What do Gen Zers need from their job searches and, ultimately, their careers? For people currently between 16 and 26 years old, financial success outranks every other concern, including a positive work environment and the desire to make an impact, according to a recent survey from Indeed. Gen Z job seekers also expect employers to be transparent about pay, and they see flexible schedules as a big draw. 

A blue chart showing what people aged 16-26 look for in their job search. 54% said they won't accept a role that doesn't offer a flexible schedule. 85% of people surveyed said it's important or very important for a job posting to list the pay.

By 2030, the share of Gen Z employees in the U.S. workforce is set to triple, reaching 51 million. It’s the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. “These are our current and future workers and leaders,” says Matt Berndt, the head of Indeed's Job Search Academy, who spearheaded the new study. “And employers have to get to know their needs and respond to them.”

For the survey, Indeed partnered with The Center for Generational Kinetics to ask 2,000 people aged 16 to 26 about entering the workforce and what they look for in potential employers. 

At Indeed, our mission is to help all people get jobs. As part of that commitment, we’re focused on improving hiring outcomes for job seekers facing barriers. Systemic barriers to employment can include, but aren’t limited to, factors related to education level; disability; ethnicity; sexual orientation; veteran status; and having a criminal record, or what we refer to as “justice-impacted.” Half of the 2,000 people surveyed face barriers to employment; many of them face two or more of these barriers. The other half of respondents came from the Gen Z population at large. The results from both sets of respondents were similar — with some notable exceptions.

Pay Is Paramount

Gen Zers overwhelmingly value earning potential when it comes to choosing jobs. When asked to rank the top three factors they consider when thinking about their careers, survey participants ranked “financial success” as their top priority, above a positive work environment, stability or making a difference in the world.

A likely reason for this focus on pay is student loan debt. College tuition is at an all-time high, and older Gen Zers are in debt, with an average of $20,900 in educational loans. Many also saw their Gen X parents and millennial siblings suffer through a recession.

A chart showing which factors are most important to general population Gen Z when choosing a jobs vs. Gen Z population facing barriers to employment. 56% general population said financial success was the most important, while only 48% of Gen Z'ers facing barriers to employment said financial success was the most important. Positive work environment was almost equal, with 46% of the general population and 47% of the population facing barriers, being the most important. Stability was the most important to 42% of the general  Gen Z population, while it was only the most important to 36% of the population facing barriers to employment. Positive impact, i.e. a career that helps people of the world, was almost evenly important to both groups weighted at 35% and 36% respectively. Pride was the most important 30% of the general Gen Z population while 33% of the Gen Z population facing barriers to employment felt this was the most important.

When it comes to job postings, the most important element for Gen Z is pay transparency: Over half of the respondents said starting compensation is “very important” in a listing. In the overall ranking of importance, actual job duties didn’t come until third, following benefits. 

Flexibility Is Top of Mind

“Gen Z is entering the workforce at a time of enormous change,” says Misty Gaither, Indeed’s Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. “They've observed how the pandemic has shifted everyone's views on work, and they have a different outlook on the meaning of work.” People are reevaluating what work wellness looks like, and the desire for scheduling flexibility came up again and again in the survey:

  • 54% of the general Gen Z population and 60% of those who face barriers to the job market said they won’t accept a role unless it offers flexible scheduling.
  • 57% of Gen Z — and 55% of Gen Z from populations that face barriers to hiring — will accept a job with a lower salary if it allows flexible scheduling or remote work.
  • In a question about the job characteristics that are more important now than before the pandemic, a flexible work schedule topped the list for both the general population (32%) and those who face barriers (31%). 
  • 46% of the general Gen Z population and 51% of respondents who face barriers to hiring believe that employers should be required to offer unlimited paid time off to all employees.

Chart showing the most important elements of a job posting to Gen Z in order of very important, important, neutral, not important, and not important at all. Most important elements of a job posting to Gen Z, In order from most to least, starting compensation, benefits, earning potential, schedule flexibility, and job duties and responsibilities.

Flexible schedules and remote work are beneficial for all workers, as Gaither notes. This is especially true for parents, caregivers and people with disabilities, who can create a schedule that balances the needs of work and home life.

Bad Employer Behavior — and Bad Reviews — Get Noticed

Gen Z job seekers also expect clarity from employers, as the survey showed. And they do their research to find out what employees think about the companies they’re applying to.

  • More than half of the survey respondents in both populations say they’ve been “ghosted” by hiring managers, and four in 10 said the most frustrating aspect of looking for a job was not receiving feedback from employers when they don’t get hired. 
  • Gen Z doesn’t appreciate a drawn-out hiring process: Half said they would not apply for a job that required three separate interviews.
  • After they apply for a job, four in 10 survey respondents said the next thing they do is read online reviews about the job or employer, while about the same number look first at the company website. 
  • About six out of 10 Gen Z job seekers would never accept a job without reading employee ratings and reviews first. Poor employee reviews were near the top of the list of things that turn Gen Z job seekers off (followed by the unsurprising No. 1, which was poor pay). It’s an excellent reminder that an employer’s brand isn’t just what a company says about itself — equally or more important is what current and former employees say about the company. 

A chart titled "What Are Gen Z's Deal Breakers When Applying For a Job?" showcasing what the general population of gen z and gen z population facing barriers to employment rank. Low compensation was the highest ranked deal breaker for the general population of gen z at 47% and the highest ranked deal breaker for the population facing barriers to employment at 39%. An even 32% for both parties ranked negative employee ratings and reviews online as a deal breaker. Inflexible schedule was more of a deal breaker to gen z population facing barriers to employment at 35% and 32% for the general population. Inconvenient work location and/or bad commute were deal breakers for 30% of the general population and 25% for those facing barriers. Unclear job description was almost even at 28% and 27% between general and those facing barriers. Lack of or insufficient benefits offered was a deal breaker for 24% of the general gen z population and 19% to those facing barriers to employment.

Job Seekers of All Types Have Similar Expectations (Mostly) 

In most respects, Gen Z job seekers from groups that face barriers to employment gave similar survey answers to those who don’t. But there were some important differences. Compared to the general population, people in the population with barriers to employment report that safe work environments and diverse and inclusive workplace cultures are harder to find — meaning there is still a lot of work to do to foster inclusion and belonging at work, as Gaither notes. 

The survey also uncovered some differences in how people search for jobs. People with disabilities were more likely than other groups to look for jobs by asking family and friends, for example. Military veterans, meanwhile, were the most likely to look for work at job fairs and at state and federal employment offices, where they can get help translating their military job experiences into terms civilian hiring managers can understand. 

Gen Zers with disabilities also reported facing more job-search challenges than other groups. Some 42% of surveyed people with disabilities said they were unsure if they had the skills they needed to be successful — as opposed to 32% of the general population — and 28% said they didn’t know if they’d be able to find a job that would accommodate their disabilities.

To address these concerns, employers should ensure their job descriptions are written in an equitable and inclusive manner, using gender neutral terminology. They should inspect their postings for ableist language and ensure they are accessible for people with all abilities, Gaither says. To broaden the applicant pool, think critically about which skills are needed to perform well in the role and differentiate between nice-to-have and must-have skills. 

Gaither recommends embedding equity in all stages of the hiring process. Consider the representation of those participating in interview panels; ensure fairness in evaluations and skills assessments; and leverage an impartial person, such as a business partner from your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team, to provide guidance.

To help all Gen Z employees feel heard in the job search, including those who face barriers, Gaither suggests two questions for employers to keep top of mind:

  • Are your compensation and benefits competitive? (Those considerations are priorities for younger employees.) 
  • Are you being honest and transparent in the hiring process?

“To attract and retain Gen Z talent, employers need to make sure they are transparent about total compensation, including perks and benefits, the roles and responsibilities and the organization’s commitment to society,” Gaither says. “This group does their research. We should be willing to share as much as possible so they can make the most informed decision during their job search.”