What Employers Need to Know About Generation Z to Prosper

Hiring Gen Z Interns Allows You to Learn About Your Next Generation of Employees

Generation Z office interns discussing information seen online.
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You hear a lot about Millennials, but do you know who else is starting to hit the workforce? Generation Z. At over two billion people, Generation Z is the largest generational cohort of all time. They will rock your world—if not already—then very shortly.  

Generation Z members were born starting in the mid-1990s. (Additional names suggested for this cohort include Post Millennials, Homeland Generation, Centennials, iGeneration, Gen Tech, Gen Wii, Net Gen, Digital Natives, and Plurals.) So far, Gen Z is winning the notoriety contest.

The oldest members of Gen Z are just finishing up college. A few have graduated, and more are currently enrolled, and doing internships. They are just hitting the workforce, and a lot of them are currently doing their first summer internship.

How does this generation differ from preceding generations and what do they think about the workplace? LendEDU, a student loan corporation, surveyed interns—who are mostly Gen Z and found interesting information.

Even in the Internet Age, Connections Are About Networking

You might think that Gen Z found their internships by researching companies on the internet and applying directly—and a little more than 30 percent did. But, 43 percent found their internships through family connections.

This means that even as the internet has made contacts, ideas and information more accessible to everyone, who you know is still more important than what you can Google.

And who you are related to really makes a difference. Gen Z understands that it's real life connections that make the big difference when it comes to finding an internship.

91 percent of the Gen Z cohort feel that connections outweigh grades when it comes to landing a job. That could mean that studying and actual learning isn't what they are focused on if they already have the family and friend connections.

It could also mean that people who don't have good connections may feel that they don't have much hope of finding a great internship.

Not Everyone Gets an Internship

Thirty-four percent of college seniors have had two or more internships, and 26 percent have had one internship, but that means 40 percent of seniors haven't had a single internship. While internships aren't required for graduation at most universities, they are extremely helpful for finding that first job.

Without an internship, there's nothing to distinguish one student from another except for a grade point average. A student without an internship hasn't proven himself in any way other than in the classroom. Other jobs, of course, can provide evidence of surviving in a work environment, but retail and restaurants provide a different (albeit valuable) experience than a professional internship can provide.

Gen Z thinks that connections are the way to find internships. So, it's possible that some of these students who have not had any internships didn't apply for internships because they believed that they could only get one through family connections.

Remember that 90 percent of Gen Z members surveyed believe connections are the most important factor—60 percent of people found their internships through either applying online, help from their career counseling center or through extra-curricular activities.

Internships aren't limited to those with connections, even though connections certainly help.

It's Not About the Money

When faced with the choice between an internship that would open a lot of doors or one that pays better, Gen Z preferred to look at the long-term, and 93 percent opted for the one that would open doors, rather than the one attached to a bigger paycheck.

Money is important, and many internships in tech and big business do pay and pay quite well, but an internship is about gaining experience. Legally, unless the internship meets very strict guidelines, it is illegal not to pay interns if a company is for profit.

That doesn't mean, however, that unpaid internships in the for-profit world don't exist. They do, largely because students are willing to work as interns for the experience and business owners don't understand the laws regarding interns.

Those members of Gen Z who chase the internships are doing it for the experience, which also means there may be pressure on those who do not have internships to work for higher pay to support themselves. The students who believe that internships only come through connections and believe that it's only about experience, may not seek an internship if it can't provide a big paycheck.

What Is Generation Z Doing With Downtime?

An internship, like almost all jobs, can have boring moments and some downtime. What do Generation Z interns do with that downtime? Well, the results probably won't surprise you:

  • 43 percent “look at random websites.”
  • 19 percent watch Netflix
  • 18 percent shop online
  • 20 percent do something else

Clearly, this is a well-wired generation—or rather a wifi generation. As of 2015, 86 percent of college students owned a smartphone. So, you don't even have to give your intern a computer for them to find a way to waste time on the internet.

What Does This Mean for Business Owners?

If you're a manager or an owner and you want to help out a college student by providing an internship, what can you learn from this?

The most important take away is that there are tons of college students out there who have not done an internship, even though they are in their senior year. You probably do not have to offer a high paycheck to attract an intern, as long as you provide meaningful work experiences.

You may want to consider who you hire as interns—are you only looking at friends and relatives of your current employees? If not, are you giving preference to those people? If so, why?

Lots of companies talk about increasing their diversity, but hiring interns out of the limited pool of friends and family of your current employees often excludes first-generation college students.

If you're the first person in your family to go to college, you are less likely to have a parent or other relative in a white collar job who can vouch for you. Consider placing more of an emphasis on online and career counseling center recruiting. You will find great candidates you would otherwise have overlooked—and you're giving a student an opportunity they wouldn't have had otherwise.

If you find that your interns are spending too much time on their phones, you have a couple of options: tell them to put it away, or keep them so busy that they have no time for goofing off. Because generation Z reports that they want internships for experience, they'll appreciate additional work responsibilities and challenges that can go on their resumes.

Don't Complain About Generation Z

The newest members of your workforce are (of course) the youngest members. Every new generation comes with the old fogies saying, “When I was their age...” The reality is that there are differences between a generation that was raised with an iPhone in their hand and a generation that rode in station wagons without seat belts.

But, the biggest difference is simply age and a lack of experience. What you may blame on a generation is really the product of being new to the workforce. Give them a break and hire an intern or two. You may decide to keep them.