03/17/2016 Molly Moseley

Boomers to iGen: Expert insight for job search across generations

At no other time in U.S. history has the American workforce varied so greatly in age as it does today. In fact, it’s not unheard of for an 18-year-old to work next to someone pushing 70 — and sometimes those two people might even be competing for the same job.

People are living longer and working longer, which means the range of applicant ages can be huge. Four generations are currently in the workforce, and generally speaking, each has its strengths and weaknesses. We reached out to several industry experts to learn more about the differentiating qualities across generations and how they can influence your job search.

1. Baby boomers (1946-1964)

  • Must keep up with technological changes
  • Focus on experience as a differentiator
  • Embrace change and keep an open mind

“Baby boomers bring experience, wisdom and a no-BS approach to the job search,” says Gabrielle Jackson Bosché, a generational engagement strategist at The Millennial Solutions. “They know what they like, and what they don’t like. But many of them are starting a new career after reaching retirement, or are searching for more ways to help them eventually retire.”

“Experience is often the key strength for this group,” adds Michelle Merritt, president and CEO of Merrfeld Resumes and Coaching. “Leveraging not only on-the-job experience but also life experience and wisdom can be a great benefit. The key to leveraging that experience is being confident without being overbearing or closed off to new ideas.”

She advises: “It’s important to show how you are open to new ideas and how you’ve been proactive in learning about new technologies or systems in your field. Actively pursuing the cutting edge in your industry will show your willingness to learn and innovate effectively and efficiently.”

2. Gen X (1965-1976)

  • Enjoys independence and autonomy
  • Offers valuable experience that is often under-advertised
  • Desires flexibility and perks in addition to pay — a negotiating opportunity

“Gen X’ers are excellent at delivering on expectations once hired because they tend to under-advertise their skills, however, they may not convey enough confidence in an interview,” says Elizabeth Becker of PROTECH. “They may get frustrated in a job search because they’re looking at positions that actually aren’t at a high enough level for their skills. Experience is often more valuable than education in the current market saturated by degrees, and Gen X’ers without a degree should highlight their experience and not worry about the diploma they don’t have.”

“Generation X is looking for independence and autonomy in a job,” Bosché says. “Many have young kids or middle schoolers. As the latchkey generation, they prioritize time with family and being as present as possible in the lives of their family. Flexibility is key for this generation who will be expecting time to go to soccer games, doctor appointments and family vacations. They are not in the career-building phase of their life; they are looking for stability and predictability. This doesn’t mean they aren’t hard workers! This generation loves checklists and would prefer to work alone to get things done right.”

3. Millennials/Gen Y (1977 – 1995)

  • Need reality check of mismanaged expectations
  • Reputation as job jumpers
  • Must focus on job loyalty and developing skills long term

“[Gen Y is] innovative with a willingness to try new things,” says Merritt. “[They have] an understanding of the shift in the American economy because they’re the ones driving the shift from mortgages to dining experiences. GenY would rather have a nice dinner and live in a small apartment than have a mortgage on a fancy house in the suburbs. Understanding and articulating how this impacts the business world and customers can be a great asset for Gen Y.”

“Millennials tend to have great confidence in interviewing, often overestimating their skills in certain areas,” adds Becker. “If they’ve taken a college course in a specific area or have a year of working experience, they’ll rank themselves as an expert or very good when older generations with 10 years of experience might only say they’re average with the same skills. This confidence is very helpful in landing a position, but we see some turnover due to the millennial not being able to deliver on the high expectations they set.”

4. iGen/Gen Z (1996 or later)

  • Extremely tech savvy
  • Must shed reputation that they can’t connect without technology
  • Many may become entrepreneurs

“iGen/Gen Z are just starting to enter their first jobs,” Bosché says. “They have no expectations of what reality is, but are bringing their smart devices along with them for the ride. They are the true digital natives, and can’t imagine the thought of not being constantly connected. This makes them ideal brand ambassadors, as each of them have 2.3 social media accounts.”

This tech savviness has a downfall, she says. “It is also challenging attempting to get through to a generation that would rather be on Snapchat than serving customers. This generation has to get over the stereotype of being disconnected, put down their phone and show their employer they are in it for real.”

“IGen/Gen Z’ers are just starting to enter the job market and will have the toughest time due to high student debts and limited career opportunities,” adds Becker. “I expect many IGen/Gen Z’ers will be forced into entrepreneurship out of necessity.”

A true melting pot: The multi-generational workplace

“Millennials and Gen Z represent talent, while baby boomers represent skill,” says Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes. “A younger cohort brings fresh ideas, but the older colleagues have the expertise to bring those ideas to fruition. The benefits of a multi-generational workplace can only be realized when each generation gets over itself to appreciate what the others bring to the table.”

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