Jobs Are Scarce, But Candidates’ Expectations Aren’t

There’s an assumption pervading board rooms and inner circles of management that high unemployment is tempering the demands of candidates. I’ve got a simple response: Stop drinking the Kool-Aid!

While Baby Boomers still make up the largest single generation and control corporate America's purse strings, their grip on the future is weakening. Baby Boomers no longer constitute the majority of workers, although many managers continue to act like they do. Here’s the new reality: the combined population of working age Generation Xers and Yers swamps the Baby Boomer population by more 24 million people — 104 million compared to 78 million.

Underlying these numbers are four significant trends that will trump the old recruiting rules during times of unemployment. My favorite trend (for obvious reasons), cited by Kevin Wheeler in "Why Recruiting Good People Will Get Harder and Harder," is “Generational Mindset.”

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are the most traditional workers these days. Most Baby Boomers are still more comfortable “going to work.” Many find it difficult to build a relationship without pressing the flesh. Their lives and personal identities are also often defined by their work.

Generation X (born 1965-1979) also tends to associate work with a physical place of business. They are, however, more open to working from home or on virtual teams (virtual work is a second trend mentioned by Wheeler). A career choice, whether it is a new job or promotion, often comes down to which one offers the most flexibility for them and their family.

Generation Y (born 1982-1995), as most employers are discovering, do not really want to work for any organization, especially those mired in hierarchy, bureaucracy and policies. Work is something you do, not a place you go. They want flexible, virtual work and are more likely to have multiple jobs. According to Wheeler, “they are the hardest to recruit and the hardest to retain. Yet, they are the future of most organizations as Baby Boomers age and move out.”

A third trend, according to Wheeler, is flexible work arrangements. The “normal” working day has been shattered. The time clock has become almost irrelevant. Getting paid for hours worked is slowly but surely being replaced by outcome and output. What does it matter if an employee works early in the morning and late at night if the work gets done correctly and on time?The lines have blurred between work, home and play. Young parents demand time for their children. Women have become primary breadwinners — when the kids are sick, dads stay home.  “9 to 5” work hours and 18-hour days just don’t cut it anymore.

The fourth trend that creates a significant hurdle for old school recruiting is the stigma of an employee holding multiple jobs. “Organizations still expect and seek loyalty,” says Wheeler, “even though they have shown their employees little of that when times get tough.” For many reasons, workers young and old are often working two or more jobs.  Most often it is because they need the money. But others are holding down one full-time job while starting a new business before-and-after hours.  And still others are working while going to school to prepare for a career not related to their current job. Unfortunately, rejecting candidates in this day and age will significantly reduce both the quantity and quality of your talent pool.

There is very little you can do to stop these trends, especially as the demographic tide continues to shift. It will be difficult to convince the talented candidate to work for an organization that does not allow flexible work. The alternative is obviously to recruit Baby Boomers who have grown up in a business world without flexibility. But that’s a strategy with a slippery slope as more and more Baby Boomers are demanding flexibility too. It’s also a short-lived strategy as Boomers will eventually leave the workforce, one way or the other.

The solution lies not in resisting the change but embracing new and creative ways to recruit and manage employees.

Also posted on my blog Workforce Trends at


Ira S Wolfe