7 tips to win the war for millennial talent

Consulting firm Mckinsey & Co’s seminal 1997 paper The War for Talent highlighted how business success was increasingly dependent on beating the competition to the best talent. The paper championed a new focus on the recruitment and retention of skilled knowledge workers and argued: You can win the war for talent, but first you must elevate talent management to a burning corporate priority.

Given the importance of millennial employees, what should you do to win the war for millennial talent.

Infographic - Millennials

Two decades later the message remains essentially the same, except the talent we want to win is a new generation, the millennials, that wield skills essential to modern business. While all generations of employees are valuable, the millennial group are especially important because these ‘digital natives’ are more adept with the devices, apps and processes that support business disruption, transformation and innovation. Millennials became the largest group in the US workforce in 2015 and will continue to grow in size there and in other economies.


1. Build a kick-arse employer brand

Creating an engaging employer brand is your starting point in winning the war for millennial talent, and we could write the whole blog post about this one point. Just as businesses build brand values for customers using research, insights, segmentation, messaging etc., so they must with employee branding. Do your research to pinpoint what’s important to millennials. Most of the available research says they seek a sense of purpose at work, regular feedback, being valued, flexible hours, having a say, and working collaboratively.

Be clear about what you offer your staff (of all generations) and work with current millennial employees to build and test an authentic proposition and messaging. Sometimes you may need unique or risky approaches to convey unique employer brand propositions. This employer branding video from software business Atlassian proclaims ‘Don’t F*ck the Customer’ – at 3 minutes 5 seconds in the video – as one of their values and shows how to talk of inspiring beliefs in language millennials connect with. While it’s usually not a great idea to use four-letter words in business this works because it’s positive and employs the direct language millennials use in real life.


2. Use smart marketing to become an ‘employer brand of choice’

You need to beat your competitors’ employer branding, so don’t keep your challenges to yourself in HR. Work with marketing colleagues to create a marketing strategy that positions your brand to best effect in a crowded and competitive market. Communicate your employer brand across all the channels the millennial audience frequents, and ensure the career pages on your own web site and social media sites stand out from the crowd. The careers home page at Lithium Technologies, a Glassdoor ‘Best Place to work’ winner, is a great example of a business that’s really ‘selling’ its employer brand. Another example is cosmetics company L’Oréal whose YouTube career channel has almost 100 videos answering a range of questions about what it’s like to work there.

While digital channels are an obvious and cost-effective approach, don’t be restricted only to digital.  Be innovative in looking for ‘clear air’ to reach good candidates, and consider possibilities such as targeted paid advertising, or sponsorship of universities or arts/music events. This blog post from sponsorship business Slingshot describes retail business Aldi ’s strategy “…to work with many UK universities to showcase the importance it gives to sporting excellence, achievement and student engagement.”  Aldi has consequently “been able to discover and recruit potential graduate top talents for its Area Management programme thanks to its strong and lengthy presence in universities and career fairs, with many of the current Area Managers graduating from sponsored universities.”


3. Act like a start-up

According to a 2012 study by research outfit Millennial Branding, “Only 7% of Gen-Y works for a Fortune 500 company, because startups are dominating the workforce for this demographic in today’s economy. If large corporations want to remain competitive, they need to aggressively recruit Gen-Y workers. Gen-Y will form 75% of the workforce by 2025 and are actively shaping corporate culture and expectations. Big corporations can’t afford to be left behind.”

So what should you do if you’re not a start-up, how do you offer millennials similar conditions? Study author Dan Schawbel, says: “Companies need to allow Gen-Yers to operate entrepreneurially within the corporation by giving them control over their time, activities, and budgets as much as possible.”


4. Let millennials be themselves: build a ‘work-life smoothie’ culture

How are millennials different from older workers? How do you evolve your culture in a way that will attract them?  MTV’s No-Collar Workers research study reported the working experience through millennial eyes, and contrasted it with the perspectives of Boomers. The study findings can be summarised as a desire by millennials to have freedom and ownership over how they do their work and to integrate their work life with the rest of their life. In fact, millennials don’t see their work life as divorced from other parts of their life, as evidenced by the 93 percent who say they “want a job where I can be myself.”

Nick Shore, senior vice president of strategic insights and research at MTV, used a striking image to explain the concept: “Think of all the distinctions you can between work life and nonwork life…from the clothes you wear, to the behaviors you exhibit, to the mind-set you bring to it. Now put all that into a blender. That’s the work-life smoothie. The boxes are all turned into one big box, called living.”

This “one big box, called living” epitomises the way millennials want to live their work lives and makes demands on employers to design a culture that delivers.


5. Flexible working options are non-negotiable

The more flexible your business appears to millennials the more attractive you are. PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study surveyed over 40,000 workers and found that “64% of Millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66% …would like to shift their work hours.” Other generations surveyed reported similar preferences.

Shifting work hours and working from home – perhaps to fit in with child-care responsibilities – are popular options that make employees’ lives easier, and most businesses should be able to work out a way to offer these options. A compressed workweek is a more radical approach but offering options to work 4 x 10-hour days (with a 3-day weekend) rather than 5 x 8-hour days may become very popular with millennials.  And when you’ve implemented flexible options be sure to tell everyone about it just like Australian telco Telstra which, at the end of all its job ads says, invitingly: “We work flexibly at Telstra. Talk to us about how this job could be flexible for you.”

Millennials’ desire for flexibility comes from their experience, as they grew up, that mobile technology and the cloud enables them to complete their studies and work from wherever they choose to be. Unlike older generations they’ve never known a time when they couldn’t connect instantly with stakeholders, and they see little need to be physically close to those they work with. While many businesses struggle with the challenges of managing remote workers, you can become a more attractive employer brand by designing flexible work options and growing team leaders who are able to successfully manage and develop virtual teams.


6. Hire or develop HR leaders with tech smarts

What has technology got to do with HR? Quite a lot, actually, and if you want more information check back here next month for a blog on HR tech.

Just as marketing teams are hiring staff who understand marketing technologies, so must HR leaders and teams understand how to leverage technology. It’s a given they should know which tools they could use for recruitment, onboarding, workflow, benefits management etc., but do they also know how to use analytics from their company’s web site careers page or from social media? Can they measure their employer brand’s performance on social media compared to their top 3 competitors? Can they use predictive analytics to improve the effectiveness of their recruitment?

Anne Robie, head of human resources at ticket exchange business StubHub says, in a McKinsey-hosted forum, Discussions on digital: The new war for talent: “… how do you move from the HR professional who is really good at the traditional kind of recruiting, developing, retaining talent and move them more into more of a data-science role? HR used to be a nice thing on the side, to make sure we hire and develop the right people. We have to change the definition of what HR is. There is always going to be an art to it. But the science piece is woefully lacking in a lot of HR organizations. They need to be able to drive more analytical research and understand ROI and the cost of things from a people perspective.”


7. Use millennials to attract millennials

Let potential hires peer inside your organisation and sample your culture. Like L’Oreal, let your own millennials be their guide. Let them share their unvarnished views on what it’s like to work here, get them to answer questions like: “what’s the purpose, are co-workers cool, is it fun, can I have flexible hours?”.



Ask your millennials to head up your delegations to university recruitment functions and job fairs and make sure they’re active in recruitment processes including interviews. Host events where you invite groups of prospective hires to your office to experience how it feels and chat with current staff.

Whether you’re recruiting millennials or other generations the above suggestions hold true. Every generation wants to feel like their work has a purpose, that they’re valued, and have flexibility in their lives. Yet the higher expectations of millennial employees are helping to improve working life for all. Every business must lift its game to meet elevated employee expectations and win this talent war.



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