Adapting to the Millennial Work Ethic

Hiring a young go-getter for your small business isn't easy. Here's how to find one with old-fashioned drive.
June 07, 2012

It was a snowy day in 1984. The type of day every school kid waits for all winter. Mom woke me up, and I listened to the local radio station announcing the districts that had cancelled classes. They never went in any discernible order so I could be left standing there for 20 minutes all bundled up in my coat and boots praying that my school would be called next. The snow came down heavier by the minute. There was no way the buses would be running.  Heck, the teachers could not even get out of their own driveways!

Finally... “Camden County schools... closed,” the announcer said across the scratchy AM station. Most kids would have peeled off their school clothes and headed for their beds or parked themselves in front of their television sets. A select few, me included, ran for the shed to grab our snow shovels. We hit the suburban streets like a gang of shovel-wielding thieves ready to take our 10 bucks from those who didn’t or wouldn’t want to clear their own driveways and sidewalks. Supply and demand, capitalism and precipitation, all working in perfect harmony.

Mowing Virtual Lawns?

Where are all these kids now? I have lived in the same home in Huntington, NY, for almost 10 years and not one kid has ever knocked on my door and asked to shovel my driveway, cut my lawn, paint my shed or trim the bushes. We all know kids don’t deliver newspapers papers anymore, but what is it that young people do to ready themselves for the so-called real world? Are they stuck texting? Maybe they're too busy mowing virtual lawns? Or maybe they're running an online lemonade stand? I think the fabric of our society has changed so drastically that as small-business owners we need to cope with the new reality we face.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you hunt for your next young go-getter:

Being "stalked" isn't always bad. If a recent college grad pesters you for an internship or simply tries many times to get your attention, he or she is a solid prospect. I recently hired one of our college interns because he was politely and relentlessly aggressive in his attempt to get an internship and to be involved with as many project as we were working on.

Make sure they can back up their resume in person. I read a statistic that said 80 percent of people lie on their resume. While that is discouraging, at least you know to be skeptical. If something catches your eye on a resume, make sure you drill down into the specifics when you speak to the candidate. Most people are not good liars in person and you can tell when they are not telling the truth.

Beware of too many clubs and sports. Don’t get fooled by the candidate who was involved in every campus club and was the captain of the football or softball team. Today's grads are often the children of "helicopter parents" who pushed them into resume-padding activities (hence one of the reasons there's no one available to shovel and mow). Just belonging to a team or a club is no longer a guarantee someone is a real team player.

Look beyond the resume pile. Don’t wait for someone to ask to shovel; you could be waiting a long time. Be aggressive in your search. I met one of my best salespeople as he worked as a maitre’d in a local restaurant. He was friendly, polite and knew hundreds of people. He worked for me for nine years. Sometimes you have to look in non-traditional places to find the perfect fit.

I don’t think that the majority of today’s young folks lack ambition. But I do think that society has shifted so much in the past two decades that it is just more difficult for a 40- or 50-something to completely understand the motivations and behavior of  today's youth. Mobile distractions pervade every minute of every day. Many older adults did not have these distractions growing up. While none of these are an excuse for not getting up to cut old man Henderson's lawn or shovel Mrs. Stimson’s walkway, they're now a fact of life. Small-businesses owners must learn how to identify, hire and motivate this new generation if they want to keep their own driveways clear and their hedges trimmed.

Did you mow lawns, babysit or shovel walkways as a kid?

Photo credit: Comstock/Thinkstock