In Their Shoes: exaqueo Research Study Informs Gen Z Early Career Recruitment

exaqueo Releases Data and Insights from Gen Z Early Career Employment Study

COVID-19. Social unrest. Social media. Remote classes. Virtual graduations. How is today’s world influencing career, job search, content, and channel preferences of students, recent graduates, and early careerists? Where do they spend their time, online and offline? Who and what are driving their behaviors and attitudes toward work? What do they need, want, and expect from employers? These are some of the big questions answered by exaqueo’s Gen Z Early Career Employment Study

Generation Z, known also as zoomers, are those individuals born between 1997 and 2015. They are today’s six to 24-year olds. For purposes of this work, we focused specifically on young adults in this generation (also referred to in this article as “early career” or “early careerists”) living in the United States. These respondents, ages 18 to 24, are the oldest members of Gen Z. Our early career study uncovered when making job-related decisions:

  • One in four participants said parents are the most influential people when it comes to search decisions.
  • One in three said career growth is the most important attribute when considering employment opportunities. 
  • One in three said family-friendly policies are very important when researching jobs and employers.  
  • Two in five said better benefits and better pay are the top two reasons early careerists may leave an employer. 
  • Access to the latest tools and technology is the least important factor considered when choosing employment options. 
  • Pay and company culture are the top two motivators to stay with an employer.

Attracting & Engaging Early Career Talent  

Although early careerists are newer to the workforce, they have a strong sense of what they are looking for from a job and an employer. “Offer good and promising benefits and pay, and also have good morals and company values,” shares one survey respondent, encapsulating similar sentiment shared by other participants. While pay and benefits are important, these basics are “table stakes” to this generation. They expect these needs to be met, but organizations cannot rely on just meeting these basic needs. Employers today must communicate with more transparency than ever before, while creating frictionless hiring experiences that advance with ease. 

Study respondents were vocal about how employers can best attract and engage them:

  • “Make benefits clear, and talk about what to expect when you get the job.” 
  • “Make it easy to apply and hear back from you.”
  • “A company should tell me what their future goals are since if I do join the company, that is what we would be working towards.”
  • “Be open and honest about what responsibilities my job will have, explain their office culture and the company’s beliefs, and be upfront about salary.” 

While some of these themes aren’t new, this generation is especially clear about their expectations, valuing information, clarity, and honesty at an exceptionally high level.

Early Career Talent Content & Channel Preferences

Attracting Gen Z isn’t just about sharing the information they want to see. Throughout the study we found it is also about showing up in the places they’re most likely to see it. It’s content marketing 101: connecting your audience with the right content, on the right channels, at the right time. Our study indicates early careerists are likely to use a variety of traditional and social channels throughout their job search. 

This diagram shows how likely study participants are to use traditional and social channels specifically for employment-related research. The further to the right, the higher the likelihood for use and the more influential the source.

exaqueo's Gen Z Early Career Employment Study 2021, sources of influence

Over the years, sources including CareerBuilder state that 70 percent of all job searches start on Google. In this particular study, Google was named the number one channel most likely used above all others during job searches. At exaqueo, we have found Google is most often preferred because it allows job seekers to connect offline influences (like conversations with friends, family, and colleagues) to additional information; specifically it allows users to:

  • Access all relevant search information at once
  • Get results from many online sources (not limiting them to just one)
  • Find out general news and information about an employer 
  • Understand broad perceptions about the employer 

YouTube and Instagram are the social media platforms most likely used in career-related discovery and research, and among the top channels Gen Z believes where employers should have an active presence. Participants included that they want employers to “get their name and company out there on platforms that are popular today,” and “have as much social media presence as possible [with] statements from real people working there about their experiences.” 

Early career talent is counting on employers to be more authentic and transparent, and using social media to find real-life proof points to support the commitment employers are making. They want employers to “relate to them using social media.” The adage “show don’t tell” is alive here, as Gen Z prefers to experience the story while consuming content via video and imagery. 

Actionable Advice for Today’s Employers 

Early career talent is asking employers to take a hard look in the mirror. To attract and retain this next generation of individuals, employers must consider these key takeaways from this study: 

  1. Have a strong digital presence: Choose channels you can resource effectively, going beyond posting and engaging with users daily. Curate fresh content regularly in a relatable way.

  2. Be honest and share accurate job details and expectations up front: Test job descriptions with early career talent; have them highlight areas of missing and/or inauthentic information.

  3. Be nice, welcoming, and inclusive of all people: While much of the candidate experience is online, the offline and person-to-person communication and interactions are incredibly important. How we treat people is an opportunity to differentiate.

  4. Make the hiring process easy: Starting with the job application, audit the hiring experience to identify roadblocks and friction points. Consider quick fixes and longer-term solutions.

  5. Communicate and show the value of employment opportunities: People need various forms and levels of detail and content across the hiring experience. Map out the experience and identify where and how to communicate.

  6. Take a chance, be open to transferable skills from those less qualified on paper: Talk with hiring managers and identify recruiter training opportunities to more fully understand how to hire for potential. 

This study is just the beginning towards understanding early careerists. Taking a look in the mirror also means gathering data specific to your organization and the talent you want to attract and engage.  Every organization is different, from industry to skills needed and from benefits to culture. What’s right for one talent attraction team may be different for another. 

The best, first step is to focus on your target audience and get the data you and your team needs to make strategic decisions for 2021 and beyond.

Study Methodology 

To gain a deeper understanding of job search behaviors and preferences of youngest adult workers in the United States, the 2021 Gen Z Early Career Employment Study was a primary research study conducted by exaqueo from May 8-10, 2021. Qualitative and quantitative questions were distributed to an early career survey panel of respondents ages 18 to 24 years. Qualitative answers analyzed using thematic analysis. Participants were located in all regions of the United States including U.S. territories; 49 percent of respondents identified themselves as male, 46 percent identified as female, and 4 percent identified as non-binary. N=1,033 with a 100% completion rate, 4 percent margin of error, and 99 percent confidence level.

Use of This Study

Results of this study first presented during the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) June 2021 conference. Use of the presentation or data, in whole or in part, related to exaqueo’s 2021 Gen Z Early Career Employment Study is permitted only with proper attribution and/or citation of exaqueo. Watch a recording of this presentation here. Contact us at with questions or if you would like a PDF copy of the presentation.

© 2021 exaqueo 

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