This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on December 22, 2012.
Millennials – often derided as entitled praise junkies who can’t stop playing with their iPhones – have a bad rap in the marketplace. But not with e-commerce giant eBay Inc., which considers them its secret weapon in the war for talent. “We’re focused on competing in a world where there are very fast cycle times around innovation, and we need to be able to create at, or ahead of, the speed of the market,” says Beth Axelrod, eBay’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources. “One of the ways we can do that is to ensure we have a very large measure of digital natives in our company. We’re significantly ramping up recent college graduate recruitment because our view is that for this era, at the stage of evolution we’re in now, having digital natives who have grown up with technology, see the world through that lens, and are the future customers of our business – that’s important to the future growth of our company.”
Bringing in the next generation (for whom eBay has developed a special recruitment website) may take some adjustment. “There needs to be a high level of cultural receptivity from the company” to welcome millennials, she says. “That comes, at the most fundamental level, in valuing what they bring to the table and not being hung up on the different package it comes in. They’re very comfortable with rapid innovation, change, and disruption. In our company, we as a leadership team have declared this is very important to us, and we’re welcoming these folks into our company.”
Sometimes that means reprogramming long-held assumptions about workplace behavior. Even a few years ago, it would have been considered a faux pas to play with your phone during a meeting. But millennials – among other early adopters – are turning that perception around. “We have to recognize today that, for example, some of the most talented engineers are those whose network in the social sphere is very, very well developed,” says Axelrod. “If they’re using their phone in a meeting, they may well be blogging or writing a post that’s adding to their external reputation, and in turn, accruing to the company’s reputation. Should we disparage that behavior, or encourage that behavior? We need to be open to the possibility it’s bringing a kind of benefit to the company that we want and should encourage.”
Is your company seeking out digital natives to hire? Why or why not?
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.