Hiring for Grit in the Millennial Market

Beth Perkins is the Talent Acquisition Manager at Delphic Digital. After a ten year career as a theater artist and producer, she shifted gears and joined a fast-growing tech startup in Austin, TX as their first “People Person.” Since then she’s worked in both startups and large global corporations, bringing creative ideas to improve and scale programs around recruiting, workplace happiness, and company culture.beth-perkins

In a recent Forbes.com article, Beth shared that a rare trait amongst many Millennial candidates is the agility to shift gears when things aren’t working and the grit to stick things out when it gets tough.

As a Millennial myself, with plenty of twenty-something friends navigating their career paths, I sat down with Beth to dig a little deeper into how Millennial candidates can break free of negative stereotypes and successfully navigate the job hunt.

You were recently quoted on Forbes.com on how many twenty-something candidates often lack the ability to stick things out when the going gets tough. How do you identify grit in a culture where job-hopping is the new norm?

Let me hear your story. The story helps me understand your drivers and motivation for what I might perceive to be red flags. It can be hard to convey this kind of narrative via a resume, so hopping on a call to get further insight is usually my next step. I always want to get the story before jumping to judgments. However, the “old guard” of recruiters and hiring managers are definitely a bit more wary of resumes with lots of short-term entries.

From a recruitment standpoint, what constitutes a “jump” vs. a natural career transition?

A jump to me is usually less than a year, which most successful people have experienced at some point in their career, but being able to explain the “why” behind the jump is crucial. Another “jump” pattern is if a candidate changes jobs every two years and has done so for the past 8 years – often patterns are indicative of future behavior.

As a GenXer myself, I and other recruiters of my generation are sort of in the unique position of bridging the gap between the “old guard”, who mostly come from a time where the social norm was to get a job right out of school and work there for the next 30-40 years, and the Millennial candidates, who overwhelmingly entered the job market at a time when the concept of long-term job security was no longer compatible with economic realities.

It’s no question that Millennials gain a breadth of knowledge in jumping from job to job, and I see value in that, but I also see why more traditional recruiters, or recruiters in more traditional industries, would shy away from the fractured job histories so common among Millennial candidates.

millenial_quote_1What advice do you have for Millennial candidates that may have job-hopped due to less tangible issues than layoffs, such as culture fit, not feeling appreciated, etc.?

Explaining something like feeling undervalued can be rocky terrain to navigate during an early conversation for a new position. As a candidate, you never want to come across as self-pitying, and that goes double for Millennial candidates, whose demographic has faced criticism for being the entitled, “participation trophy” generation. And, while I don’t at all find that a fair generalization, I think candidates should be mindful to not play into that stereotype.

If your reason for leaving was due to perceived feelings, I’d recommend reframing your narrative to focus on your accomplishments at your previous role and what you hope to achieve at your potential new role. In a job interview, you want to talk about your history of results and, if your resume is fragmented, that’s a good way to begin crafting the narrative of your career path with more risk-averse, GenX recruiters – results are a language everyone understands.

And that’s something that all candidates should consider – whether you’re writing a cover letter or on a phone interview, know your audience and tailor your language to deliver a relevant, engaging, and genuine narrative in order to resonate with that person in that moment. It’s the same way you can talk to a client and a coworker about the exact same project but use totally different language. This is a basic but often neglected communication skill that will take you far, both in the hiring process and in life.  

All in all, it has to be genuine. As recruiters, we know all the standard questions that pop up when you Google, “questions to ask in a job interview”. When a candidate asks really generic questions during the interview process, it can come off as disingenuous and recruiters are definitely going to pick up on that.

Any advice for Millennials candidates with diverse job histories, trying to jump into a new career field (tech, for example) when their career history and the open role don’t align perfectly?

Write a really good cover letter. I’ll be honest, I generally look at resumes first and if a candidate’s job history clearly aligns with the role they’ve applied to, I often skip the cover letter. But, for those with more fractured career histories, or people looking to make a career change, cover letters can hold a lot of weight.millennial_quote_2_1-1

A good question to ask when crafting your cover letter is, “what are the reasons the hiring manager should consider me for this role that my resume doesn’t clearly support?” Ask this question and craft your narrative accordingly. If you can tell me a compelling story about how your past experiences have led you to this crossroad and why this role is your next step, then I’ll understand you better, you’ll stand out, and your odds of moving forwards in the interview process increase dramatically – at very least, I’m going to call you.

That’s really great to know as cover letters are a major pain point for most job-seekers. Shift the mindset from “annoying necessity of the job hunt” to “opportunity to tell your story and show your personality sans interruptions” and treat it as such.

Exactly! If you’re at a disadvantage because your job history doesn’t show a clear cut path for the role you’re looking to step into, use the cover letter as the tool and opportunity it is to tell your story and show your personality without any of the live-interview pressure or nerves.

On the subject of showing off personality, how do you feel about highly stylized or thoughtfully designed resumes?

It really depends on the role the candidate is seeking. If they’re applying for a design role and submit a basic, black and white resume that’s a big red flag for me. If they’re a back-end developer and submit a design-heavy resume, it’s nice but not at all necessary – I just need the information. One thing to be really conscious of when choosing whether to submit a more uniquely designed resume is, “does this design help to better communicate my story?” When applying to a design role, it does matter. For other roles, that format may actually impede your ability to share the full story if a candidate opts to sacrifice content for aesthetic. When it comes to resumes, think function before form.

Jumping back to the beginning of the job seeking process, what are the best ways to kick off the research stage for a newly discovered company?

I would look at what a company shares about their internal team and culture on their website and social accounts, as well as how they position themselves. A company focused on building a strong team and culture generally wants to share that. If they don’t show any info about it, that could mean that growing their team and/or building team culture isn’t a high priority for them right now – of course, this is highly dependent on industry norms.

millennial_quote_3Another resource are company review sites like Glassdoor or Indeed, but be sure to take all reviews with a grain of salt. Just like Yelp, most people who’ve had generally positive experiences at a company don’t write reviews. Reviews are usually written when experiences are terrible or, out-of-this-world incredible – and the majority of experiences exist well within those two extremes. So, your best bet on those sites is to look for patterns. If multiple people cite the same issue, it’s probably true in some capacity. Also, look at review dates; issues noted four years ago may no longer be a problem as the company has grown and changed. 

Lastly, as you embark on the job hunt, know what’s important to you. People often talk about “cultural fit” a lot and I think a lot of times “culture” gets misconstrued as “fun perks”, which it’s not. Culture can be fun, but it’s really about how you work and the why behind the work. It’s about work, not ping pong and beer. We have ping pong and beer because people want to blow off steam at the end of the day but those things aren’t culture, they’re fun perks. So, think about what characteristics are most important to you when it comes to a work environment – do you thrive in an open office or do you require private space to do your best? Do you need to get out in the middle of the day for lunch or are you OK with a culture when people eat at their desks and power through? Do you want a hands-on manager or do you want to figure things out on your own?

It’s crucial to do some soul-searching to identify the things that are important to you and the type of environment in which you feel the most successful, because then you’ll have more meaningful conversations and questions to ask once in the interview, and that can help guide your decision when asking yourself if a new company is the right fit for you.

To kick off that soul-searching, what are the deep questions Millennials should ask themselves are they step into the job hunt, be it for the first time or in a time of transition?

I would look to the past and ask yourself what were some of your favorite jobs, classes, internships, or projects and why. What did you love about them? For example, if the people on your team were the highlight, what made that team so great to work with? The reality is, there’s no one-size-fits-all for everyone. I tell candidates all the time, our culture is great but it’s not the right fit for everyone and that’s totally fine, that’s normal. Otherwise, it’s like a cult and that’s definitely not what we’re going for.

On the flip side, also ask, “what are some past roles and projects in which I’ve felt unsuccessful or stifled and why?” Figuring out the why can help you ask meaningful questions about how this new company works, how their teams function, and measure this against your own metrics. You should be interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you.  That’s the only way to really determine whether this company aligns with your values and what you’re looking for in your career.

Seeing that we have Technical.ly Philly’s NET/WORK career fair coming up on February 7th, how important are networking events really?millennial_quote_5

I find them to be incredibly important. This answer may differ across geographies, but I think in Philadelphia and specifically in the local tech industry, there’s a ton of benefit to getting yourself out there. I tend to see a lot of the same people at events throughout the year and naturally forge connections with these familiar faces. Sometimes those connections end up getting hired at Delphic, other times they refer really awesome candidates from their networks. In-person events help me expand my own network and get involved in new ways and learn new things.

Can I promise you that your next job will come from a networking event? No. But can I tell you that you will find value in engaging with the Philly tech community and making new connections? Absolutely.

That falls right in line with the breadth of data on the strength of “weak ties” when seeking job opportunities. Have you found network connections to be a decent candidate source?

When it comes to referrals, weak ties play a significant role. For me, since our needs can change so quickly, when I have new urgent openings, I can rely on my locally established networks as a starting point. The same is true from the candidate perspective. Making new connections is always beneficial. You never really know when or how connections will pay off – it may be learning a new skill or making a new friend – but it may turn into a job one day. When it comes to networking events, my best advice is to be open, rather than arriving looking to find your connection to your dream gig right away. Think less sales pitch, more genuine conversations.

Also, it’s important to acknowledge that Millennials are all early enough in their careers that they may have a few iterations ahead of them before they land on their career path.  The more people you interact with and the more you expand your network and your knowledge, the better equipped you are to identify your pivot movements.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Want to learn more about opportunities at Delphic? Visit our Careers page or, if you’re local, swing by our table at NET/WORK Philly on February 7th.

« Prev Article
Next Article »