Baby Boomers and Generation X, Y and Z

I’m as confused as you are when it comes to all the “generation” labels.  What exactly do they mean and why would they matter in my job seeking pursuit?

Let me tell you. It pays to know your X from your Y from your Z. You should try to find out who you are dealing with before you interview.  This is easily done by looking up their LinkedIn or Facebook profile.  Once done, prepare yourself and you can aim and market yourself more effective in your upcoming interview.


Before we can market ourselves effectively, we have to learn our XYZs.  As a Job Seeker, you are a marketer and have to communicate to these very different groups.  One style, message or medium will rarely cover them all.  Here is a brief summary of these generations and their communication styles, collated from my own experiences or from content written by wise guys like Ray Beatty, a very witty Fairfax Journo.

But let’s start with a general generational overview first:

In the press or on TV, experts blithely talk about “Gen X”, “Gen Y”, and “Gen Z” as if we automatically know what they mean. In fact, no one has an exact definition but this comes close.

Let’s start with the “Builders”, the “Silent Generation” or the “War Babies”. They came from the Depression and World War II and grew up at a time when unemployment meant hunger and working in any job was essentially a job for life. In marketing terms they are seen as conservative and security-conscious. Their numbers are dwindling.

1946-64 the Baby Boomers. Brash and confident, they are the by-product of a prosperous society when youth was discovering its wings for the first time. From free love to freedom rides, they forced their social and political values onto society. Today they’re often the managers, the politicians — and your boss. From a marketing standpoint they still follow their teenage values and can be brand-switchers and argumentative know-alls.

They are doers, communicators, and achievers. But don’t expect them to retire at 65 – they figure that so long as they can think and talk, they can do the job better than anyone. Think Mick Jagger . . .

1963-80 Generation X.

Those born roughly between 1963-1980 (now in their early-30s to mid-40s).  Gen-Xers are often labelled the “slacker” generation – uncommitted and unfocused.  The “why me?” generation, they are the first generation to have experienced divorce on a large scale and are likely to have changed careers several times. While their parents grew up in the era of the Civil Rights movement (in the US), Xers are considered more likely to want to keep their heads down rather than change the world.

Brought up by a bunch of would-be hippies, they swung in the opposite direction and tend to have a more detached view of the world.

Their influences were MTV, small and broken families, AIDS and the attainment of higher levels of education compared to their parents. Sex had been liberated by the sexual revolution and as a result they are less inclined to commitment.

We see much of Gen X getting married and having children, many in their late 30s to mid 40s, far later than any generation before them. And believe it or not, there are many who have only recently left home.

What Media Experts say about Generation X

Media Technology Relationship: Gen X may have been off to a slightly later start in the technology sphere than subsequent generations, but they quickly caught up. They are trailblazers in new media, IT and the online world.  They tend to feel completely comfortable in the digital realm.

  • Engaging Gen X.  Highly individualistic and decidedly multi-channel, it’s important to give Gen X people choices and talk to them as peers. Gen Xers want what they want, when they want it, so they’re good candidates for such concepts as new ideas, walls and apps.  They are also approaching their prime earning years representing a demographic that job seekers in their function as self-marketers don’t want to miss.  Developing a digital strategy for Gen X is essential.  As products of the MTV age, Gen X communicates visually as well as verbally, and they mark the beginning of modern generations with shorter attention spans.  Overall, effectively engaging with this generation requires job seekers to develop a strategy that incorporates multiple ideas, including social channels, with genuine, relevant concepts, content and messaging. This group tends to like what their peers like and needs to be popular.

1981-97 Generation Y.

Those born between 1981 and 1994 are commonly derided as lazy, debt-ridden and programmed for instant gratification. They are portrayed as demanding and unrealistic in their career aspirations. Now, we can add “mobile and internet-addicted” and “lonely” to the list.

These are today’s teens, twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings. Among them is a recklessness that is evidenced by Kings Cross and the 2am lock-out troubles.

If you think they come from another planet, you’re right. Computers were mother’s milk, the internet exploded onto the world, while mobile phones and SMS messaging appeared.  Mobile apps can now pull them into temporary groups.  Just a few text messages, Facebook updates or Twitter messages can cause a rave party of thousands to mushroom – or a riot to ignite.  On the other hand, the same messages and updates sparked ‘The Arab Spring’.

It can also cause viral marketing to blaze around the world in hours.  Look at the latest GetUp campaigns – built on the power of internet communications and small on-line donations by tens of thousands.

Living at home or more often in rented rather than owned property, Gen Yers get to keep any money they make and spend it on what they want.  In any case the housing market is so tight that what’s the point of even looking?  The empty-nest syndrome is starting to dwindle.

What Media Experts say about Generation Y

  • Media Technology Relationship. The “millennial” generation is very different from Gen X. They feel more like a generation with a clear identity and they have high expectations.  Gen Y schedules everything and experiences enormous academic pressures.  This is also the first generation that grew up in a digital environment, never knowing a world without computers in their everyday lives.  They obtain much of their information and most of their socialization from the Internet.  Avoid making statements to them that you cannot back up.  They Google faster than you can count to 3.  Gen Y lives in a 24/7 world that expects fast and immediate processing.  Similar to the Boomer generation, Gen Y feels special and expects the world to treat them that way.  They believe they can do anything and be anything. Their optimism overflows.  Following on the footsteps of Gen X, Gen Y wants to be constantly connected with family, friends and colleagues, regardless of physical location.  They are very selective about whom they listen to.  Gen Yers get most of their information from each other rather than from the media.  This is the generation that texts, IMs and watches one another on YouTube, quite possibly all at the same time.  Gen Y is also a large generation, and when they consume, they consume in high volumes.  Gen Y spent the most money on books last year, surpassing Boomers for the first time and accounting for 30% of all book expenditures.  A significant 43% of their book purchases went to online channels.  This group has all the digital devices, and they use them though many still appreciate print.
  • Engaging Gen Y. This can be tricky if you are a job seeker because they don’t want to be talked to, but rather expect you to listen to them.  Gen Y wants you to appreciate them for what they are, and they demand authenticity in their brands.  According to Bea Fields, author of “Marketing to Gen Y: What you can’t afford not to know” for StartupNation, a website focused on entrepreneurs, you must understand the four areas Gen Y considers before purchasing anything, including media: low cost, good quality, quick service and an “experience”.  If you talk to them, take note that just because Gen Y embraces digital channels for many personal communications doesn’t mean that they want to receive all solutions through those channels.  Understanding the subtle aspects of Gen Y is part of the reason brands such as Apple and Red Bull have been so successful with Gen Y.  Whatever communication you send them as a job seeker, whether in electronic or direct mail format, it better be relevant. Many authorities also agree that you need to meet them and experience their culture if you want to win their respect.

Generation Z

…our rug-rats born since 1998.  They are the first full generation to never have experienced the pre-internet world.  Accordingly, they are already technology-focused. The “i”(Pad, Pod, Mac, Phone etc) generation.

They have entered a world of information overload and are bombarded day and night. You’d better believe that their filters are hepa-fine, allowing only very well-targeted messages to pass through.

Family is a loose definition to them – many of their school friends come from single or same-sex families. Their parents are older and comfortably affluent, but with big financial commitments.

Gen Z has more time to study consumerism than their parents, so their influence in buying decisions is powerful.

The family works as a unit and relates on an adult level. It’s like no one has time or space for a childhood.