After a frustrating year of trying to find and place job candidates amid the turbulence of the Great Resignation, recruiters and hiring managers say they are burned out — and some of them point to the over-the-top demands and fickleness of young applicants as a key source of tension.

These job seekers are contributing to a heavy burden: Nearly a third of recruiters said they experience extreme stress on a weekly basis because of their work, according to a December survey by human-resources analytics firm Veris Insights. The research found that 77% of high-ranking recruiters are open to changing jobs, along with 65% of HR professionals — a figure that rose 17 percentage points from September to November last year. 

“Our job has never been harder,” says Angie Bergner, vice president at Veris. “We’re seeing so much turnover in recruiting, and recruiters leaving the industry. I’ve aged a solid 10 years in the past three years.”

Bold requirements

Hirers across industries describe a recurring scenario: A candidate in their 20s or early 30s applies for a position and requests compensation and benefits incommensurate with experience.

“It’s a recent college graduate asking for $90,000 to start, who doesn’t want to go into an office and is asking for unlimited paid time off,” Bergner said.

It’s not just that their requirements are bold. Recruiters are finding younger millennials and Generation Z candidates to be prone to backpedaling.

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“All of a sudden they’re like, ‘I didn’t realize the amount of stress this job might bring, so I actually need more days off, or an additional amount of money,'” says Ariel Schur, chief executive officer of ABS Staffing Solutions, which places applicants in industries including finance, media and technology. “And I say, ‘You told us a number, and we exceeded that number.'”

That indecisiveness can turn into sudden departures, with the candidates accepting an offer for a day or a week and then disappearing. Such moves have consequences for recruiters, who are typically not paid if someone they placed does not begin a job. (Many recruiters will find a replacement if a new hire quits early on.)

Young applicants can also add to hiring professionals’ workload by requesting large amounts of information for jobs that are ultimately declined.

“They want to know exact inclusion and pay transparency policies, and companies are a little bit shell shocked, because those questions weren’t asked five years ago,” Bergner said.

Age has long been a primary determinant of job tenure, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning recruiters tend to have more interactions with young applicants. And their demands can create acute strain, especially at a time when job seekers of all ages are often weighing four to six job offers, up from one or two before the pandemic — a dynamic that makes recruiters busier.

Of course, plenty of job candidates in their 20s get through the application and negotiation process without drama. But hiring managers, HR consultants and executives say in interviews that they perceive young candidates to be less reliable than more experienced ones.

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Rich Sootkoos, CEO of technology staffing firm Riverstreamz, says that he often doesn’t believe younger applicants seeking one- to two-year positions, especially if their resumes show a string of shorter jobs.

“I’ll say, ‘Geez, I really don’t want to put you on this 12-month project, because frankly, I don’t know what you’re going to do,'” he said.

He has found that applicants in their 20s are particularly likely to do a U-turn on contract work, versus full-time employment, and thus often prefers experienced candidates. “Younger people wake up and decide that they don’t want to do it,” he said.

‘Losing faith’

Schur says that she has recently caught young applicants being blatantly untruthful. “I just had a recruiter say, ‘I don’t believe that she actually has these other offers,'” says Schur, referring to a candidate claiming to have a competing offer.

Even when a second offer is legitimate, recruiters say that younger applicants have been leveraging them in frustrating ways. Sometimes, it’s deployed at an unexpected point in the process, such as after having already accepted an earlier offer.

In other cases, applicants use an intensive recruiting process for one job only as leverage to snare a different one. For overworked hirers, these scenarios are demoralizing. “My recruiters are losing faith in humanity,” says Schur.

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This exasperation with younger applicants may be a boon for their more experienced counterparts. Employers previously worried that older workers would cost more and be out of sync with the latest technologies. “Now it’s, ‘Oh, they’re easy and they have knowledge,'” Schur said.

Demand for seasoned workers is high, said Jody Greenstone Miller, co-CEO of project-based employment recruiter Business Talent Group, a subsidiary of Heidrick & Struggles. Federal law prohibits age-based employment discrimination of people over age 40, though some state and local laws do protect younger workers. Hiring based on experience is both legal and commonplace.

Not everyone agrees the problem is generational. “Young candidates get a bad rap,” says Laurie Chamberlin, head of recruitment solutions for North America at recruiting firm LHH. “Some of these workers are the most committed employees, who will work until the ends of the earth — if you tap into what motivates them.”

Rather, she sees a disconnect between employers’ offerings and what young candidates want.

“A lot of folks coming out of school already have great ideas that they want to capitalize on, but they want business experience first,” Chamberlin said. “And some employers want them to work there for a decade after a 7-step hiring process and a drug screen. That’s a bit out of touch, frankly.”

Recruiters might find some relief, Bergner said, if workplaces offer the most flexible office and vacation arrangements that are reasonable for the field.

“If an organization doesn’t have the internal infrastructure to retain them, then they’re going to leave in six months,” Bergner said. “And then the recruiter has to do it all over again.”