Generation Z – We’ve Got Next…But Who Exactly Are We?

Group of students sitting in chairs listening and taking notes

First Things First: Who Am I?

My name is Kate Newsome, and I am a rising sophomore at Florida State University (Go Noles!!).  This summer I’m working for my dad, who owns 4 Corner Resources; a recruiting and staffing firm based in Orlando, FL.  I’ve worked for him the past few summers, doing relatively easy tasks that didn’t require a lot of thinking, but this year he’s asked me to turn it up a few notches, and help with research and writing on various topics.   I told him that I don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to write about anything that could be useful for his business….he disagreed….and so here I am, writing about my generation.

Defining Generation Z

Being a college student who only recently only chose a major (well, major for the moment anyway, but that’s a topic for a different day), I admittedly wasn’t even aware that Generation Z was a thing.  Of course, I have heard the word “millennial” more times than I can count. It has been used so much over the past 10 years that I kind of just assumed I was one too.  I mean, I was born in late December of 1999, so it seemed like a pretty safe bet, right? Wrong…and not even close, really.

So, who, exactly, gets to decide these things?  Since I was starting from scratch, I went to the internet to obtain a clear and concise answer, or as it turns out, just an answer.  Webster’s considers us to be, “The generation of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s”, while Forbes doesn’t seem to be sure whether we were born “between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s” or born “between 1995 and 2010”.  I even took a risk and clicked on Urban Dictionary (often NSFW!), whose top definition states a “precise” date range of 1995-2009….despite a number of other sites reporting that Gen Z includes those born through 2015.  Although the actual dates seem to be anything but precise, at least one thing seems certain: I am solidly part of Generation Z no matter how you define it.

OK, So Who Are We Really?

Well, Generation Z is a young adult who just graduated college and is starting their first job. Generation Z could also be a child who is 3 years old and in preschool, but we won’t spend time focusing on them quite yet. Although there is a 20-year window between these ages, it is clear that we will all share similar experiences when it comes to life, as well as similar mindsets in some way or another. We have all grown up with technology; never knowing what it is like to not be connected to those around us.  I know for me personally, the thought, “How will I reach them/get in contact with them”, has never crossed my mind…except maybe on a rare occasion when my phone died. I can’t even begin to fathom how life was before smartphones and social media. For me and most Gen Zers who I know, our social lives have revolved around Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. We always crave acceptance and expect feedback constantly and immediately; whether it will be in the workplace or simply from followers and likes on our latest post.  My dad says that we (my three younger brothers and I) often lack patience and rely too heavily on achieving instant gratification. He’s not wrong, but what do you expect when we are used to having immediate access to information about….pretty much everything.

Obligatory Comparison to Millennials

When it comes to the workplace, Millennials have taken over. They have completely changed the dynamic of the American workforce with their ideals, higher educations, emotions, and communicating through technology. With the youngest Millennials being around 25 years old, most workplaces have finally gotten comfortable with their new normal.  But Gen Zers are coming, and they are coming right now.

While researching this article (using Google, of course), I couldn’t get away from the many comparisons between the two generations.  There’s no doubt that Millennial traits and Gen Zer characteristics do share some similarities, but we also differ in many ways. Here are a few of the common defining statements that I came across, and my thoughts on each:

“Generation Z is motivated by a need  for security”

The older members of Gen Z, myself included, were kids during The Great Recession, and we got to witness first-hand how our parents were affected. We saw and heard them struggle and were forced at a young age to understand the importance of money.  Or, maybe better stated, what happens when it goes away unexpectedly. Although few of us could comprehend exactly what was happening, it was enough for us to learn that we wouldn’t want to experience anything similar.  It’s widely written that being a part of Generation Z means we are more likely to gravitate towards security when it comes to a job, and I believe this to be extremely accurate. Being financially secure is so important to me, if not the most important thing when it comes to a job and career. While Millennials are searching for purpose and meaning in their jobs, Generation Z is instead more interested in the promise of security outside of the workplace; viewing their jobs as a means to an end.

“Generation Z may be more competitive”

In a way, this statement ties back into the idea that we are constantly looking for reassurance and acceptance. Millennials lean towards a more collaborative environment in a workplace, while Gen Z will be searching for ways to work on our own and be judged individually rather than as a group. I can also see how this would be true, at least for me, as I am always looking for ways to improve and challenge myself.  It’s not just me – my friends and classmates are equally driven. So much so that it probably ends up making me unconsciously want to work even harder. I see these traits within my brothers and their peers, too. Nobody wants to settle for the participation trophy. Instead, it seems that everyone wants to be the best of the best and be recognized for it, so I guess Generation Z will be taking the spirit of competition to a whole other level.

“Generation Z wants independence”

Having a desire to be successful doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to follow a traditional path.  Although many (OK, most, if not nearly all) of our parents think otherwise, we don’t view college as a must-do.  Technology and the internet have opened up options for us that didn’t exist even a few short years ago, and Gen Zers are comfortable with it all since we only know constant, rapid change.   The idea of a freelance, or gig economy is perfect for us, and we will continue to blaze new trails that will change the workforce and our roles within in.

“Generation Z will multitask”

I multitask, and I think I do it pretty well, although my dad begs to differ. I listen to music while I study, text while watching a video, and open my phone whenever I get a notification.  The older crowd doesn’t believe multitasking is possible, but it’s what we do all day, every day, so you may just want to accept it. Unlike every generation before us, we are the true digital natives.  My dad likes to say that my eleven-year-old brother is “first generation iPad”, since he was using one before he could walk or talk. It’s not just something we do – it’s all we know and it’s who we are.

“Generation Z wants to communicate face-to-face”

Millennials love to just send a quick text or email when they have a question or need some feedback, but Generation Z prefers face-to-face interactions. We’ve all heard the negative comments about millennials and their dependency on technology and trust me – I used to get an ear full about it every night at dinner.  Despite that, unlike the generation before us, face-to-face relations are important to Gen Z. Don’t get me wrong, we’re also big on texting (to say the least), but we want our meetings and conversations to be intentional and to give our attention to the group or individuals who we are with. Despite being surrounded by technology and all that it brings, authenticity and transparency are expected, and we feel this is best achieved in person.

So, what does all of this mean for the future?

As I stated earlier, I’m just a nineteen-year-old college student, so I’m not really qualified to know how my generation will ultimately be viewed.  I do, however, believe that a motivated, independent, entrepreneurial, multitasking generation who fully embraces and expects the best from technology and ourselves sounds like a pretty good group to be a part of.  For my dad and all the other Gen Xers out there, get ready: the way we have grown up will absolutely impact your (our) workplace! We’re going to disrupt everything, and then do it again and again, with no end in sight.  All of this may make you nervous, and maybe it should, but for all I don’t yet know, I feel confident that the future is in great hands with my generation – Generation Z!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn