Recruiters are exhausted by the demands of Gen Z

After a frustrating year of trying to find and place candidates amid the turmoil of the Great Resignation, recruiters and hiring managers say they’re exhausted – and some point to over-demanding and fickleness young candidates as a main source of tension.

These job seekers are contributing a heavy burden: Nearly a third of recruiters reported experiencing extreme stress each week because of their job, according to a December survey by human resources analytics firm Veris Insights. The study found that 77% of top recruiters are open to a job change, along with 65% of HR professionals – a figure that rose 17 percentage points from September to November last year.

“Our work has never been harder,” said Angie Bergner, Vice President of Veris. “We see so much turnover in recruiting and recruiters are leaving the industry. I have aged 10 years in the past three years.

Requirements in Bold

Recruiters across all industries describe a recurring scenario: A candidate in their 20s or early 30s applies for a job and asks for compensation and benefits that are out of step with their experience.

“He’s a recent college grad asking for $90,000 to start, not wanting to go into an office, and asking for unlimited paid time off,” Bergner said.

It’s not just that their demands are bold. Recruiters find that millennials and Gen Z candidates are prone to backpedaling.

“All of a sudden they’re like, ‘I didn’t realize how much stress this job could bring, so I need more days off, or some extra money’ says Ariel Schur, CEO of ABS Staffing Solutions, which places candidates in industries such as finance, media and technology. “And I say, ‘You gave us a number, and we’ve exceeded that number.'”

This indecision can turn into sudden departures, with candidates accepting an offer for a day or a week and then disappearing. Such moves have consequences for recruiters, who typically aren’t paid if someone they’ve placed doesn’t start a job. (Many recruiters will find a replacement if a new employee leaves early.)

Young candidates can also add to the workload of recruiting professionals by requesting large amounts of information for jobs that are ultimately turned down.

“They want to know the exact policies for inclusion and pay transparency, and companies are a little shocked because those questions weren’t asked five years ago,” Bergner said.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, age has long been the main determinant of job tenure, which means recruiters tend to have more interactions with younger candidates. And their demands can create acute tension, especially at a time when job seekers of all ages often weigh four to six job offers, compared to one or two before the pandemic — a dynamic that makes recruiters busier.

Of course, many job candidates in their twenties go through the application and negotiation process without drama. But hiring managers, HR consultants and executives say in interviews that they perceive younger candidates to be less reliable than more experienced ones.

Rich Sootkoos, CEO of tech staffing firm Riverstreamz, says he often doesn’t believe young candidates looking for one- to two-year positions, especially if their resume shows a series of shorter jobs.

“I’ll be like, ‘Damn, I really don’t want to put you on this 12-month project, because frankly, I don’t know what you’re going to do,'” he said.

He found that candidates in their twenties are particularly likely to turn around on contract work, compared to full-time employment, and therefore often prefer experienced candidates. “The younger ones wake up and decide they don’t want to do it,” he said.

“Losing Faith”

Schur says she recently caught young contestants blatantly lying. “A recruiter just said to me, ‘I don’t believe she actually has those other offers,'” Schur says, referring to a candidate claiming to have a competing offer.

Even when a second offer is legitimate, recruiters say young candidates frustratingly exploit them. Sometimes it is deployed at an unexpected point in the process, for example after having already accepted an earlier offer.

In other cases, candidates use an intensive recruitment process for one job as leverage to attract another. For overworked hirers, these scenarios are demoralizing. “My recruiters are losing faith in humanity,” says Schur.

This exasperation with younger candidates can be a boon for their more experienced counterparts. Employers previously feared that older workers would cost more and not keep up with the latest technology. “Now it’s, ‘Oh, they’re easy and they have knowledge,'” Schur said.

Demand for seasoned workers is high, said Jody Greenstone Miller, co-CEO of project-based job recruiter Business Talent Group, a subsidiary of Heidrick & Struggles. Federal law prohibits age discrimination in the employment of people over 40, although some state and local laws protect young workers. Hiring based on experience is both legal and common.

Not everyone agrees that the problem is generational. “Younger candidates get bad press,” says Laurie Chamberlin, head of recruiting solutions for North America at recruiting firm LHH. “Some of these workers are the most committed employees, who will work to the ends of the earth – if you tap into what motivates them.”

Rather, she sees a disconnect between what employers offer and what young candidates want.

“A lot of people coming out of school already have great ideas they want to capitalize on, but they want business experience first,” Chamberlin said. “And some employers want them to work there for a decade after a 7-step hiring process and drug screening. That’s a bit off the mark, frankly.

Recruiters might find some relief, Bergner said, if workplaces offer the most flexible and reasonable office and vacation arrangements for the field.

“If an organization doesn’t have the internal infrastructure to retain them, then they’re going to leave in six months,” Bergner said. “And then the recruiter has to start all over again.”

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