Working in human resources, I spend a fair amount of time talking about why my firm is a great place to work, from the project types that we do to the internal culture that pervades our offices. Whether inviting people to join us or talking with people I already work with, when I explain what we can offer them, there’s a lot more to the benefits than just our medical and dental coverage. Ultimately, everyone wants to know that there are opportunities that they can pursue that will advance their careers. Conveying to potential recruits and current employees that we understand what they’re personally looking for, and explaining how we can work with them to achieve their career goals is much more valuable than a sheet of paper that details our insurance coverage.
Think of the AEC industry as one big cocktail party. When you arrive, you walk into a sea of individuals. All of these people are eager to network with you, but they have unique personalities, thoughts and needs, based on a variety of factors, including their ages, their interests and where they are in their careers. Not everyone is going to want to have the same conversation with you (thankfully), so you have to customise what you say to each individual. But without knowing any of these people, you can start by categorising them into different groups, based on the generational presences that exist in today’s workforce (and borrowing from the research of William Strauss and Neil Howe, and Landon Jones): Traditionalists (born 1925-1942), Baby Boomers (born 1943-1964), Gen Xers (born 1964-1981) and Gen Yers or Millennials (born 1982-2001). Starting with their generation as a guide, you can key in on who these people are and how you can continue to engage them by tailoring your conversation to their personal career needs.
Traditionalists (and even some of the older Boomers) that are still working are contemplating retirement and enjoying their time in the office, passing along their knowledge to new generations. They’re looking for the chance to maximise on the work that they’ve devoted themselves to. When they’re ready to
retire, they’ll make it clear that they want to head out – and it’ll be hard to stop ‘em. But until then, they want the ability to continue doing what they do well and mentoring the next in line. Considering the most senior architect in my office, it comes up time and time again how everyone who works with him says the same thing: he’s brilliant, hilarious and a mentor through and through. And that’s just the short version. At his own request, he’s gone from full-time to part-time to working just a few hours a week, but it suits his needs and the firm’s all the same, so everyone’s happy.
Many Boomers currently hold management positions or have reached a high point in their development. I watch my office management solicit input and advice from the Traditionalists that they took over for, while at the same time mentoring the staff that they lead; the Xers and the Millennials all the while maintaining their technical abilities. At this point, they’ve hit their stride and have an understanding of what works for them. There’s a sense of comfort in what they do on a day-to-day basis, though it’s clear they’re constantly looking to better the status quo. Having worked hard to reach their current level, most are looking to ride the wave and continue on as long as they can. They’re beginning to consider their own exit strategies and will need to address their succession plans. As they’re showing the rising stars how to take over, they’ll shift their focus away from management and look more at mentoring, as well as whatever their bread-and-butter may be.
Members of Gen X have either jumped into junior management positions or have found a niche and are looking to build up their level of experience. Having already learned the ropes, the young leaders I work with are actively seeking more responsibility in an effort to advance on the career track that they’ve paved for themselves. Knowing what they want to come next, for the Xers, it’s merely a matter of executing their intended plans. What they need are conversations about where they’re headed. Since many Boomers are in no rush to head out the door, the Xers could use recognition for the work that they do, and an affirmation that they’re valued. Without making promises, it’s a good idea to assure Xers that they’re on the path for success.
Meanwhile, Millennials may have an idea of where they’re heading, but they’re still looking to figure out what’s coming next. They spend their time producing and doing, soaking information up like a sponge along the way – they need a chance to find their passion and prove themselves. I see the young architects, engineers, interior designers and planners in my office asking themselves questions every day – do I want to work on higher education or commercial office
space? Small firm or large firm? Am I a designer, manager, technical person, or all of the above? The list goes on and on. Millennials could use some help in figuring out where to go next. Ultimately, they’d like to leave their mark on the world. They’ve got a lot in front of them, so a little guidance – and a little faith in their abilities – can do wonders to help them map out how to make a difference.
Having an understanding of what each generation is looking for can make for an excellent starting point for talking with people about their intended career paths. While the ultimate goal is to personalise each of these conversations and determine where they stand in their careers and where they want to end up, you can use these general principles to narrow down and hone in on what people are looking for. Your genuine interest and commitment to their individual development will make a strong impression on the potential recruits or current employees that you’re speaking with. And when you make that kind of personal connection, you’ve developed a relationship that will last much longer than your conversation
Try and digest that before you grab some hors d’oeuvres at the next industry cocktail party.
Mike Kohn is a Human Resources Representative at SmithGroup – a national architecture, engineering, interior design and urban planning firm. Combining his love of human resources with his unabashed zeal for social media, he co-authored corporate social media guidelines and helped to create and launch a Facebook fan page for SmithGroup while tweeting activities about the firm from his personal account, @mike_kohn. He blogs all things HR and social media asThe HR Intern.
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