Hiring a New Intern: How Do You Work with the Millennial and Gen Z Group?


Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials. The Gen Z generation is in college classrooms. This makes for not only an amazing opportunity to move into hiring the next generation of employees, but also getting insider information on the next population of customer. As a college marketing professor, who has both been in industry and currently works with these students daily, there are opportunities and challenges to this upcoming change.

A number of articles online mention the top things to be aware of when working with the future generations. Two great articles are below:

While I agree that the tips provided by these authors are great, I want to provide some different perspectives based on my own in classroom experience with these students.

Tech Native and Tech Savvy are NOT the Same

One fact  that often defines this generation of future employees is that they are digital natives – a person raised during the digital age and familiar with most forms of technology.  The computer is nothing new. To them, the introduction of a new cell phone is about the 17th version of a device they cannot imagine living without. (Even my 7 year old thinks he needs one.)

This generation does keep up with the latest social media platforms and is great at understanding how to create social demand online. However, as an employer, you should know that this is part of their life as a digital native. When it comes to in-depth understanding on digital software programs, this group sometimes struggles. I am sure your question is:  “Why?”

Failure is a Learning Process

Think back to your initial exposure to something as simple as Microsoft Excel. We use this platform daily and understand the true importance of being able to calculate your own data. However, when we were in the learning stage, we often relied heavily on trial and error and even “Excel for Dummies” to learn how to get done what was needed. This resulted in us learning the ins and outs of these programs. This is being truly “Tech Savvy.”

Current students, on the other hand, do not feel as comfortable with failure. Many people blame this on “hover” parents that raised this group. As faculty, we try to nurture the value of failure as a means to success within our students, and I have seen that this value of determination definitely exists within a large percentage of this demographic.  However, life is a growth process. It’s important as someone taking on a Millennial or Gen Z intern that you consider helping support the concept of “learning through failure.” This increases a student’s willingness to be creative and encourages them to feel valued even if they are still in a learning mindset.

We Can Not Teach It All

Most individuals in corporate question why colleges and universities are not training students on software that is used within the industry. While faculty around the globe work hard to ensure students understand the basic theoretical knowledge that is the foundation of marketing, it is not possible to teach students all technical platforms used within industry. We spend significant time getting students comfortable with concepts and as they advance, technical platforms that are the most common within the industry. The number of actual platforms used in industry are exponential.  Be prepared when hiring interns: you will need software training programs.

Internships Should be Like Holding a Class

The last note I have for employers considering taking on interns is that they understand that students are still in a classroom mindset. Internships are still technically a learning device for students. In their minds, an internship is an opportunity to get real-world experience and practice what they have learned in the classroom, while staying in the safety of the educational environment. Often times, companies take on interns with the desire of getting less expensive assistance. Companies also see it as an opportunity to test out future employees. If you want students to be more independent, it is important to put that information out there. It is a great strategy for graduate students, but undergraduate students still need significant feedback. This does take more time and can be seen as a negative for companies, but this is how we get the long-term benefit of this market segment. For companies taking on undergraduate interns, consider breaking the experience into three parts: 1) shadowing – let them follow different employees so they see what the day-to-day experience is like; 2) put them to work – have them work with teams for the projects you need; 3) give them opportunity – let them have an assignment that they can work on independently.

Give them the opportunity to show what they can do with an ability to fail. Be available to provide guidance and feedback. I have learned that when you push them, they struggle. However, the success that comes with mentorship and failure is well worth the work.