Understanding the Millennial Mindset

August 01, 2014


They’re young, have highly discerning tastes and most of them have yet to make their mark on the world, so why are they so sought after? The Millennial generation – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are now between 14 to 34 years old, and are fast emerging as one of the most sought after groups since their baby-boomer parents. Responsible for an annual spending power of $600 billion, their influence is projected to grow to account for 30 percent of all retail sales.

But it’s not just their spending power that is so remarkable. Already the core of the U.S. student population, Millennials now are also becoming the predominant force entering the workplace. To gain a better understanding of Millennials and their concerns and aspirations, particularly related to preparing for careers after college, Barnes & Noble College recently unveiled some critical research as part of a University Business webcast, titled The Millennial Mindset: How Colleges Can Accelerate the Career Prep Process.

Many studies show that the ability to secure a good job after graduation is one of the top reasons why students choose a college or university. And with student recruitment and retention among the top concerns for schools today, successful post-graduation job placement rates are critical. “Part of Barnes & Noble College’s mission is to help its campus partners achieve their mission and goals,” remarked Lisa Malat, Vice President, Marketing and Operations for Barnes & Noble College. “We felt this was an important area to uncover new insights and strategies to best support student success for our college partners.”

Myths and Challenges

Joan Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter.
Joan Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter.

Developed in partnership with Why Millennials Matter, The Millennial Mindset study set out to gauge the state of today’s college students’ level of career prep, their perception of what skills and experiences are desired by companies looking to hire them; what Millennials are looking for in their early working experiences, training and benefits; what ultimately motivates them to apply for a job; and much more. More than 3,000 students completed the survey, sharing more than 17,000 open ended responses. Joan Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter, underscored the importance of the research findings.

“Companies need to recruit and develop their talent so they can assist in the future of their businesses. In less than five years, Millennials will become 50 percent of the U.S. workforce and 75 percent of the global workforce,” she said, adding, “Not only will they become half of their employee base, they will also become the majority of customers, too.”

Several myths about Millennials were dispelled throughout the survey’s findings. For example, while some assume that Millennials lack focus as it relates to their future, almost all – including freshmen – have identified a clear vision for their future careers, including their specific field of choice. And while some may think Millennials are driven by money, power and fame, in reality, the study found more students define success in terms of personal fulfillment rather than titles, money or public recognition.

That sense of fulfillment is driven in part by the desire to “do good.” The impact on society/community ranked as the #1 factor influencing students’ choice of career field. It was a finding that didn’t surprise Tamara Vostok, Barnes & Noble College’s Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager.“We’ve seen that students are passionate about causes and issues, which is why we want to give them an outlet to create change – raising money for breast cancer research or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity – and by supporting causes important to each campus,” she said. “Millennials are an empowered group that wants to dedicate themselves to making a difference in the world, especially through their careers.”

While the greatest impact and influence on Millennial lives were friends and family, juniors and seniors all cited their professors as an important resource for making decisions about career choices. “Faculty are a cornerstone of student academic experience and ultimately their success,” Malat noted, adding that Barnes & Noble College would be developing greater support opportunities for college faculty through their online research community, Faculty POV (Point of View). “We need to be able to support our faculty with the tools, resources and skills to help them support their students,” Malat emphasized.


Millennials infographic


Although Millennials have specific goals for themselves and their careers, the research also identified some significant obstacles. While most students (80 percent) had prepared resumes in anticipation of the interview process, and over half had spoken with professors about potential career pathways, few are taking the necessary action steps, such as applying to or participating in internships, or leveraging the resources of the Campus Career Center. In fact, more than half of all juniors and seniors haven’t even begun casually searching for jobs.

There also appears be a skills gap issue: while clear communication and critical thinking emerged as the most important skills for students, they also ranked among those needing the most improvement. And while the good news is that students and employers for the most part identify the same skills as most important, students expressed a lack of confidence in having the skills necessary to perform their jobs well. The question is how can schools help students close this gap?

Igniting a Career Connection

The research findings demonstrate that there is a tremendous opportunity to impact students’ career preparedness – and schools’ recruitment and retention – by helping students get onto the right career road-map earlier. But, it’s more than any one person or department should tackle alone. It’s going to require a partnership between the campus bookstore, the career center, faculty and more.

Together, the campus community needs to accelerate the career prep road-map, moving the emphasis from securing the job interview to job readiness. Employers are focused on real experiences in real business. Colleges and universities can help students develop the skills necessary to be successful in a competitive job market while making their educational experience relevant to their real world experience. Ideally, students should secure work experiences and skills training in job readiness as early as freshman year.

Before students can gain those skills and experiences, they have to first become aware of the need for career preparation, which should start as soon as they step onto campus. “We’ve had tremendous success in reaching out to incoming students before they even step onto campus to educate them about course material choices, to help them navigate their new environment – to really serve as a support system for them,” said Malat. “There is tremendous potential in a similar program to partner with career centers and faculty, designed to help students accelerate their career prep path, and to ensure that students are graduating with the experiences and skills they need to be successful on the job.”

Millennial expert Kuhl sees a great opportunity in this new Millennial data, and particularly in leveraging Barnes & Noble College’s experience to help campuses build the kinds of programs that could help ignite student career success. “These new insights can be a great opportunity for colleges and universities to build awareness and grow the importance of career prep to accelerate their students’ career readiness,” she said. “It really is crucial to help students much earlier in the development of their career pathway — and to get them to utilize the opportunities and support available to them.”

For a full transcript of the University Business webcast, please click here.