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Social Media and Gen Z: Keeping track of a new generation

At risk of stating the obvious, there is probably not a single organisation or recruiter who doesn’t recognise the value of social media as an emerging tool to locate talent. The questions are who’s using it, how are they using it and is it being utilised reactively or proactively?

There are probably few people in the Western world that haven’t heard of Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Linkedin, and Pinterest.

Heard yet of Vine, Periscope, Yik Yak, Kik, Shots, Peach, Secret, Whisper or Wanelo, a social shopping app made up from the words Want, Need Love?

The more social media sites that sprout up the harder it is to keep track not only of how many there are but how it’s at all possible to find potential candidates from hundreds of millions of users. Wouldn’t organisations need an army of ants to recruit across so many platforms searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack? Well, yes.

Some employers might argue that anyone seeking a job will register with Linkedin, and everyone knows Facebook is the ultimate people finder so what more do you need? This may be true…for now.

However it is also a good example of reactive thinking. Using social media to recruit need not be all about how many sites must be trawled to find talent in 2016 and beyond. Armed with a profile of a targeted demographic, it might be much easier to find where they live on the internet and establish a presence there.

Proactive organisations and recruiters will have already realised that a major change is coming to the jobs market in the next four to five years, a generational, if not paradigm shift. It has already begun even as many employers find themselves still playing catch-up in the use of existing social media.

Planning ahead means being well informed not only on where this entirely new pool of candidates known as Generation Z, or Gen Z, Centennials or iGens ‘hang out’ on the web, but what to expect from them and what they expect in return. That means profiling them, how they think and act, their world view, what they want and need from a job, what new skills they can bring to the table, and what career development actually means to them on a personal level. Some experts go so far as to say that Gen Z will turn recruitment on its head.

Although generational science isn’t really a science – a generation is roughly estimated to span 15 years - each new generation in every country has grown up in a common economic, technological and political environment that will have shaped their view of the world.

In the case of Gen Z, ‘world view’ becomes literally quantifiable because they are the first truly globally connected generation. They began entering the world in 1995, coincidentally, the same year the internet changed it forever.

It’s not that their predecessors, the Millennials (Generation Y) are passé. Many of the younger batch are closer in age to Gen Zs than to the older members of their own generation, but let’s not split hairs. The bottom line is that the next generational workforce is already entering the jobs market and within five years when the remainder graduates from universities, they will be the ones to shape the future of work over the next 15 to 20 years.

To reach this pool of potential talent, social media recruitment strategies will need to evolve from utilising these platforms merely as an additional source to locate active or passive candidates - or for screening applicants – to becoming an integral part of the hiring process, or even perhaps in time and with advancements in technology, the only source.

But at this stage of the game, the reach of social media is so great, it would be impossible to utilise it to its fullest extent without more technology, not to mention inefficient in terms of tying up human resources. That is why according to most statistics and studies, it has not yet developed into a significant recruiting tool even though it is heading in that direction.

Until an intelligent IT system is developed that can aggregate pertinent candidate data for employers and recruiters from across the entire web, traditional methods such as jobs boards and referrals, hand in hand with sites such as Linkedin, are likely to remain the driving forces in securing talent in short to medium term.

Borne out by statistics

According to a survey of over 400 HR professionals carried out by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published in January this year, recruiting via social media is growing, with 84% of organisations using it currently and 9% planning to use it. Recruiting passive job candidates (82%) continues to be the top reason that organisations use social media for recruitment while 81% say it is one of many tools they use, though 5% said it was their primary tool. Also it found that 66% of organisations have taken steps to leverage mobile recruiting to target smartphone users, while 39% have optimised their career websites, job postings and application processes for mobile users.

Of those who utilise social media:

  • 96% use Linkedin to recruit, 66% Facebook, 53% Twitter, 12% Google+, 7% Instagram, 3% Pinterest.
  • 73% found Linkedin most effective followed by Facebook with a mere 14% - a huge gap.
  • 93% screen candidates on Linkedin, 63% on Facebook, 29% on Twitter, 26% on Google+ and only 3% on other social media sites.
  • 35% per cent said they had disqualified candidates in the past year because of information or discrepancies they found on social media.
  • 89% use social media to post job ads, 75% to contact potential candidates and 58% to encourage referrals, 77% to increase employer brand, 71% to look for specific skill sets and 55 % because it’s less expensive.
  • 42% to 69% - recruiting hourly-paid to director level respectively - found social media ‘effective’ or ‘somewhat effective’ while 10% to 16% found it ‘inefficient’ or ‘somewhat inefficient’.

Of those who don’t utilise social media:

  • 46% cited privacy concerns and worries about discovering protected characteristics of candidates such as gender, race or religious affiliation.
  • 46% said they did not have enough staff to trawl the sites.
  • 21% said they could not verify the information they found there.
  • 18% cited lack of skills in navigating social media.
  • 18% were concerned over the level of candidate they would find.
  • 11% believed the pool of talent they would find would not be worth the time and effort.

See more at SHRM:

What employers and recruiters should be doing

There are plenty of steps employers can take to make fuller use of these platforms within the limited bounds of human capability. Some may take a little more time, effort and innovation but will pay off because social media is all about the sharing, and sharing means a higher profile and stronger branding across the web.

Organisations need to become as omniscient on social media as their targeted pool of candidates in order to show that their brand has what it takes to attract this new breed of talent whose digital footprint is an extension of who they are in the real world.

Employers will waste time and resources scouring the web for talent if prospective candidates fail to find a decent social media presence for them. A good web buzz around a prospective employer can add to a candidate’s online social status, or prestige. A employer profile that is set up but is essentially ‘dead in the water’ in that does not offer daily content will flop.

A one-size-fits-all profile may not cut it either. How a brand is perceived on Linkedin will be different to how it is perceived on Facebook so different approaches are called for depending on the audience.

Organisations need to be vigilant in keeping track of how their brand is perceived around the web, especially on employer review sites such as, and heed what’s being said about them. In this virtual world, word of mouth can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

It helps to have existing staff talk about their jobs on their own social media platforms. In that way far-reaching connections can be made. Prospective candidates will be drawn more to an organisation that embraces a culture of community. It can also aid with candidate referrals.

A strong ‘human face’ on the web with regular blogging, tweeting and uploading videos and photos across platforms depicting the organisation’s values and culture is a strong selling point that helps project the image of a welcoming workplace.

Social media is a place where an employer can observe and interact with prospective candidates on their own turf and learn more about them in a less formal setting. Digital profiles spread across the web are also much more insightful when it comes to assessing attitudes and behaviours than a glowing emailed resume.

It wouldn’t hurt for organisations to embrace some innovative job advertising. Today’s candidates are visual creatures so a short video ad would likely be more widely shared and reach a bigger pool than a written one. Job postings in writing should be short and quickly digestible.

Initial video interviews are also a useful tool in forming first impressions. Digital-savvy candidates are likely to feel more comfortable in front of a screen than a formal work setting and this could help employers and recruiters reach decisions more quickly.

Above all, organisations if they are to survive until Generation Alpha appears on the scene in 2025 cannot afford to stay static. In previous generations business practices did not change in leaps and bound in the space of 15 years. This is no longer the case, and those who do not keep up and innovate will be left behind. Reacting to what’s out there is no longer the way to go. Looking ahead to the next big thing, or more importantly, the next generation of workers, and preparing for them is crucial.

Gen Z who are they and what do they want?

This generation has never experienced life without mobile technology and instant access to literally everything and everyone and don’t take kindly to being separated from it. At the same time, a Gen Z-er is generally a ‘people person’.

They are often called the ‘digital natives’ and absorb information whether it’s texting, tweeting or viewing in bite-sized portions. If a recruitment process takes too long, they may lose interest.

They tend to value their online privacy and avoid platforms like Facebook, embracing Secret or Whisper or Snapchat instead where their information is uploaded fleetingly and disappears just as quickly. To most Gen Z-ers, Linkedin is a place where Millennials go. Their top three hot spots are Vine, Instagram and Twitter in that order.

When it comes to the world at large, they are realists and pragmatists, growing up during a global recession with declining incomes, this has made them more financially conservative and less inclined to rack up debts.

They rely less on mainstream media and more on real-life shared videos and stories from around the world, and they ‘don’t do’ email.

They generally troubleshoot or solve problems or learn new skills by turning to the web first, such as watching tutorials on YouTube, and can adapt more easily to technology changes than any generation that has come before.

Studies have shown that they would be first inclined to try and pursue their dream job. Failing that, they would seek a fulfilling career and a workplace where they are encouraged to engage, where they are challenged, and receive recognition. A strong retention strategy will be key and may need to incorporate working remotely and other flexible practices.

Being part of a global digital community they are more likely to embrace diversity and tolerance in the workplace and place great store in the opinions of their online peers. Generation Z want to leave their mark on the world and usually support an online cause.

According to research by IT company Ricoh Europe, which surveyed 3,352 respondents from eight different business sectors across 22 countries, almost two out of three Gen Z-ers expect their future employers to take their needs into account.

"Generation Z has high expectations from their employers – and so they should," said David Mills, CEO of Ricoh Europe, in a news release recently. "Given their desire for constant innovation, instant communication and open collaboration, Gen Z will be a big challenge for businesses.”