Before you have a Millennial accepting a job offer, you first have to attract them to your organization. Whether through social media or job boards, you will most likely be using some sort of job advertisement. Should you be wording ads targeting Gen Y the same as those aimed at candidates from previous generations? Yes, you should.
Targeting younger workers in your ad language may be discriminating against older workers warns the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Specifically, using terms such as “digital native” in your requirements are likely to put you at a higher risk.
“It’s not a smart business decision,” said Stephen Hirschfeld, partner at Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP and CEO and founder of the Employment Law Alliance. “They are asking for trouble with employment law and will set themselves up for litigation.”
Hirschfeld, who is based in San Francisco—the epicenter for digital natives—said many startups in the city do not consult with HR professionals to make decisions about human resource needs.
“Employers should not use the term digital native because it insinuates older candidates need not apply,” added Sean Morrison, a New Orleans-based business attorney.
What exactly is a Digital Native? CNN explains, the term “digital native” was first used by author Marc Prensky in 2001 and has become a term used to describe the shift from “digital immigrants”, “the generational switchover where people are defined by the technological culture which they’re familiar with.” Digital Natives are those that were born (and are being born) in the fast-paced, quickly evolving age of technology.
There is a distinct line between younger workers who were born into technology and other generations where the internet and modern technology can be viewed as a “second language” to them. In order to avoid discrimination, job ads should be very careful not to use labels.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), help wanted notices should not advertise for “young professionals,” “college students,” or “recent college graduates” because those phrases violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The federal law protects employees and job applicants age 40 and older from discrimination based on age.
While Joseph Olivares, an EEOC public affairs specialist in Washington, D.C., did not comment on the term digital native specifically, he noted that the EEOC would closely scrutinize employment notices that include specific references to disclose age.
Morrison said he would discourage his clients from using the term digital native in their job ads. “It raises the same problem as ‘recent graduates,’ which got plenty of businesses in trouble,” he explained. “Those over 40 are in the ADEA’s protected class, and since a digital native is usually someone born after 1980, it can open a business to an age discrimination claim.”
Employment experts advise HR departments to detail what specific skill sets are needed for a particular position. In lieu of using the term digital native, a phrase like “familiar with the latest technology” would suffice, Morrison explained.
“You don’t have to focus on digital natives to get great, tech-savvy people—you simply must recruit in their language,” Bruss concluded. “It’s shortsighted and risky to only go after one generation for a specific skill set. [Young employees] don’t have a monopoly on being tech-savvy.”
You may not be able to target job postings specifically to Gen Y workers, but you can look for tech-savvy candidates with fresh ideas without discriminating at all. In the end, be aware of how your ads are structured and the specific language you are using. Look for candidates that fit your requirements rather than those from a specific generation.
Traci Kingery, PHR is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in immigration and talent management. When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.