Gen Z college search behavior has lessons for employers


Gen Z college search behavior has lessons for employers

EAB’s student research team recently released a report on the Gen Z Mindset, synthesizing quantitative and qualitative studies to highlight how colleges can engage today’s high school students more effectively.

While every generation of teenagers and young adults shares certain core traits—impulsiveness, desire for privacy, and moodiness come to mind—each generation also has distinctive attributes, due to the environment where they grew up and their current context. Generation Z is a cohort of digital natives whose childhood progressed in the shadow of the Great Recession and who now find themselves, like all of us, contending with a world consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of their experiences, they react to life decisions such as college or career choices, and to incoming communications, differently than those who came before them.

The report highlighted four Gen Z attributes relevant to anyone trying to engage them in a major decision. This group of young people particularly privileges authenticity, embodies pragmatism, suffers from anxiety, and applies a self-service ethic to their explorations.

Flipping through the final copy of the report made me realize that its findings are equally applicable to employers trying to engage college students in early-career opportunities through campus recruiting. While we based most of our observations on interviews and surveys of 15- to 19-year-olds, the characteristics we identified apply equally to their peers who are a year or two older.

Generation Z…

Values authenticity

Employers should aim to personalize and personify communications

Applies a self-service ethic

Optimize information sources including career pages, Instagram feeds, and third-party review sites

Audit communications, applications, and rules for unnecessary friction

Is pragmatic

Highlight the practical benefits of employment at your company

Implications for early-career recruiting

Gen Z is noteworthy for how its members filter out messages based on perceived authenticity. As lifelong consumers of digital media in multiple channels, they are practiced at differentiating mass messages from individual ones, and their expectation for personalization is high. That doesn’t mean that employers should forgo marketing techniques altogether in favor of one-to-one recruitment, but employers need to convey an authentic, distinctive voice in their recruitment marketing, looking for opportunities to personalize and personify both sides of the communication wherever possible.

Even before the pandemic, many surveys, including ours, have documented how students’ college-going attitudes have shifted from idealism toward pragmatic concerns. Today’s prospective students are much more focused on money and careers rather than learning and service, especially when compared to previous generations. That emphasizes the importance of recruitment marketing communications that highlight the practical benefits of employment; Gen Z will likely be a receptive audience.

Given all the uncertainties in today’s world, Gen Z also carries a high weight of anxiety about consequential decisions. In our work with college enrollment, we find value in messages and policies that are supportive of students and lower barriers to engaging in the application process. That doesn’t mean lowering standards, but it does mean taking a close look at communications and rules, interrogating them for whether they would place an unnecessary burden or inadvertently discourage students from engaging and applying to your company.

On the flip side, Gen Z is also adept at uncovering information for themselves. Having never experienced a world without Google, they expect information to be at their fingertips. This requires employers to pay attention to their “inbound” recruitment marketing assets—careers website pages, Instagram feeds, and third-party review sites—just as much as their outbound messaging to students.

More to come

This month, our student research team has been busy launching a new Employment Communication Preferences survey to validate these propositions with job-seeking college students and to go one step deeper on practical implications. We look forward to sharing the findings as soon as they’re available, but in the meantime, I encourage you to read the Gen Z Mindset report and consider how these findings could apply to your own efforts to engage this generation of students.

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