An Unconventional Guide to Hiring an Unconventional Generation

Courtesy of Joe McCann, NodeSource

Innovation is often a product of great teams. Great teams are a product of smart hiring. And hiring means working with Millennials, who, by 2020, will comprise half of America’s workforce. However, keeping Millennials engaged and passionate about our careers with a certain company can be challenging. Known as the “job-hopping generation,” research shows that 60% of us are willing to move on after one year, and a meager 29% actually find work engaging.

Don’t get the wrong impression. While Millennials are more likely to pursue other opportunities, we are also more likely to forgo PTO or become a “work martyr” to ensure success of an enterprise. A new study published in the Journal of Business Psychology disproves the notion that Millennials have a weaker work ethic than other generations. We are a generation motivated by more than a paycheck and time off. The key is the ability to tap into that motivation and turn it into a plan for personal and professional success.

In my search for innovative professionals tackling this issue, I had the opportunity to chat with Joe McCann, the CEO and Founder of NodeSource, Inc., creators of enterprise solutions that support the open source Node.js project for clients such as PayPal, Fitbit, Mastercard and NASA. With his tattoos and previous stints as a Manhattan DJ and Wall Street trader, McCann is not your average computer geek. While McCann isn’t part of Gen-Y, he seems to know how to engage them.

NodeSource has no central office, and that’s because McCann wanted a company that could hire employees who could work virtually anywhere in the world.

“When I was consulting on rapid prototyping for U.S.-based companies like GE and VMWare, I lived in Airbnb housing in Amsterdam and Berlin for nearly a year,” he said. “That showed me the advantages of a distributed-by-design workforce.”

Ideas like this made me think McCann may have cracked the code in helping employers and leaders tap into the ability and drive Millennials possess. I spoke to the San Francisco-based entrepreneur to learn his tips on engaging and retaining the best Millennial talent. For McCann, it’s about getting to know his employees, and offering meaningful incentives. Here are five of his suggestions.

Don’t Put Stock in Résumés

Consider a résumé a conversation starter. It’s counterintuitive, but McCann points out that in the tech world, résumés, CVs, and even college degrees don’t carry much weight. “Many great programmers never went to college,” he says. Others, like McCann and Steward Butterfield, CEO of Slack, bypassed formal computer science degrees for unusual majors.

“I look for an interest in traveling,” says McCann. “Ask candidates if they have a passport. Ask if they’ve traveled or what places are on their wish list — and why?“ By asking this, McCann is seeking people with problem-solving skills. “Folks who stay in the same environment will have an inherently myopic perspective,” he explained.

Find Their Spark

How do you find highly motivated, enthusiastic people? One clue is to look for candidates who take classes without credit. “You’re looking for curiosity,” says McCann. “Ask if they’ve ever taken a class purely to learn a new skill. Salsa dancing or perhaps a new language?”

Also, ask about a candidate’s “irrelevant” job history. When McCann was 15, he worked double-shifts as a pizza cook at a Mississippi restaurant. “It taught me a lot about hard work,” he says. Ever since, McCann asks potential employees, “What’s the most interesting job not listed on your resumé?”

Envision the Team

Recently the Harvard Business Review found that collaborative activities comprise 50% of all work. To click, good teams must communicate, respect diverse opinions, and navigate unwritten rules about group norms. Millennials crave a collaborative culture at work and thrive on connecting with colleagues to generate exciting ideas.

“At NodeSource,” said McCann, “we look for candidates who show a sincere desire to help others.” During a job interview, this trait is best revealed in volunteer activities or in the candidate’s activities outside of work. “Almost all of our engineers, for example, run local workshops, participate in ‘Girls Who Code’ chapters, speak at conferences or organize meet-ups,” says McCann.

Rethink the Perks

Research shows that, as Millennials, we see ourselves as creators as much as consumers. We prefer life experiences over material things because memorable experiences last longer and create a more meaningful story.

That’s why NodeSource gives their employees an annual Airbnb travel allowance. “We encourage cross-pollination between teams in various locations,” he says. The company has also flown employees to programmer-friendly destinations for hackathons. “This type of perk is perfect for our business.”

Embrace Diversity

Speed is everything in tech which is why McCann urges hiring managers to embrace diversity and inclusion. “This doesn’t slow things down,” he explained. “It makes things more efficient.”

McCann added, “Diversity trumps ability. The most capable, homogenous group is simply not going to uncover as many ground-breaking results as a diverse team which brings in diverse perspectives.”

For many business leaders, McCann’s ideas arrive at a crucial moment — all kinds of conventional wisdom are now being upended. These guidelines might help companies create better chemistry with Millennials and harness their work ethic into a relationship that benefits employer and employee.

Originally published at on May 19, 2017.