Millennials are some of the sharpest, hardest-working employees out there, and I’m proud that they comprise over half of my team at Vanderbloemen. They are our workforce’s next leaders – and many of them are already successful young leaders.
But not all millennials have leadership gifts. Or, I’ve found, some of them do possess strong leadership traits but are unaware of it.
I’m a big fan of hiring for potential, so how can employers spot leadership potential in younger candidates?
Here are several key attributes to look for when interviewing a millennial in order to discern their leadership potential.
Despite what some critics of millennials may say, in my experience, most millennials I’ve interviewed haven’t been sloppy or lazy. Those with real drive know that first impressions are just as telling as everyone says they are. A prepared, ambitious millennial candidate will do the research to know how they should dress for their interview with you – or they’ll ask you beforehand. Though they think differently than generations before them, many of them are neo-traditionalists, and they know to come to an interview prepared with questions and prior knowledge about your organization. A millennial with leadership potential will be well prepared for an interview.
Social Awareness & EQ
Especially for leadership roles, it’s important to determine the social acumen and emotional intelligence of a candidate. Not all great leaders are extroverts, but millennials who are born leaders will exhibit confidence without being off-putting. They will be comfortable in their own skin without being too casual. They will be relational, able to easily converse with you. Being a good listener is also an important trait in a leader – does your candidate listen to understand or merely listen to spit out an answer? When you ask them about themselves or how they’ve handled conflict in past experiences, do they demonstrate self-awareness? Do they avoid playing the victim card?
I also recommend collaborative interviewing so multiple members of your team can assess EQ. When you get down to the final one or two candidates for a position, invite them to come to a work social event or a happy hour with members of different teams. Ask your team for input on their social awareness. Did they talk over everyone or were they genuinely interested in getting to know the people at the table? Soft skills like EQ are invaluable in a team member that is going to help drive your organization to its full potential.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that the key attribute of elite leaders and organizations is agility – the ability to pivot whenever needed or stretch when pulled. Luckily, this is a trait that many multi-tasking millennials already have a leg up on – but the true leaders in the bunch will possess it in boatloads. A great way to interview for agility and responsiveness is to give the candidate an assignment to do with a pretty quick turnaround time. You’ll easily see how much flexibility, responsiveness, and drive a potential leader has.
This can be overlooked in an interview process, where both parties are putting their best foot forward. However, it’s essential to look for transparency and integrity in a millennial with leadership potential. Does the candidate demonstrate humility and honesty in their interview? Millennials are known to have shorter tenures in positions, so how do they talk about their job transitions? Look for their acceptance of personal responsibility. A great leader recognizes the need to be open and honest with their team, and likely won’t have trouble being that way in an interview. Keep in mind while you do your due diligence on a potential hire, if anything comes up that calls your millennial candidate’s integrity into question, they probably aren’t cut out to be a leader.
In many of my interviews with my millennial team members, I sensed one common trait: hunger. My friend Brad Lomenick’s book H3 Leadership marks hunger as one of the key components of great leaders. Every millennial I’ve hired was hungry to work on something that mattered to them. They wanted to make a difference. They had passion and drive. Those who say millennials are unmotivated simply don’t know what motivates millennials. Millennials want to be given opportunities to lead and to make an impact in their job and in the world, which is why many of them are looking for jobs with a cause. Every great leader has hunger and drive, so if you’re interviewing a millennial who is expressing a lot of passion and determination, chances are, you’ve got a future leader on your hands.
Keep in mind that while an interview can greatly aid in assessing leadership potential, it should not be the only assessment tool you use. Reference and background checks, spouse interviews, and personality assessments can all be employed to help create the larger picture of a millennial candidate.
Don’t miss out on the leadership potential of this bright generation. They have so much to offer.
By William Vanderbloemen
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