Here at SVIC we recently gained a huge amount of insight into the employment preferences of the millennial generation. This came about thanks to a tour of Silicon Valley we hosted in early April for 73 master’s degree students from the Madrid campus of ESCP Europe, the elite business school founded in Paris in 1819. The average age of the group which joined us in northern California was twenty-five years old; they are all studying for qualifications in subjects like digital marketing or business project management.
The students were eager to see up close how companies are run today in Silicon Valley and find out which organizations possess the most innovative corporate culture. We organized an in-depth, seven-day program for them which included visits to big names like Google, Amazon and Uber and also took in presentations and networking sessions at fast-growing digital businesses such as Grammarly, Docusign and Marketo. Q&A sessions at legacy corporations IBM, Oracle and SAP completed the picture.
In many ways, what the group from ESCP learned only confirmed their preconceptions about the tech world but there also were several surprises along the way.
Meanwhile, as we observed their journey we discovered a great deal about what’s important to millennials in the job market.
This is what we saw:
1. Millennials are thinking about their career 5 to 10 years down the road
Millennials have gained a reputation for being fickle when it comes to work. Employers must exert a great deal of effort to keep them, so the conventional wisdom goes, because they will leave a job the moment it ceases to be fulfilling.
But our experience says something different: visiting companies with the ESCP group we observed how at every stop the students made sure to ask about an organization’s long-term plans. It was clear that, at least for these 25-year-olds, any decisions about work would be made very much with an eye to the future.
That is not to say they are looking for jobs for life. What they want is to work at a company which today shows the kind of agility and foresight which suggests it will be able to dive into the new markets and challenges which are sure to appear tomorrow.
And that’s why…
2. Millennials want to innovate
At SVIC, we’re used to hearing from C-level executives who tell us they want to create dynamic teams and push through digital transformation.
The ESCP group’s motivations, however, were somewhat different. They don’t want to build innovative teams, they want to join them. They don’t need to transition to digital because they already are digitally native.
What the students said they fear most of all is joining a company which is stagnant. They want to be part of an organization which is always striving to try new things and where collaboration is a big part of the culture.
What will that organization look like? There’s no clear answer, because…
3. Millennials don’t have strong preferences between startups and established companies
Our tour of Silicon Valley made stops at a range of enterprises, from big, legacy companies through to tiny startups and everything in between. For the ESCP students there was no one size of company which they could say would definitely bring them job satisfaction.
While some felt joining a big organization in a starter role before going on to a startup is the ideal path, others felt taking on a high level of responsibility at an early stage company should be the first step, with a move to a larger corporation perhaps coming later.
Yet while millennials may be agnostic when it comes to the size of an organization, the ESCP group knew exactly what kind of business they want to be in.
In other words…
4. Millennials believe new digital companies are their natural home
Our visits during the tour to digital giants Google, Amazon, Slack and Uber were by far the biggest draw for the ESCP group. The students see these companies as innately “cool” and take it for granted that they will one day work for them, if not in Silicon Valley then in one of their offices elsewhere in the world. These organizations do not need to sell themselves to millennials because millennials have grown up with them and already assume that Google, Amazon and other tech companies share their values.
But that doesn’t mean young people aren’t aware that there other options out there.
5. Millennials have not discounted “legacy” companies – but it is a harder sell
The master’s students on our tour didn’t expect to find much of interest at presentations from IBM, Oracle and SAP. But they came away impressed when they saw how much these companies are innovating and the extent to which they are integrating with the Silicon Valley startup scene. These legacy players had to work hard to prove to the ESCP group that they are just as dynamic and interesting as their more recently founded digital counterparts and that working for them would be no less exciting.
In the end the students came away pleasantly surprised. A choice which at first seemed so clear-cut – to pursue a job at one of the “cool” tech companies – was no longer so easy to make. As they found out, big companies can innovate too.
We’ll be the first to admit that the observations presented here are by no means the result of rigorous scientific testing. But taking more than seventy students to all corners of Silicon Valley certainly taught us new things about the millennial generation and what it is looking for in the world of work.
This demographic of men and woman born in the early 1980s and 1990s is now a major part of the workforce. That means it is becoming ever more important for employers in Silicon Valley and beyond to have an understanding – however anecdotal – of who these people are and what gets them out bed in the morning.