Marketing to Today’s College Graduates.

Kids today.  I hear the refrain all the time. For those who despair that today’s young people lack the values or judgments of earlier generations, there’s new research that provides insights into the minds of recent college graduates that should give you hope. 

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) annual meeting, which is the professional association for campus career readiness center officials and the employer-recruiters with whom they regularly work. The association conducts annual surveys of graduating seniors to understand their hopes and goals for their careers, and the aspects of employment that are most important to them. 

Presented by NACE researcher Edwin Koc, the findings proved illuminating—and not just for professional recruiters marketing employment opportunities, but for any marketing professional concerned with reaching and connecting with recent graduates.

The last four years of economic upheaval and political milestones have had profound impacts on young people, and the first waves of graduates who’ve lived through it all are now entering the job market. Think about it. They’ve witnessed the election of the first black President of the United States, something their parents likely told them would never happen in their lifetimes, only to see him attacked, sometimes viciously, from nearly every side. They’ve lived through what some are calling a second depression and what that has meant to the livelihoods of people they love. And they’ve seen how futile and costly war can be even when in response to something has horrific as the September 11th attacks.

It would be easy to assume young people would emerge from such jarring and historic events jaundiced or cynical.  But that’s not the case. Unlike graduates of only a few years ago, these young people are generally more empathetic and intuitive, according to the NACE research.  As a result, they are more focused on navigating careers that have meaning and result in positive broad social impact.

When asked where they’d like to begin their careers, the top five responses were all in the government or non-profit sectors, including categories like human services, professional services and social services.  While they are also concerned with receiving appropriate compensation and health benefits, they also want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

“In other words,” said Koc, “today’s graduates want to know that their work will have some meaning beyond a paycheck.”

Koc also said the survey showed young people are much more conscious about their contribution the community. When asked what aspects of their private lives they would be willing to give up in order to work more than 40 hours per week in a new job, respondents said they’d be willing to give up things like family time and social time – virtually everything except time spent in the community volunteering.

Finally, the survey also indicates that new graduates are looking for opportunities for growth—that is, they’d like to be employed someplace that is willing to invest in their ongoing growth, both professionally and personally.

All this indicates a crop of young people are entering the workforce who are not only introspective and concerned with personal growth, but who are also altruistic and deeply concerned with the welfare of their fellow human being. Koc said this trend began to emerge with last year’s graduating class and accelerated with this year’s.

He further speculated that the trend was likely given birth during the first presidential campaign and subsequent election of then-Senator Barack Obama. His was a campaign run on highly aspiration themes such as hope and change, and the idea that everyone should pull together for the greater good. Apparently young people just entering college were deeply influenced by these ideas. 

It’s not unlike what followed President Kennedy’s election and his call to a generation to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” His call to action deeply informed an entire generation of young people—individuals who went on to create the Peace Corps and Special Olympics, the Internet and NASA, and solar power and modern organic gardening practices.

Like that generation, today’s graduates enter the workforce bringing with them a set of hopes and aspirations not just for themselves, but for the world they’ll inherit. Employers and marketers of all stripes should keep this in mind when trying to connect with these individuals.

The sorts of messages and images that will move them will have little to do with naked self-interest – today’s college graduates are simply not in it just for themselves. If you’re Home Depot, highlight your good works in the community.  If you’re a consumer packaged good, emphasize your sustainability practices. If you’re an accounting firm, highlight your dedication to good governance and ethical management practices.

We’re seeing the vanguard of a generation that aspires to something greater than its own self-interests. They want to do well by doing good. And let’s face it: that’s something to celebrate.

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.

blog comments powered by Disqus

The Featured Five