Hiring Millennials: My “M.U.S.C.L.E” Framework
As I write this, I’m 38 years old, born in November 1980.
Depending on which definition you’re going by, I may be a millennial, but some characterize me as a “Generation X.”
I wanted to write a post about the way we’ve been successful hiring people 10 to 15 years younger than me (23 to 28, who are without question millennials, since they will make up a large percentage of the hires made over the next several years.
The millennial mindset (as I’ve observed)
- Ambitious, achieving students graduate college and want to be the CEO of a company by the time they are 25. Or, they want to change the world in some significant and meaningful way, and do it soon. I think this mindset existed when I graduated college to an extent, but the tech economy has made it seem like a more realistic outcome. While not impossible, the odds are still quite slim.
- Millennials view their career as fluid. A move from company to company every year or two, rather than a fixed career, is the norm. Unlike climbing the corporate ladder, like their parents may have done.
- They value skills and education they will acquire rather than the money (but money still is part of the equation, it’s just not the only motivating factor).
- Millennials want to do mission-driven, socially-responsible, and meaningful work.
- They want to feel cool when talking about their job to their friends and family (and who doesn’t?).
- A flexible (remote) work life can be an expectation, rather than a dream, as they see more and more evidence that this kind of life is possible.
There are still plenty of “A players”
You simply need to find them.
You might look at this list of characteristics and think that the sum of it all means that millennials are soft, don’t want to work, don’t work hard, or don’t value excellence.
That’s absolutely NOT true.
Finding A players has always been difficult, and they’ve always been a very low percentage of the applicant pool. Some ballpark it at 5%, some at 10%.
About 90 to 95% of the resumes you are going to receive are garbage, which has always been the case.
Additionally, the best people are rarely looking for work. You’ve probably found them through a referral or a headhunter.
You need to put yourself in a position where the top 5-10% wants to come work for YOU.
What’s an “A player?”
These are the characteristics of A players that I have worked with in the past.
- They need very little to no management, and won’t accept being micro-managed.
- An A player does their job easily and very well, and accomplish so much more that moves the business forward while they are doing it.
- They hold themselves to a very high standard, and expect that high standard from those around them.
- Going above and beyond the call of duty is a regular occurrence. They crush any project thrown at them, and never leave things undone.
- A players are confident, respected, and well-liked.
- They’re life-long learners.
- At some point they want more responsibility and new, challenging roles.
- They look to hire other A players, ideally people better than they are.
This type of person will exist regardless of the whatever generational paradigm we’re in, and they will always make a company better.
You’ve just got to find them.
Now for my M.U.S.C.L.E. framework for hiring millennials.
M: Market the mission and values of your company
And flexibility, if you can.
In your job ads and on your website’s careers page, talk about the bold mission that you are on.
It’s easier at some companies than others. My girlfriend, Helen, works for FinalStraw. They’re replacing single-use plastics to clean up the oceans. Layup.
For anyone who thinks they are in a business that is impossible to find a millennial-friendly vision and/or mission, I’d encourage you to pick up Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.
This was a paradigm-changing book for me.
There are thousands of people sitting in an office in Las Vegas, NV who are selling shoes, but think they are changing the world.
The message I got from that book is that the product that you’re selling means NOTHING. It’s all about the organization and culture that you create, and the people you’re doing it with.
What could be more boring than selling shoes?
Be consistent with your message
Have a clear, concise description of your company’s vision, and keep it consistent on both your careers page and in job postings.
I love this mission from Plaid that I read the other day:
“At Plaid, our mission is to empower innovators by delivering access to the financial system.”
And of course, I love this as an example of the boldest mission statement ever:
Get them to visualize the “end state”
The key to a great job ad and careers page, just like any great marketing copy, is to get the candidate to see the “end state” with astonishing clarity.
They should be able to picture what a day in the life at your company would be like, and they should be excited about going after your bold mission together with you.
Both the careers page and job post should emphasize that your company will help them achieve mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
If you can market flexibility, DO IT.
Remote work is a huge selling point for many millennials.
Even the most ambitious millennials usually have a bit of “van life” in them.
If you can allow them to develop professionally while having the option to achieve retirement-level goals like traveling the country in an RV, living between beach towns and ski mountains, or simply doing a housing swap and living in another city for a little while, it’s a HUGE selling point.
Interestingly, I listened to the COO of Invision ($100mm revenue remote company, 800 employees) speak at SaaStr 2019 in San Jose. He said their problem wasn’t finding people. It was sifting through applications because they’re a work-from-anywhere company with a massive inbound flow of applicants.
U: Use Craigslist or job boards only if you’re hiring 1-2 people/month
Where did we find many of our best people early on?
When we started hiring seven to ten salespeople per month at Robly, using Craigslist became impossible.
At that point we had to hire an internal recruiter to systematically outbound the highest performing employees at similar positions at other companies in NYC.
For customer support, if the primary responsibility is chat, we’ve found that you can get a very good sense for someone’s personality and how they’ll be on chats based on some lengthy back-and-forth emails and a couple real-time challenges.
It’s not foolproof, but it’s mostly worked for us.
Once you’ve got a small team and some traction, tap into your A players as referral sources, and you can start outbounding your competitors’ best people on LinkedIn, even if you’re not ready to hire them yet.
There’s a great chapter on hiring salespeople in Mark Roberge’s The Sales Acceleration Formula. It gives you an idea of how much of a full-time effort the hiring game will be, if you start growing very quickly.
S: Sell upward mobility and education
A great way to attract young A players from larger, more established organizations than yours is to sell the fact that if they do their jobs well, they have the potential to run a small team within a very short period of time.
Many A players don’t just want to be soldiers. They want to learn how to manage and become leaders.
This worked great for Robly’s sales organization, and made it easy to attract some of the highest performing talent from organizations much larger than ours.
Make entry level positions all about the education
After a year or so, we changed the name of our entry level sales position and called it the “Robly Sales Training Program.”
We designed it to address several of the things I saw millennials are seeking in their careers.
- It was an 18-month program: fluid.
- If you did well (average or above), you were given a promotion and a raise every six months – which scratched the “I want to be a leader” and “I feel cool talking about my job to my friends and family” itches.
- New hires started with 2 weeks of in-class and on-the-desk training (this is only worthwhile if you’re starting groups of people regularly).
- At 18 months, everyone graduated to account manager, and the top performers in the program became team leaders immediately (I love this tactic).
This entire framework worked great for us in sales and works best when you have “classes” of people coming in, but parts of it are useful no matter what you’re hiring for.
C: Compensate slightly above market & promote quickly
You don’t need to break the bank, but I’ve always found that paying slightly above market (10% perhaps) when you initially attract talent helps to set your company apart.
Once you’ve identified an A player, pay them even better.
If you can use equity to attract talent, use it.
It doesn’t take much equity at all to make most people feel like they’re owners, and very few people understand what they’re getting.
Sometimes, if you’re in a cash crunch, people will be happy to swap cash from their salary for equity, especially if the company is growing quickly and there is large potential upside.
I gave an example of how we designed our sales organization in the previous section. There were built-in promotions every six months.
This works great for an entry-level sales seat. Obviously you can’t promote an executive every six months, nor would you want to.
However, if you’ve identified a team member as an A player, I do believe you should do whatever you can to retain that person for as long as they’re willing to stay at your company.
Promoting quickly is a part of that process. Giving that person as much responsibility as they’re willing to handle is a part of it too.
Think of other ways to reward them and make them feel like your company is the best thing for them and their family.
Are they interested in living and working in another city or country?
Are they interesting in expanding their skill set to an adjacent department?
Do they want to do training or seminars that will help them do their jobs that you can pay for?
The goal is to keep that A player at your shop as long as humanly possible, because they make your company better for you and all of the rest of the employees who work for you.
L: Look for A players ONLY
At one point, Robly was growing so fast and everybody was so swamped that we started filling the empty seats and weren’t disciplined about looking for A players.
That was a huge mistake, and it was horrible to unwind.
The difference in company morale, the amount of micromanagement your managers will have to do, and how your organization will move forward will be night and day if you set a high bar and only look for A players, regardless of how much you feel like you need to bring people on.
E: Eliminate C players as quickly as possible; when you can replace a B player with an A player, DO IT!
Obviously these letter grades are somewhat subjective and unique individuals can have qualities of A, B, and C players.
If you can be disciplined and try to get as close to an A player as possible with every hire, and always look for more a players to move in to your organization, your company will be in a much better spot down the road.
Because PEOPLE build a company. Not capital, not a product, not a brand. Capital hires people, people design a product, and people build a brand over time.
What are “B” and “C” players?
The characteristics of a B player are:
- Your company is a job to them, nothing more.
- They work 9 to 5, don’t look to take on any more responsibility.
- They do a good job, but not a great job.
- Gets things done on time with little follow-up.
- They don’t contribute to the organization moving forward.
A C player:
- Generally does as little as possible to not get fired.
- Has bad work habits.
- Constantly requires follow-up when given a task.
- Does sloppy work.
- Holds back and frustrates their team.
- Can get involved in politics in a negative way and poison your other employees.
It goes without saying that you should have some type of performance improvement plan in place that moves C players out of your organization as quickly and gracefully as possible.
Be mindful of new managers who haven’t fired a handful of people before. They’ll hold on to C players far longer than they should.
And always be on the lookout for talent.
Everywhere you go.
If you can replace a B player in your organization with an A player in a key area, you’re going to start moving a LOT faster.
That’s my M.U.S.C.L.E. framework for hiring millennials.
The goal is the same as it’s always been: hire A players.
With millennials, you need to make sure you’re marketing yourself in a way that resonates with them.
Be mission-driven, focus on skill development and education, and give them a place they can work with a purpose.
Then, go find the A players.
Once you’ve found them, convince them to work for you, compensate them well, promote them aggressively, and do whatever you can to keep them at your company.
They make your company a better place for everybody.