US Businesses Concerned about Hiring Young, ‘Gen Z’ Workers

20 January 2024

A recent report from a higher education advising organization says nearly 40 percent of American employers avoid offering jobs to recent college graduates.

They said members of Generation Z, or ‘Gen Z,' the group of Americans born between 1997 and 2012, make a lot of mistakes in job interviews. They say they would rather employ older workers who work harder and are dependable.

The research comes from Intelligent, an organization that does research about higher education, the job market and helps young people prepare for college and work.

Students interact with industry representatives during a career event at Syracuse University. (Photo courtesy of Syracuse University)
Students interact with industry representatives during a career event at Syracuse University. (Photo courtesy of Syracuse University)

Unfavorable reviews

The report came out in December and notes that, of 800 directors, managers and executives asked questions, 38 percent said they favor older workers. About 20 percent of employers said young people brought a parent with them to a job interview. Almost 60 percent of those surveyed said recent college graduates are unprepared for work and about half said they had to dismiss, or fire, a recent college graduate. Others said the young workers do not take criticism well.

Because of bad experiences with younger workers, more than half of the business leaders said they are putting policies in place that older workers want. For example, they are offering benefits that are important to older workers, paying higher salaries and permitting older workers to work from home. They also say they are willing to employ an older employee who is "overqualified" if it means they do not have to employ a younger worker.

One respondent gave an example of a Gen Z job seeker who refused to turn on their camera during a video interview.

Lack of motivation

Michael Connors is a recruiter in the Washington, D.C. area. That means he helps companies find job candidates. He said he is not surprised by the survey results. He said employers have real questions about the young job seekers.

He asked: "Do they even want this job, or do they just go through the motions?"

He said he has not had a job candidate say they will not use their camera for interviews. However, he has had some candidates choose noisy places for calls. One was sitting outside a shopping center during the interview.

Adam Capozzi is the career services director at Syracuse University in New York state. He said while many students are very good about online communication, managing data and have experience with spreadsheets, they need help with the "soft skills." Soft skills, he said, include making introductions in business settings, offering a good handshake, or even knowing how to ask for a business card.

Soft skills

Capozzi said students should pay special attention to three things when looking for jobs:

  • dressing well for interviews
  • making sure that their social media and LinkedIn profiles tell a story of their "core mission, vision and values,"
  • learn that networking is "so much more than going to a career fair."

"You could be in an elevator at a specific office building or at a different establishment and bump into someone and strike up a 30-second conversation and not know who they are associated with and a positive first impression can lead to further conversation."

Diane Gayeski is a professor of strategic communications at Ithaca College in New York state. She worked on the survey.

She said one reason some members of Gen Z are having trouble is that the pandemic disrupted activities that lead to job-hunting success. She noted that some students missed out on internships and the chance to meet professionals who visited college campuses as guest speakers.

"Part of college readiness, college's ability to make students ready for their careers are the things that they experience outside the classroom, such as engaging with people who are different than they are and being able to work on projects that are in the community and engaging in internships, and all of that just didn't exist."

Managers noted that many students became used to missing project time limit dates, or deadlines, and class time. During the pandemic, some teachers eased a lot of rules.

But in the workplace, employers are not as permissive.

Kristin Williams is the Director of Career Services at Kent State University's business school in Ohio. She said she sees strong and promising students all the time. However, some of them do miss deadlines.

She notes part of that might be left over from the pandemic, when "we didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow." However, she said employers should be willing to train new employees who are having problems.

"Again, do we like it when those things happen? Absolutely not. I'm frustrated when a deadline is missed or there's repeated asks for an extension. At some point, someone has to be responsible for coaching [them] through that."

Williams said new employees need to be taught how to tell their supervisors they might miss a deadline ahead of time. And they should be taught how to prioritize the most important tasks.

Some of the criticisms in the Intelligent survey are part of having several generations in the workforce at the same time, Williams said. But she said that the Gen Z workers might make a "positive shift" in the workplace. She said other workers might end up working less, getting paid more and enjoying freedom to dress less formally at work because of Gen Z's behavior.

She added, if 40 percent of employers are worried about Gen Z, that means 60 percent are not.

I'm Gena Bennett. And I'm Dan Friedell.

VOA's Dora Mekouar wrote this story. Dan Friedell adapted it for VOA Learning English and added interview material from Williams and Capozzi.


Words in This Story

interview –n. a meeting between a person seeking a position and a person who will help make that decision

benefits –n. (pl.) things in addition to pay that are offered to someone to get them to work in a business, organization or government

recruiter –n. a person who looks for candidates for employment

disrupt –v. to prevent something or someone from working in the usual or desired way

internship –n. a form of employment for young people who do not have experience, which gives them the chance to work in an industry or field

absolutely –adv. completely (in agreement)

frustrated –adj. feeling upset or hopeless about not getting what is wanted or needed

prioritize –v. to arrange things in order of importance; to decide which thing is the most important

We want to hear from you. Do you work with anyone from Gen Z? What do you think of their work style?