Self-Reliant Gen Zers Take the Road Less Traveled

Gen Zers are constantly learning.   But not necessarily by earning the traditional college degree.  Through the pandemic years, college enrollments actually dropped 6.6%.  That’s 1,025,600 students!  Associate degrees fell by 6.2%.  But that doesn’t mean Gen Zs aren’t motivated to learn.  A recent study showed 56% of Gen Z teens prefer skills-based jobs in fields like STEM.  As tech-savvy digital whiz kids, they use hacks like short-term training programs and free, easy, and accessible online resources like MOOCS and Kahn Academy to help give them a head start in the job market.  But first, they need to get hired!

Understandably, hiring managers might be leery of hiring people with holes in their knowledge base and no evidence of achievement to back them up.  But even many college grads lack real work experience.   And with majors like psychology, women’s studies, and English being among the top degrees, traditionally educated candidates might not be as valuable as the kid who has been coding since he was five! 

So who are these Gen Zers who traveled a different road, didn’t earn a degree, but are intelligent, self-taught, and talented?  How do you find and hire them? 

Finding talented outliers

In this Information Age, where education is free from YouTube and online courses, it doesn’t make sense for many young people to put their financial futures in bondage over a degree.  However, Gen Z knows they must have skills, so they often start working at entry-level positions where initiative and curiosity drive them to learn as they go. 

For example, Hannah started working at a filing job in a law office right after high school graduation.  Though numbers weren’t her forte in high school, her job entailed entering billings into the financial system.  Five years later, she oversees the firm’s billing and payroll office.  Hannah learned online and on the job.  Her company periodically paid for online coursework to fill in her knowledge gaps.  Today, she is a valued manager, making a six-figure salary.  Her experience is typical of motivated young people in dozens of fields like admin, real estate, coding, or paralegal, all suited to self-learning and enhanced by job experience or certificate programs. 

So how do you find talented young people with the potential to scale rapidly into productivity?

Clearly, aptitude-based evaluations are the right approach for self-taught candidates!  Forego interview questions about degrees and years of experience.  Instead, adopt a more relational approach to discover a young person’s ability to learn and gain experience.  They should be able to tell a story about problem-solving and critical thinking and show how they mastered a particular skill, even if it is not directly related to the position.  Then, pair the candidate with an employee who can evaluate their skills and aptitude and give them an idea of what the job entails.

How to write a job ad Gen Z will notice

Since Gen Z wants information with a touch of a finger, you’ll need to be thorough with your job ads.  So how to target your employment ads to young, talented, self-taught job seekers?  

  • First, ensure your company’s digital presence is attractive to Gen Z.  Your website should be optimized for mobile use, with user-friendly job applications and multiple social media channels like Snapchat and Instagram.  In addition, graphics should show evidence of the diversity that Gen Z looks for.
  • Gen Zs also want meaningful work.  So provide a job description with a CSR focus, and share how their contribution and your products or services will help communities. 
  • Emphasize transferable skills, not work experience
  • Ask for a description of the candidate’s unique abilities and how those will contribute to the company’s culture and success.  Emphasize that you seek initiative and willingness to learn, not necessarily a formal degree.
  • Gen Z wants to know upfront what’s in it for them.  Therefore, write how your organization’s culture is unique, its commitment to social concerns, where and how people collaborate, work-life balance, your training, and professional development benefits, and how the company invests in employee careers.

Make interviews fun, relaxed, and representative of your culture.  Ask about a candidate’s learning journey and look for evidence of self-taught skills, such as a website or testimonials.  Remember that those without college experience may lack confidence and present an unclear picture of their futures.  They may be anxious during the interview, but this generation has been through a great deal of instability over the past two years.  Still, for the right candidate, this is your chance to invest in and develop the next generation of leaders.  There may be some trial and error, but in the end, there isn’t a higher calling than for businesses to engage in developing the potential of our future workforce. 


Searching for talented non-graduates can be challenging, which is why you should give the experts at Partnership Employment a call.  Our approach to talent acquisition is unique, accessible, and relationship-based, a process that gets the best results with both degreed and non-degreed candidates.  First, we do all the heavy lifting, evaluation, screening, and interviewing.  Then, all that is left to do is to decide which perfect candidate will help take your company to the next level!