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Early talent trends

6 things Gen Z wants from their next job

Handshake surveyed students and recent grads on factors that would make them apply to and stay at a job. Find out what they are.

Although Gen Z might have gadgets and gizmos that you didn’t when you were entering the workforce, you can probably relate to what they’re feeling as they start their careers: do nervous, curious, excited, hopeful ring bells for you?

And yet, it’s useful to understand generational differences to inform your talent strategy and your workforce planning. One important trait that makes Gen Z unique? They know what they want in a job—and they’ll hold you accountable for delivering.

Handshake surveyed students and recent grads on factors that would make them apply to and stay at a job. We consolidated our findings into 6 things Gen Z wants from their next job. Read on for nuggets to infuse into your early talent strategies.

Chart showing 6 things Gen Z wants from their next job in descending order

Handshake survey data found the top 6 things Gen Z wants from their next job

1. Compensation that affords work-life balance (and pay transparency is key)

  • 70% of Gen Z survey respondents said pay or compensation is the most important factor

Cost of living, remote work opportunities, and industry hubs play into applicants’ decisions. Gen Z is not just optimizing for the best job—they’re looking for work-life benefits that come from more affordable living, too. Many recent grads have debt that influences the jobs they can take, and they have unprecedented access to pay data.

Handshake Network Trends has reported that 62% of students and recent grads say they’d be more likely to apply to a company if the company had a commitment to equal pay. Be transparent with compensation information to help set expectations for early career job seekers.

2. Clarity into career paths and internal mobility opportunities

  • 71% of respondents expect to be promoted between 6 months to 1.5 years
  • 64% attend career events to ensure there are growth and development opportunities

Gen Z is known as entrepreneurial and looking for a sense of ownership. They want to tackle exclusive projects that help them develop their skills, with nearly 1 in 5 Gen Zers stating they would stay at an employer that offers upskilling/reskilling. Considering that future-thinking HR leaders are prioritizing skill building, early talent will feel more invested in their employer with every opportunity to learn and grow.

To help them navigate their first professional work experiences, Gen Z craves mentorship and support, and they seek feedback frequently as they establish themselves in the workforce. Set BIPOC early talent up for long term success in the workplace by equalizing access to mentorship.

3. A modernized approach to benefits—with an emphasis on flexibility and mental health

  • 73% of survey respondents said benefits is the #1reason they would stay with an employer
  • Healthcare is the #1 most important benefit, according to 76% of respondents
  • 73% of respondents said they like having a flexible schedule

Early career job seekers today are keen on benefits that help them balance work and life, from financial benefits—60% of survey respondents said 401k plans are an important benefit—to physical and mental health benefits. In fact, 59% of students and recent grads said company-wide mental health days are important to them.

"Most of the jobs I am interested in require long work hours, but I am hopeful society will head toward better work-life balance, such as a four-day work week and a better work environment for optimal mental health."

Management Information Systems major

Given the circumstances when Gen Zers have entered the job market so far, flexibility is a strong benefit to attract and retain early talent. They’re committed to having options and control over their schedule: 39% of survey respondents ranked unlimited or flexible paid time off and 24% ranked working fully remotely as most important to them.

4. Community, culture, and collaboration—even in remote settings

  • Strong peer relationships (63%) and feeling like a part of the organization (57%) are key reasons early talent would stay with an employer

Early career talent is hungry for collaboration, networking, and socializing. And they want to know that managers make it a priority. In fact, students on Handshake crowd-source reviews about the employee experience to help decide whether or not to apply to jobs at that company.

Of course, Gen Zers also want to have some fun at work! It’s about balancing meaningful work, with community building and cultural experiences to expose early career talent to what it’s like to be a part of your team.

"There are tons of networking opportunities, presentations to the entire actuarial community, and exciting team bonding activities. I got to work on unique projects that applied to my ideal future job."

Student experience at CVS Health

Find out more about what makes early career experiences so special at Early Talent Award-winning employers like CVS Health →

5. Committing publicly to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)

  • 55% of respondents said a commitment to DEIB is extremely important when evaluating an employer

Early talent today is committed to social justice, and they expect consumer brands and employers to be as well. With many Gen Zers identifying as allies—77% of Gen Zers have protested in support of equality for Black Americans—they are watching from the sidelines for how your organization does or doesn’t respond to social justice issues, or handles situations like layoffs.

Have you made DEIB commitments—and kept up with those commitments? This is key to retaining Gen Z workers. Gen Z knows who's keeping their word and who's not. They will use open forums to push for progress and make their voices heard, and will use digital platforms to compliment or criticize your brand.

6. Accountability on the environment, sustainability, and social responsibility

  • 70% of Gen Z survey respondents attend career events to ensure the roles and responsibilities align with their interests and values
  • 51% attend to ensure the company aligns with their interests and values

Gen Zers are passionate about making a difference, and want to work somewhere they feel has a broader mission and purpose that aligns with their own values. They don’t want to make money just to make money—they want to make an impact. And they won’t stay in a job that doesn’t satisfy them.

"They are a generation that not only cares deeply about the world around them—including climate change, equal pay and diversity—but is frequently challenging and encouraging corporations to have robust social responsibility programs.”

Christine Cruzvergara, Chief Education Strategy Officer, Handshake

Early talent is the future of work—attracting & retaining them is critical to your success

The college-to-career transition is a big shift for every generation. Early career job seekers want recruiters and supervisors to be empathetic and remember how it was to be in their shoes.

With open-mindedness for what Gen Z wants in their next job, you can cultivate promising early talent and be the change they want to see at your employer. After all, it’s not the company that makes the people; it’s the people that make the company.

Hear more sentiments from the Class of 2023 in the latest Handshake Network Trends Report

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