With all of the focus on Gen Y, it can be easy to forget that there’s another group coming quickly after: Generation Z, currently occupying our college campuses and soon to enter the workforce. So what do we know about them so far? And, how do we best support them through intentional mentoring relationships? The following post was written by Lauren Beam, M.S., N.C.C., Associate Director of Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development at Wake Forest University.
A new crop of students are beginning to enter our college and university campuses, and soon will join the professional workforce as well. Generation Z, individuals born between 1996 and 2012 (ranging in age from 5-21 years old) make up a quarter of our country’s population and will soon eclipse both Generation Y and Baby Boomers as the largest generation. Who exactly are these current college students and future young professionals? According to a report produced by New York advertising agency Sparks & Honey called Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials, we are seeing some initial emerging characteristics of this generation, including:
- They have very short attention spans (average: 8 seconds!).
- They are speed communicators, preferring emojis, images, live streaming, and other forms of digital interactions. Members of Gen Z prefer to multitask across multiple screens, apps, and other platforms all at once.
- They are entrepreneurial. They want to work for themselves, solve real problems, and figure out how to make things easier.
- They are the most diverse, multicultural generation we have ever had. Also, they think globally and are not restricted by location.
- They are practical, particularly when deciding on college major(s) and career paths. While pragmatism may not seem to go hand-in-hand with being entrepreneurial, students in this generation grew up in a post-9/11 world and saw the housing and stock markets collapse. They care less about “following their passions” (see: Generation Y) and more about choosing a secure path.
- They are private and care about their personal and professional brands online. Many Gen Z-ers have learned from the online mistakes of their predecessors and prefer online platforms such as Snapchat and Whisper which involve disappearing content.
Given what we already know about this emerging generation, how can those of us serving as mentors, teachers, and employers build more effective relationships with them? Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Use online communications and interactions. Members of Generation Z are spending large amounts of time in the digital space in short increments. While in-person conversations are important, you should also meet them where they are and be okay with having mentoring moments via email, live chats, Face Time, or other modes of online interaction. Get to know their preferred methods of communication while also encouraging them to balance screen time with intentional, in-person conversations.
- Help them focus through goal-setting and asking pointed questions. With limited attention spans and an incredible ability to multi-task, Gen Z-ers may struggle with focusing on specific goals or processing certain experiences. Mentors have the opportunity to teach these students how to set goals and think about what they hope to accomplish. Through intentional conversations, ask good questions that facilitate deep thinking and reflection about lessons learned through their experiences. These entrepreneurially-minded, problem-solving students will appreciate having someone ask them tough questions that encourage them to step back, examine their actions and experiences more deliberately, and consider how they might approach situations differently for greater impact.
- Understand what motivates them. As with every generation before them, Generation Z is motivated by the life circumstances and events they have observed throughout their childhood and teen years. Unemployment, global terrorism, instability in the housing and stock markets, a highly digital and technologically connected world; these are just a few of the realities that these students have witnessed in their short lifetimes. Relationship-building with members of Gen Z involves asking about their values and motivations for the choices they are making. Some examples of questions you might ask include: Why pursue a career in XYZ field if you do not really enjoy it? What does building your online brand look like for you? How does financial security impact your post-college plans?
- Be a global connector. Generation Z views their personal and professional networks much more broadly and globally than any generation before them. They value diversity, connecting with individuals in other parts of the world, capitalizing on digital technology to meet anyone, anytime, anywhere. The role of a mentor involves being a connector to other people, resources, and experiences. In mentoring relationships with Gen Z students, think more widely about who, what, and how when making those connections and helping them to build their networks on a global scale.
Want more information on building relationships with Gen Z? Check out these resources and recommended reads:
- Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z, New York Times, Alex Williams, September 18, 2015
- Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials, report by Sparks & Honey agency
- The Everything Guide to Generation Z, e-book by Vision Critical, October 2016
- Gen HQ, The Center for Generational Kinetics