Why generation labels are dangerous to your business

Thinking of changing your recruitment strategy to target generation Y? Adjusting your culture to accommodate to generation Z? Please, don’t. Generation labels have no basis in science and using them can even be harmful for your organization.

Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z.
The Who knows all about generation stereotyping.

The use of horoscopes

In our HR team, it’s been a fun start of the day for years now. One of my colleagues takes the newspaper and reads the rest of the team their horoscope for the day. This is especially fun when one of the horoscopes describes that you might quarrel with one of your colleagues today. After a few jokes, it’s business as usual and we forget what it was the stars wanted to tell us.

Very few organizations base their recruitment strategy on horoscopes. After all, what does it matter which month your candidate was born in? However, when we talk about what year a candidate was born in, this suddenly seems to matter a great deal. Some organizations base their entire recruitment strategy on targeting generation X, Y or Z.

I find that fascinating. When you think about it, what’s the real difference between horoscopes and generation labels?

Generation X, Y or Z?

Whereas most people don’t take horoscopes seriously, generation labels are often referred to in popular science. There are loads of books on generations X, Y and Z. There are scores of consultancy firms that are more than willing to explain at full length how to change your organization in order to recruit, manage or motivate a certain generation.

Apparently, I’m part of generation X. Or Y, depending on which book you read. According to theory, I’m balancing between Generation’s X’s ‘work hard, play hard’ motto, and generation Y’s tendency to go job hopping. Luckily I limit my internet usage, otherwise I would have also qualified for generation Z, whose motto is ‘always online’. Then I would really have an identity crisis.

This is exactly the problem with generation labels. Each generation’s motto can just as easily be applied to any other generation. There are tons of young people who enjoy hard work, and many retirees who spends hours a day on their iPads.

But what about all that scientific research? Doesn’t that prove there’s some sense in analyzing generations? Well, nope.

This is what science says about generation labels

Ok, sit back. Here’s a brief summary of the science behind generation labels.

Since the 19th century, generations have been the subject of research, especially in the field of sociology. In the beginning, there was much discussion on the use of characterizing various generations. It was Karl Mannheim (born in 1893) who first concluded that generation labels are an oversimplification of reality, and that they can be quite misleading. When you’re focusing too much on birth year when explaining the behavior of a certain social group, you’re likely to spend not enough time on the critical investigation of other, more important factors.

In the 20th century, sociologist Norman Ryder developed the ‘cohort’ as a method to study groups of people. He researched groups who are born around the same time and grew up in similar circumstances. In this research, he took into account all kinds of other factors, such as background, gender, job and location. Time and again, his research showed that all these factors had a huge influence on someone’s social behavior. Someone’s birth year, however, proved to have little to no influence. Since then, lots of similar research has been done into generation labels, and all research proves Ryder’s conclusion was right.

Why can generation labels be dangerous?

Back to the 21th century. Of course there are developments that influence certain generations, and you should not ignore those. You should keep up with what’s new, and use any innovations you think might help you reach your target audience. But the notion that these developments result into generations that are entirely different form the previous ones, is misleading. Generations don’t differ that much. In fact, looking at your target audience through a ‘generation lens’ might even be harmful to your organization.

If you focus too much on generation thinking, you risk ignoring a big part of your target audience. Or worse: you might ruin your organizational culture by trying to cater to the latest generation’s needs.

An example. Say you want to attract young employees, who are just out of college. You decide to leave your 70s office building and move to the city center. You switch to flexible workplaces, start working in agile teams and provide free public transport passes for everyone. You even hire a barista to brew soy skinny lattes. How will your current employees react when they hear they can no longer drive their car to work? When they no longer have any fixed place for their kids’ pictures? They’ll complain. Maybe they’ll even start looking for another job. This will negatively influence the work atmosphere, which will have an negative effect on the employees you just hired. Instead of the hip and inspiring organization they hoped to join, they see disgruntled employees complaining in the hallways.

Of course you won’t change your organization as drastically as this. But keep in mind that even small organizational changes can have a huge effect on your current employees and on your company culture.

Base your policy on horoscopes?

I admit, analyzing generation labels may be slightly more insightful than reading horoscopes. But only slightly. Your own company culture should always the basis of your recruitment policy. You’ll find you’ll attract people from all kinds of generations. Sure, you should use the channels that best fit your target audience, be it newspaper ads or Instagram posts. But the core of your story should remain the same.

And horoscopes? Well, they might be more useful than you think. I can recommend everyone to start your day by reading horoscopes to your team members. For us, it’s a fun start of the day. Which may be worth more than all generation labels put together.

What recruitment can learn from marketing

The new iJob

Don’t you find it remarkable? Whenever Apple launches a new product, people all around the globe queue up, with cash or credit card in hand, to be one of the firsts to buy the phone, tablet or watch. Why is that?

Of course it helps that Apple products look nice. But do you know what’s even nicer? A challenging job with a decent pay. Yet how come there’s no line of applicants in sleeping bags in front of your office when you publish a new vacancy?

Sales and Marketing lessons
Can we learn marketing techniques from Jerry?

 Are you still going door-to-door?

Recruitment and marketing are a very similar expertise, even more so than you might realize. We’re both looking for leads: new colleagues or new customers. We’re both working towards the moment someone signs a contract. And we both feel our competitors breathing down our necks, hunting for the same signature.

The difference between marketing and recruitment is how we hunt for those leads. Whereas marketing has matured much over the years, recruitment evolved relatively little. Many recruiters stick to old-fashioned methods to market their jobs: they put it on their own website or approach candidates personally. That’s the equivalent of a marketer who still limits himself to putting his product in the shop-window, or going door-to-door to sell his goods.

Your colleagues at Marketing use many, many more methods to reach their goal. And in that respect, recruiters have a lot to learn from marketers. There’s so much more you could be doing to find the right candidate.

Buyer’s Applicant journey

In Marketing, it’s become common practice to make a buyer’s journey. This is a map of the entire ‘journey’ of a potential customer, from his first investigation into his problems to the actual purchase of your product. You analyze every moment of contact, every moment of decision: these are called touchpoints. And you find ways to use those moments to your advantage.

It’s a valuable method for recruitment purposes, too. Only in that case we call it an applicant journey. For regular vacancies you make a profile of your ideal candidate. You analyze where you can find this person, both online and offline, and find out what he or she’s looking for in a job.

You then collect all the touchpoints and map them to your applicant journey. For each touchpoint you ask yourself: how can I help this person in his search for the ultimate job? Your goal is, of course, to get your ideal candidate to apply to one of your own vacancies.

There are more touchpoints than you think

It’s important to realize your applicant journey starts way before you publish your vacancy. There are dozens of these touchpoints from start to finish, from the first time your potential employee sees your organization’s name in his search results, until the moment he signed his employment contract.

To give you some idea of what touchpoints to include in your applicant journey, here are some examples – including some tips on how you can use each of these moment to capture your applicants attention.

Orientation: meet your applicants before they apply

Make sure you meet your target audience before they’re even thinking of looking for a job. Yes, this is possible. Marketers call this content marketing. They publish blogs, videos or eBooks featuring topics to help their potential customers with something, without trying to sell their product. Think of a travel agency that publishes a blog called ‘The top 10 cities in Spain should definitely visit’. The next time you want to book a trip to Spain, they hope you remember their name.

You could make this work for your recruitment goals, too. At TOPdesk, we have a tech blog where developers share their experiences on subjects like version control, continuous integration and automated testing with the rest of the world. We hope that other developers can learn from this. And that next time they’re looking a for a job, they will think of us and apply.

Vacancy: stop sending, start listening

When composing vacancies, many organizations adopt a send-and-demand strategy. They bombard you with bulleted lists containing job requirements, add some default ‘About us’-text and hit publish. Quick and easy, sure. But is it what their potential candidate wants to read?

Instead, talk to your colleagues to find out what your candidate really wants to know. Schedule a meeting with the colleagues you would like to clone and ask what do they like about their job. Notice which words they use when describing something they’re enthusiastic about. Use that information to create a vacancy text that resonates with your target audience.

Job applications: be the best applicant manager

Every applicant deserves a fast and proper response. I know some applications are better than others – in fact, some are outright crappy – but also bad applications can yield positive results. Even if you feel an applicant is not suited for the job, you still need to leave a good impression with them. Partly because word-of-mouth advertising is more essential than ever, and one pissed-off candidate can do quite some damage. But mainly because it’s the decent thing to do.

Try to respond quickly to incoming job applications. Keep the applicant informed about the procedure and open yourself up to questions. Is the applicant no match for your organization? Or is there someone else who’s a better fit? Provide your applicant with honest and personal feedback. Explain why you did not choose him, and give him a tip for his future applications.

Job offers: make it an offer they can’t refuse

Many employers choose to send the employment contract by mail and hope their applicant signs it. Don’t! Do as a good salesperson does. A salesperson knows that in order to win someone over, personal attention, a good atmosphere and trust are key. A good candidate probably has other job offers lined up, so the way you handle a job offer can determine whether your candidate accepts your job or not.

That’s why we always invite our candidates over for a personal conversation. We explain the job offer, highlight all the perks of the job that are not mentioned in the contract and ask what else they need to know in order to make a decision. After the talk, we walk by the department where his future colleagues work, who generally welcome him with great enthusiasm. For us, this works wonders: almost every candidates we offer a job, ends up signing the contract.

Tip: Use the goldmine you’re sitting on

Time to make your applicant journey! But where to start? You could of course start from scratch and start brainstorming with your fellow recruiters. But you shouldn’t. Instead, make a head start and use the goldmine you’re sitting on: your colleagues!
At TOPdesk we use that goldmine in various ways. For each applicant, we keep track of how he found us. We analyze which channels turn out to be effective and adjust our investments accordingly. After their first month of employment, we send our colleagues a survey with questions such as ‘What research did you do when you were looking for a job? What did you think of the application procedure? Does your experience in the first month match the expectations you had before you started?’ This kind of feedback from your colleagues helps you to quickly map your first customer journey and determine your touchpoints.

Good luck! Did you already make an applicant journey? I’m curious to see what it looks like. Post your applicant journey in the comments, or send me an email.


Creating brand ambassadors by rejecting applicants.

Brand Ambassadors

Do you think you can’t make a rejected applicant into a referrer for your next best hire? Or that someone you turn down will hate your company and never use your product? I think you can do something about this, and the solution might be surprisingly easy.

The #1 frustration of a job applicant 

What is the main frustration of someone looking for a job? Getting rejected off course! But there are many different ways of being rejected, and some are more frustrating than others. A simple Google search will tell you that being rejected by receiving a standardized rejection email is considered one of the worst ways. (The only thing that is worse is not receiving any response at all, but I will not consider that a rejection in this post) People find it frustrating to receive something which hasn’t noticeably cost any time or attention, while they have taken considerable care in finding the company, reading the vacancy and writing an application. These frustrated applicants vent this frustration on their social media. I am sure you all know what I am talking about, since we all have friends and family who do this from time to time. It will often result into comments that say the possible employer is the worst organization ever and that said organization is not aware of the immensely talented person they have just rejected. Whether this is true or not, the organization is now considered to be evil and we have certainly not created any new brand ambassadors.

Why brand ambassadors matter

When I use the term brand ambassador, I am talking about any person that is very positive about a brand/organization. The person is so positive he or she recommends it to others. Any business person will tell you how important it is to have people promoting your brand, and its even better if they do so because they believe in it instead of being paid to do so. In marketing it is also referred to as promoters. By promoting your brand these brand ambassadors will convince others to buy your product or work for you.

How to turn an applicant into a brand ambassador

At TOPdesk, we make sure that we treat every applicant with respect and try to give them a clear explanation on how the process from applicant to employee is organized. In order to find and recruit talented people, it is very important to respond quickly to an application and follow up on every interview accordingly (HR can learn from Sales here!). But here is the catch: We don’t just do this to make sure we hire the talents before other companies do, we do this to create brand ambassadors out of the people we don’t hire as well.

Obviously not everyone that is turned down will become an ambassador. But if you treat them right they won’t think you’re an evil company and maybe even remain positive after the process. We have had several occasions where we turned down a nice applicant in a proper way, who would than suggest a friend to apply to the same vacancy who was hired instead! Or instances where rejected applicants become customers working with our product afterwards. That is pure gold for any company, and the best thing is: it is nice to treat people decently!

Basic things every recruiter should do

  1. Give a bespoke response to every applicants which has taken the time to send a resume and write a motivation letter. If you reject the application you should explain clearly why you do not see a fit. If you can, you should provide tips and suggestions for other applications (instead of laughing like a recruitment-snob at certain lines in a resume, help the candidate by suggesting a different approach).
  2. Provide decent feedback after every interview in a timely fashion. We try to make sure we call every applicant within a day or two after their interviews to minimize tension and keep the process up to speed. Waiting endlessly on a phone call hoping for a job, and not hearing anything from the company can be devastating. I can’t imagine leaving an applicant in the dark about their possible job after you have spend an hour and a half getting to know them and talk about their career and future. Just call the person and explain why, providing some tips for future interviews. Trust me, it is worth it.

You might point out that this approach takes time, but any business person will tell you it is very important to get brand ambassadors instead of people hating on you on social media. All it takes is some time and dedication to give applicants the respect they deserve and make them feel like they are worth something (you know they are!). You might even get a ‘prize’ as well:

Dutch certificate awarded for a good digital application experience by “Digitaal Werven

The future of recruitment

Peer reviews on internet about companies are starting to take off. An international website like Glassdoor allows people to rate companies they have work(ed) for, and where they have applied. This might still seem strange in The Netherlands, but I am sure this will be much more common in a few years. I am really happy with these developments as it will hopefully lead to more people working for the decent companies (we strive to be one of those) and less people applying at the companies who treat people badly. And that will most certainly lead to world peace in the end ;).


What do you think is important in an application process? Do you have more tips for a recruiter looking to treat people nicely?


Hiring personality beats hiring skills

Hiring personality beats skills

Building a successful organisation

Hiring the right people is essential for creating a successful organization. But how do you hire the right people? I won’t go into the details of how you should write vacancies or what to ask a candidate during a job interview right now, but I do want to share my view on what you should look for when hiring the best people for your organization.

Hire the right person!

It’s as easy as that. You should hire the right person for the job. But what makes a person right for the job? Traditionally we are instructed to scan resumes and analyze the education and work experience of a person to judge whether he or she fits the job. This is not wrong; education and experience can certainly help a person to perform in a job. This is especially true for jobs which require a high level of craftsmanship. But just focusing on education and experience might cause you to make a big (and sometimes expensive) mistake.

The most important thing you should look into is the personality of the candidate, not the skills. If I have the choice between a straight-A student who is arrogant and more interested in making things better for himself instead of the team or someone who scored average in university but has the personality to not only improve himself but also the ones around him/her, I would choose the latter any day. The skills required in most office jobs nowadays can easily be learned (if you have the right attitude and mindset). However, it is really hard to change someone’s personality.

Personality beats Skills

At TOPdesk, we take pride in our company culture which is based on trust, freedom and responsibility. It only takes a few people who do not understand or endorse these values to break it. And when it gets broken, it’s not just the person you hired that suffers. It can be a negative influence on an entire team or department. This will soon outweigh any benefits the skills or experience the new hire has brought into the company. This can be difficult to explain, especially when a manager experiences stress related to understaffing and request a new person which already has the skills required in order to speed up the process. You should still try to convince the manager in question that hiring the right personality (even if he or she lacks the proven experience) will be better in the long run.

In the end, hiring the right personlity with the right skills and experience is best. But in the unfortunate occasion where such a perfect candidate is not at hand, you know who to choose.


Do you like this blog, but need more proof to be convinced? While researching this topic I found a random guy involved in music, airplanes and balloons who seems to agree with me 😉 Richard Branson on hiring personality

A few tips for employer branding on Facebook

employer branding on social media

Referral recruitment

Referral recruitment is great. For years it has been the best source of recruitment at TOPdesk and I know this is the same for many other companies. Not only is it a fast and cost-friendly way of getting applications on your vacancies, it also supplies candidates that are more likely to fit in your company culture. Referral recruitment has been a good way of recruiting talented people before HR and recruitment used social media, and it might have become even better now that companies and employees are active on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

In order to get the referrals coming in, you need to make it easy for your employees to share your vacancies and news on social media. It is important to have a good company page and a few people that know a thing or two about social media, communications and employer branding to maintain that page. At TOPdesk, we have focused on quality instead of quantity of posts, in order to steadily build up the amount of followers. This way we have created an employer brand we feel comfortable with.

Recently we have launched a new recruitment website and shared it on Facebook. The post showed in some of our timelines but not on all of our timelines. We then paid for the post to show up in the timelines of friends and friends of friends in order to boost results. This led to some really nice reactions and applications. It also got me thinking on how the Facebook sharing system works and why posts don’t show up on the timeline of all the people that follow the company page. I did some internet research and found a very interesting video on Youtube by Veritasium which explains exactly how devious the Facebook system is.

So what have we learned by watching this great video? Let’s sum it up:

  • We now have ‘proof’ that shows big ad companies such as Facebook have brilliant strategies to generate revenue, sometimes at the cost of their users.
  • The posts you make through a company page don’t automatically reach all of your followers. It depends on the amount of engagement of the first few people that do see it shown in their timeline.
  • It is better to have a limited amount of followers that actually like and comment on your posts, than it is to have many followers that don’t interact at all. You will actually reach more people that way.

A tip for employer branding on social media

My tip to you is: Built an honest social media presence based on actual content instead of spamming people with all kinds of marketing material. Not only will you annoy less people on the internet, you will actually reach more people in the long run because the posts will generate more engagement. Which in turn will lead to more employee referral and more suitable potential employees!


Hats off to the colleagues in the social media team at TOPdesk, for doing such a wonderful job and providing me with some insights so I could write this post.