Feature

Why small businesses should hire millennials

Part of our series on the future of Main Street

Caleb Bushner is a millennial. He's also the vice president of marketing at Accomplice, a digital marketing optimization platform that just received a $5 million strategic investment from WME/IMG.

One of Bushner's many responsibilities at Accomplice is hiring a marketing staff. Most of the resumes he looks at appear similar to his own, and to many other millennials: marked by stints at many different places, doing many different things. Yes, that flighty striving is something of a stereotype about millennials — but it shouldn't be a negative one, Bushner says.

"To me, it's OK if a candidate's resume shows he or she has moved around more than was previously typical," he said. "As long as that resume shows creative and collaborative problem-solving skills, it doesn't matter to me that they've done that at several different places." It's all just part of the trend for the career paths of millennials to be less linear and more "selective."

"One dig against millennials is that they're never satisfied or that they're flaky, but I look at it differently," Bushner said. "I don't think there's been a giant shift in the way young people think or the way they want to act in the last 20 years, or for that matter, the last 200. I just think that maybe the millennial generation is just less afraid to go after what they want."

Sitting in Accomplice's headquarters in San Francisco, where millennial job-seekers command more respect and attention than most other parts of the country, Bushner has noticed that local companies that have adapted their workplaces to be more collaborative, entrepreneurial, and creative, and those that keep what Bushner calls "a mission to do good," generally have greater success in attracting and retaining talented millennial employees.

As expected, executives at small businesses around the country generally have different views about business and hiring than the young guns in Silicon Valley. One CFO at a mid-sized manufacturer in New England (who's related to me, and who asked to not be named so as to avoid bad-mouthing millennials publicly) is wary of hiring millennials after experiencing high absenteeism among their ranks.

"Many are high maintenance and don't want to work hard," he said. "Working to repetitive deadlines is not something millennials do well."

In response, Bushner said executives that think of millennials as lazy might want to reevaluate the way their own businesses are run.

"No, we're not a punch-the-clock kind of workplace, but when we're in a crunch, my team works harder than anyone," Bushner said. "Are there millennials who are lazy? Sure, but to write off a whole generation as lazy is naive. If you put me into their more traditional company, they would probably call me lazy too and I'm working 60- to 80-hour weeks. Where an older generation of business leaders see laziness, I see creative energy that's not being properly harnessed or applied."

Companies of all shapes, sizes, and types — especially those in more traditional industries — must always be innovating, and nowadays, that entails a top-to-bottom evaluation of company practices, Bushner said.

"Do you just have five men with gray hair sitting in a conference room trying to think up the next big idea? Do you think you're being disruptive in your industry because your HR representatives giving out rechargeable battery packs at career fairs?" Bushner said. "The nature of work is changing, and there are still too many companies out there with executives who bristle at change."

Millennials can bring authenticity, inspiration, and creative strength to any company, Bushner said.

"But businesses have to be willing to embrace them and make changes for them, because if you don't," he warned, "beware the competitor who does."

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