Making Assumptions about Generations

There exists an idea that those who are born of certain generations share similar traits. However, such broad-strokes appraisals of individuals from specific generations is a great way to miss out on a great candidate.

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Indeed, making assumptions, including generational assumptions, about candidates is a form of stereotyping, which is a precursor to bias.

What Research Shows

By now, some generational characteristics are well known.

Among the Millennial traits generational experts Neil Howe and William Strauss cite are that these workers grew up believing they were special and important; they were highly protected as children; and they are confident, motivated, and goal-oriented. In addition, Millennials prefer working in teams, as opposed to working alone.

Generation X, by contrast, is sometimes called the latch-key generation. Its members are more likely than past generations to be children of divorce; consequently, they grew up fending for themselves after school because their single parent was working. As a result, they tend to be independent and more inclined toward entrepreneurial opportunities.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, grew up wanting to change the world. Their quest for power has been well documented, as has their reluctance to hand over the reins to younger generations.

Information about the youngest generation in the workplace, Generation Z, is just beginning to become available. Early research finds that these workers are practical, hardworking, and interested in growth opportunities.

What It Means

While it’s common to make assumptions, given the attention generational differences receive, these assumptions can prohibit recruiters, hiring managers, and others from seeing individuals for who they are.

Not all Millennials grew up believing they were special and important, and not all were protected as children. Similarly, not every Millennial is confident, motivated, and goal-oriented. There are also Millennials who prefer to work alone, as opposed to with a team.

By the same token, not every Gen Xer dreams of being an entrepreneurial.

And those Baby Boomers? Although some are reluctant to abandon the positions of power they worked so hard to achieve, others are just as happy to scale back and let younger generations assume the mantel of leadership. For many of these former go-getters, meaningful work and flexible schedules are now the priority.

Uncovering the Truth

Generational traits have value in the workplace. They can be useful when structuring benefits packages and marketing to job candidate audiences, for example. However, generational traits can be a hindrance if they become the lens through which you view and interview job candidates.

Best practices, which include treating each candidate as an individual who has a unique set of experiences, strengths, and preferences, should prevail.

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