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Generation Y

Rockstars@Work: Campus Recruiting That Really Pays Off

Before Cargill revamped its campus recruiting program three years ago, 50% of young hires left the company within five years. Now they have 100% retention. Among young employees they also have 96% offer acceptance, 0% unwanted turnover, 84% employee engagement, 32% increase in diversity recruiting, twice as many new hires receiving top performance review ratings, and a pride factor of 96%.

Before Cargill revamped its campus recruiting program three years ago, 50% of young hires left the company within five years. Now they have 100% retention. Among young employees they also have 96% offer acceptance, 0% unwanted turnover, 84% employee engagement, 32% increase in diversity recruiting, twice as many new hires receiving top performance review ratings, and a pride factor of 96%.

And all this is because Cargill acted on four key components in their campus recruiting program, explained Mark Hosmann and Sarah Cortright, the two Cargill representatives who presented “Sonic Youth: Campus Recruiting That Really Pays Off” at the RockStars@ Work Conference.


The first step is to attract top quality candidates.

Maintain a commitment to entry-level talent.

Don’t just send a random employee to some college job fairs and hope they snag a few takers. That is a waste of time and money, as Cargill found out. Instead, with a little strategy and extra effort, you can hire quality people and spend money more efficiently.  


First, make sure everyone is involved in the process and makes recruiting a priority. Cargill had meetings between hiring managers and executives to find out exactly how many people they wanted to hire, for what positions and with which skill sets. Next, decide which schools to target and how to approach recruitment.


Here are some ideas to make your company shine on campus and attract the right people: offer internships (as an intern myself, I’m a firm advocate of paid internships!)—not only do you get to “test” potential employees, but if their experience is positive, they will do your recruiting for you when they tell their friends.


Participate in mentoring programs and offer guest lectures in classrooms and clubs. Have your CEO or senior managers present at job fairs—it shows good leadership and is quite impressive. Make sure college career services are familiar with your company.


Finally, be creative and have fun! Cargill offered a free bar-b-que and music on campus in the middle of the day.


Have a strong value proposition.


Note: a value proposition is NOT a mission statement. Mission statements are all different versions of the same thing. Think of a value proposition as a marketing message that reflects what is so great about your company, anyway. It’s what you say when someone asks you what the best thing is about your company and you get a glint in your eyes and a grin on your face.


To me, this is even more important than interacting with a CEO or getting excited by a free lunch and happy employees. The values are what you as an employee can expect on the job. They can give you a hint of the business atmosphere, even before entering the building. And they are what will keep you coming to work day after day, even when it gets boring.


Here are various examples of positive values: working towards employee diversity, every employee interacts with top leadership, company commitment to helping employees succeed, or your products help to eliminate world hunger but cutting food costs.


After attracting top talent, keep them.


Do your promises align with reality?


No matter how impressive your value proposition is, if it’s not the truth you won’t keep the recruits you worked so hard to attract. Not only that, but the negative feedback will travel faster than the positive, and your company’s reputation will be tarnished for future hires.


To avoid this colossal mistake, take the time to evaluate your company and its goals. For example, don’t say your company is diverse when it isn’t. If this is a real value, say instead that you aspire to diversity, then invite the new recruits to participate in the process.


Cargill learned this when they marketed the company’s global nature and travel opportunities to students. But the reality was that while travel opportunities were present, most newbies would not begin traveling immediately. This disappointed people. To remedy that Cargill advertised its global nature, but with the nuance that travel opportunities came with work experience.


Finally, does your value proposition align with what Generation Y actually wants?


While lifelong job security might be attractive to a baby boomer, it’s not top on the list for Gen Yers.


Here are the eight ways Cargill tailored their values to retain their youngest employees:

  • Flexibility/choices: Offering an individualized strengths-based rotation program—no one in the program has the same experience. 
  • Connections/networking: Building formal, informal and social connections by organizing volunteer groups and sports games. 
  • Responsibility/significance: Building trust, responsibility and a sense of worth by exposure to senior leadership. 
  • Support/feedback: Offering multiple sources of mentorship based on individual needs and preferences. 
  • Development/learning/growth: Individual development plans, formal training programs and on the job learning to discover what the education gaps are and how to eliminate them. 
  • Balance: A focus on how personal values align with business needs
  • Purpose/socially responsible: Being a global leader in nourishing people, maintaining a commitment to ethics, and offering coordinated volunteer opportunities coupled with a corporate culture of social responsibility
  • Technology: Employ

ees get the tools and collaboration they need to do the job.

I bet you are thinking that this is a lot of effort for a small segment of your employees. Maybe so. But then again, your company’s success depends on your employees. And who will be your senior employees in 20-30 years? Don’t you want to attract and keep the best?

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Melissa Hackenmueller

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