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What do different generations look for in a job?

James Taylor, managing director of Midlands-based recruitment consultancy Macildowie, explores what motivates people at different stages in their career


Working in recruitment for as long as I have (over 20 years) gives you an unrivalled insight into what people look for in a job. Whether we’re speaking to candidates on behalf of our clients, or appointing someone to the Macildowie team, it’s always fascinating to see how their aspirations and priorities change as they get older. There are vast differences in what my generation valued in a job, compared to what recent graduates and those moving onto their second or third job seek.

Go back a few decades, and career progression tended to be fairly linear. It wasn’t uncommon for people to stay with the company for most of their working lives, motivated by the security their job offered and a generous pension at the end. With a more flexible and demanding workforce, employers must now work harder than ever to develop a strong brand proposition that makes their company one of the most attractive places to work in their industry or locality.


The importance of transparency

Just as in other areas of their lives, millennials and Generation Z want total transparency from their employers, with an opportunity to speak to senior managers and have a ‘voice’ within the company. I, on the other hand, felt completely unemployable when I left university because I’d spent three years studying and knew that I lacked real-world experience. I regularly worked 12 hours a day in order to establish myself, driven by the chance to earn my own money, and learn from others who’d be in the field for longer.

Younger people today might look for greater visibility at work, yet their appetite to ‘go the extra mile’ in order to achieve higher salaries and bonuses seems to be waning. I believe this is largely down to what I refer to as the ‘mortgage gap’.

When I was starting out, I knew that if I worked my socks off, and smashed my targets, that I’d soon have enough for a deposit on a house. Now it’s not uncommon for people to live with their parents until they are in their late 20s, with many seeing no prospect of buying their own home. There’s also little incentive to chase a higher salary or bonus if it’s only going to be eaten up with student loan repayments.

Accessible benefits

As remuneration drops down the ‘must have’ list, university leavers are increasingly looking at what will improve their quality of life at work right now, rather than in 10 years’ time. This is why an attractive office, on-site activities, strong bonds with colleagues, trips away and team nights out together, wellbeing and corporate social responsibility, all now form an integral part of HR policy-making, in a way they didn’t 20 years ago. At Macildowie, we have a team responsible for our reward and recognition programme – concepts that weren’t even on the agenda for most firms five years ago.

To better understand changing attitudes in recruitment and other sectors, I conducted a straw poll in the office among millennials and Generation Z, plus those who work with candidates in this demographic. Along with a good work/life balance and short commute, they told me they want to be able to secure additional benefits, like extra holiday, and to feel that their contribution matters to the success of the business.

Transparency on how to get a promotion is also a top consideration, but perhaps most interestingly of all, those in the millennial demographic stressed the importance of having a good relationship with their line manager and to feel inspired by the leadership team. Despite all the changes in workplace culture, strong leadership remains as prized as it has always been. It’s also an area where both businesses and managers could make real improvements, if they want to attract the best candidates.

Tangible goals


My experience is broadly in line with a recent survey from CV-Library, which found nearly half of employees (48 per cent) see ‘friendly colleagues’ as contributing to workplace happiness, while another 40 per cent said that workplace culture was key. Getting on with colleagues and company culture are, in my mind, two sides of the same coin; you have to define what the business stands for and build a team that shares those values.

As people get older and progress up the career ladder, the ‘softer’ cultural elements invariably take a backseat in favour of more tangible goals, like an equity stake in the business, security, a clear promotion path, acceptable notice period and good pension.

The changes we are witnessing in recruitment, and across other sectors, will certainly require some businesses to re-evaluate how they reward employees during their working life. If recruitment consultancies are to capitalise on the trend for positive workplace cultures, they’ll need to develop the right environment through strong leadership.

Managers must also do everything to help the next generation. This can be achieved by setting tangible short and long-term goals to reinforce why they want to give their all in the work place. Developing line managers to be an inspiring figure who can upskill, inspire and, ultimately, retain the best talent. Recruiters will continue to try to be more innovative with the perks they offer, but fundamentally, if an employee believes that their line manager helps to make them the best version of themselves, it’s highly unlikely that they will look for a new job.


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