You Don’t Have to be Cool to Attract Millennial Tech Talent

You Don’t Have to be Cool to Attract Millennial Tech Talent

Late last year, General Electric launched a recruiting commercial on late-night TV aimed squarely at attracting Millennial tech talent. The spot shows a 20-something programmer who just landed a job at GE explaining to his clearly confused friends how, contrary to their expectations, it’s actually a cool gig. The message it conveys is that young, smart, tech-oriented talent should consider GE for employment (not just Bay Area startups).

The ad plays into a larger challenge felt by thousands of companies that don’t look anything like GE: how to convince highly in-demand STEM talent that they can forge exciting, compelling careers at an organization that might otherwise elicit only yawns among this cohort, if any reaction at all. If you think it’s difficult for a $150 billion company with a global footprint and an extraordinarily well-known brand like GE to convince smart, young techies it should be worthy of their attention, imagine how hard this is for the small Midwest-based insurance company that needs programmers to design a user interface for its new customer app. The message I hear over and over from recruiters at companies like these is: How can we ever hope to compete with Microsoft and Google for the talent we need? It may be cold comfort for HR professionals struggling with this challenge to know that GE is, in some respects, in the same boat as they are. But there are some strategies organizations are putting in place that can help.

One is to turn location from a disadvantage into an advantage. Yesterday, we learned that many tech industry workers are angling to get out of Silicon Valley, in search of places to live and work where the quality of life is better and the cost of living is lower. From a talent attraction standpoint, a small-town location in a flyover state is probably still a net negative, but there will always be some talent who are looking for just that, particularly those who have family or other ties to the area and don’t necessarily want to live elsewhere. One practical implication is that organizations need to double down on their campus recruiting strategies from local universities, allowing them to focus messaging on the value of positions within the local, and not the national or global economies.

Second is to plug into the growing contingent worker economy. No company is more likely to gain value from contingent workers than the one that has difficulty attracting full-time, permanent employees. The project-based nature that defines so much technology work is a perfect pairing for workers for whom a long-term commitment to a single organization (let alone one they perceive as staid, old-school, and boring) is not likely to be forthcoming. Fortunately, there is a growing market of online platforms and apps that enable you to connect with precisely that kind of talent.

Finally, companies can find success by emphasizing other aspects of their employee value proposition. Similar to the idea of attracting home-town university graduates with the message that they don’t have to leave town to work for you, there are often niche EVP attributes that can make an organization more compelling even to candidates we tend to stereotype as only having eyes for a very narrow range of potential employers. Here you’ll need to do your homework, because what will work for your company is likely pretty unique. A tip: ask your most successful, engaged STEM talent what keeps them with you. Emphasizing (not to mention reinforcing) these features can help you attract hard-to-find candidates before they wind up in Mountain View or Redmond.