What Gen Y Really Wants

By: on April 24, 2017

Today’s recent college grads and younger professionals represent “Generation Y (Gen Y),” also known as “Millennials.” In the U.S., this generation’s employment patterns contrast with those that came before. The “Greatest Generation” primarily sought stability, only changing jobs a few times in their lives. The “baby boomers” and “Generation X” became more restless, holding an average of about 11 jobs in a lifetime.

Gen Y members, however, will hold as many as 20 different jobs, staying at each for less than three years. Recruiters and business owners looking to hire Millennials not only need to know what will attract prospective Gen-Yers to their companies—but also, what will get them to stay.

Here at Software Advice, the vast majority of our job applicants are Millennials. On all our applications, we ask candidates to answer a few longer-form questions, including: “What is most important to you in a job?”

We decided to study a sample of 1,355 of the applications we received for sales positions in 2013, looking specifically at how applicants answered this question. Here’s what we learned about what Gen Y really wants.

What Gen Y Really Wants in a Job

#1: Money Still Matters Most (But Not by Much)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the U.S. is still recovering from an economic crisis, “Salary and Benefits” was the most important thing to our Gen Y sample when looking for a job (mentioned by 34 percent of applicants). However, money didn’t win by much: Salary and Benefits was ranked the most important characteristic by just three percentage points.

Interestingly, several of those applicants who ranked Salary and Benefits of lesser importance noted they had previously worked in a high-paying job—and had discovered that money wasn’t everything. It seems that compensation may be of diminishing importance as Gen Y workers garner more professional experience.

“I’ve realized that a good salary is not worth it if it means sacrificing your happiness or doing something that truly interests you,” read one such response.

Similarly, the rest of the data stands in contrast to what previous generations deemed most valuable. “Stability” came in near the bottom of the list (6 percent), and even seemingly-vital qualities such as “Work/Life Balance” and “Good Management” (4 percent each) paled in comparison to the importance of, for example, “Having a Strong Team and Co-Workers” (about 20 percent).

#2: Culture and Atmosphere

Second to compensation, “Culture and Atmosphere” was ranked the most important aspect of a new position by our sample Gen Y applicants (31 percent mentioned this). This data suggests that for Millennials, it’s not enough just to have a well-paying job—they also need to like where they work.

Many mentioned wanting to be in a “positive,” “pleasant” or “friendly” working environment. They also cited a desire for a company culture that was “challenging,” “dynamic” and focused on achievement and recognition.

#3: Fulfillment and Satisfaction in What I Do

Thirty percent of applicants cited a need for “Fulfillment and Satisfaction in What I Do,” making it the third most important quality for our sample. Those who mentioned this characteristic noted that they wanted to enjoy the work they were doing every day, and wanted to do something they had a personal interest in.

Responses included “having a passion for what I do,” “loving my job,” being involved with “meaningful work” and doing something “rewarding.”

#4: Growth and Development

Mentioned by 25 percent of applicants, “Growth and Development” was the fourth most important characteristic. Part of this may be due to the fact that Gen Y applicants are, by definition, on the younger side of the age spectrum: many cited a desire for “learning” or to gain more on-the-job “experience,” and noted they wanted to “advance [their] career.”

Others sought specific opportunities for upward mobility, while some mentioned wanting to be able to set and achieve professional goals.

Gen Y Wants More Than Just a (Pretty Big) Paycheck

What Gen Y really wants is to make a good living—but these young professionals also want to find happiness, fulfillment and opportunity in their work, and to build the foundation for a career that rewards in ways beyond the mere financial.

Our data aligns with other findings about Gen Y in the workplace. A recent survey of 500,000 employees between ages 19 and 30 listed the top 10 companies for Gen Y workers. All of these companies pay their young employees very high salaries—median pay ranges from $55,800 at defense contractor SAIC to $92,800 at Microsoft—and boast ambitious yet flexible workplace cultures. But perhaps most importantly, a majority of workers at each of these companies feel that their jobs are “meaningful.”

For example, at mobile technology company Qualcomm, the survey’s number-one employer, Gen Y employees receive a staggering average salary of $90,000. Not only that, 72 percent of these employees say they are doing meaningful work, 87 percent have high job satisfaction and 95 percent have a flexible schedule.

Google, the survey’s second most popular company, is regarded by many as the archetypal Gen Y employer—and small wonder, considering over 40 percent of Google’s employees were born between 1982 and 1993. (Birth years for when Gen Y starts and ends range from the early 1970s through the early 2000s.)

Average salary for these Millennial workers at Google is a whopping $80,000, and the company goes above and beyond to ensure that the culture and atmosphere is friendly and accommodating, employees love their jobs and there are plenty of opportunities to grow.

Examples of Google’s Gen-Y friendly perks include:

  • Unlimited free food.
  • Friday social hours with free beer and wine.
  • A company gym with free fitness classes and team sports.
  • A concierge service that handles employee chores and errands.
  • The ability to bring pets to work.
  • Maternity leave for moms and dads, plus on-campus daycare.
  • “Massage credits,” which employees can give each other for good work and can redeem for a one-hour massage at work.
  • The “80/20 rule,” in which 80 percent of employees’ time is spent on assigned work, but 20 percent can be spent pursuing “passion projects.”
  • Lectures by celebrities and industry thought leaders.

So, if your company is looking to hire Millennials, make sure that you are offering positions with not only attractive pay—but also the kinds of non-monetary rewards Gen Y really wants.


We analyzed a random sample of 1,355 of the applications we received for sales positions in 2013. This involved reading each applicant’s answer to the question, “What is most important to you in a job?” We then made note of every time an applicant mentioned one of the 12 specific categories listed in the chart above. For example, mentions for “Salary and Benefits” included each time an applicant said they needed to earn a “good living,” have “uncapped salary potential,” make a certain amount of money each year or have access to certain benefits packages (e.g., medical, dental or 401k).

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