roles since 2000.

    The industry and/or lifestyle of sitting in front of a box all day long has become extremely unattractive to me as I don’t like the idea of doing that for the rest of my life.

    As such, I’ve been after much lower-tech pursuits recently. Taking carpentry courses, working outdoors for a landscaping company, etc. I’ve left my secure high-paying specialized role in a giant telecomm company, for much lower-paying work. My distaste for daily zombie computer time is so deep that I simply got rid of my comptuer at home as well.

    I don’t know how long I’ll be on this path or what kind of career it will take me on, but I do recognize my mastery of certain skills from the previous career, and perhaps will find a way to combine it with something more “real”.

    All I know is I’m happier now than I have ever been in my 28 years of life, and glad I’m taking the opportunity now to change, rather than when I’m supporting a family.

  27. Corinne
    Corinne says:

    Things have completely changed. Baby-boomers are no longer leaving the workforce, the majority of companies are in hiring freezes and everyone is getting a little bit more desperate. Young workers no longer have a bargaining chip and being forced to settle for terms that are less than desirable. Not a welcoming environment for a new grad.

  28. Executive Careers Blogger
    Executive Careers Blogger says:

    The common lament of job seekers, that “employers only hire people with experience, yet the only way to gain experience is to get hired” applies in the computer networking field as well. Despite optimistic statements that one hears frequently regarding the number of available jobs in IT, landing an entry-level position can still prove difficult and frustrating.

  29. C_Peterson!
    C_Peterson! says:

    It happens when competition takes the driving seat and compassion sits aside :)
    Young talent sounds fierce and enthusiastic to me. They have that spark in their eyes for money, growth, learning and exploring. The world is changing and is behaving differently :)
    Thanks for the article, I can very well relate with this wonderful post!

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