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The Dangers Of Generational Stereotypes in Hiring Millennials

Ian Cameron May 25, 2015 7:30:00 AM

Time Magazine called millennials the Me Me Me Generation. Baby boomers were known as the Me Generation and generation X were typecast as narcissists. It’s always struck me how much of generational stereotypes come down to an older generation’s displeasure with the behavior of youth.

Even when we use more sound science to describe the personality of a single generation, there’s still a huge risk that we’ll get it all wrong. From a talent management perspective, theories abound on what makes this generation tick and what we need to do to attract and retain them. But these theories may be blinding us to the real secret to success.

Research shows that millennials bring the following qualities and aspirations to the workplace:

  • Diversity
  • A yearning for career and personal development
  • Multi-tasking skills
  • Tech-savvy skills
  • Desire for meaningful work
  • Desire to feel a sense of accomplishment
  • A desire to lead and manage others

Adversely, a Google search displays a number of sources who say that millennials are:

  • Selfish
  • Impulsive
  • Careless
  • Unenthusiastic
  • Inattentive
  • Nonconformist

So, should we be spending our time courting tech-savvy, multi-taskers who want meaningful work? Or advising hiring managers to watch out for signs of impulsive, careless behavior? The answer is, “that depends.” It depends on what you’re looking for in the role and who the individual is you’re talking to right now.

But There has to be a Difference in Generations … Right?

An IBM study examined generational differences in the workplace and found that millennials aren’t that different from their predecessors. Their high technological aptitude was found to be their only significant differentiation point. IBM found that each cohort ranks affecting their workplace positively, solving social issues and working in diverse groups at nearly the same level of importance as the others. Most importantly, other generations are nearly equally as willing as millennials to leave a job for money or incompatibility with their workplace environment. 

You can probably think of one or more millennials who fit in one of the above checklists. But do your thoughts reflect reality or are they merely your own projections or perceptions of generational qualities? Research conducted by the University of Wisconsin shows the differences between generations are a product of our perceptions rather than an actual difference of values. Other research suggests that few significant differences were found between the motivational and personality factors between generations – in other words, we’re not really that different when you get beyond the superficial.

A Better Way to Assess Millennials

So, if you can’t rely on generational qualities to understand millennials, what can you look to? We know from research and common sense that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That’s because our behavior is driven by our personality and psychologists have found that our personalities are set at a very early age and don’t really change much throughout our lives.  

If you can understand a person’s personality, or temperament, you can have a pretty good idea of how they’ll behave. And if you know what type of behavior is key to success in a role, you’ll be able to match it to people with the right behavior patterns.

That’s how personality tests, or behavior assessments, add value to the talent management process. The insights provided allow you to understand how an individual will behave over the long-term. That’s important, because anyone can alter their behavior for the short-term, but studies show that it’s not sustainable and we revert back to our natural way of being eventually. Everyone has a natural temperament and that makes us all better suited to certain work environments.

For example, in a sales position, a person who is a Generalist profile in our survey, is very driving, decisive and goal-oriented, and  can flourish, but in a position where there is more structure and that is more rule-bound, they’ll appear to be impulsive, inattentive and careless. If you can match the individual temperament to the position you’ll set up your company and your candidates for success.

A tool like The McQuaig System assesses people based on a scientifically-validated test that provides employers with insights into whether a person is a good behavioral fit for a role and equips managers with invaluable insights that help in coaching and developing people – based on who they are, not what generation they belong to.

The Takeaway

In a typical millennial graduating class, it’s likely that you’ll get a number of students naming the same acquired skills and knowledge. But after talking to each student for five minutes, it’ll become evident that their personality, their temperament, differs from the one before.

To truly tap into the value that a member of the workforce can bring to your organization it’s important to go beyond generational stereotypes. When hiring millennials, generation X, and baby boomers, I’d encourage you to assess their temperament to get a true picture of how they’ll perform on the job. And then use that information to help you build a plan for developing each individual to their full potential.

Do you have any stories about hiring a millennial (or a boomer, or a gen-Xer) who just didn’t fit the mold for that generation?

Image courtesy of Flickr CC and Simone Lovati 

 


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Topics: Employee Engagement, Recruitment

Ian Cameron

Written by Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron is the Managing Director of The McQuaig Institute®. He has more than 20 years of Human Resource and Organizational Development consulting experience. Throughout his career Ian’s focus has been on helping organizations realize their goals through their people and helping people live their passion through their work.