Is the Dream Job Dead? Gen Z and Millennials May Actually Agree on Their Answer

Young professionals in a meeting.
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It’s no secret that Gen Z is coming into the workforce and totally upending the way boomers and millennials do things. This younger generation is simply not about to follow the status quo. From email sign-offs to workplace attire and even the right way to make a first impression, Gen Z is doing things their own way. But it’s not just workplace norms that they're revamping, it’s their entire attitude towards the idea of scoring a “dream job.” Even more surprising is the fact that millennials, who were all about the dream job circa 2015, are actually on the same page as their younger counterparts.

Unlike millennials who grew up and entered the workforce with the prospect of scoring the dream job, Gen Z is coming in with a more—dare we say—pragmatic mindset. In an article written for Fast Company, Paul Hudson, CEO of pharmaceutical company Sanofi, argues that the Croc-loving, teetotalist generation isn’t buying into the idea that you enter one company, get promoted, work your way up the ladder for years, then retire. Instead, Gen Z is all about “collecting experiences”—gathering the necessary skillset and making the connections they need from a company without feeling obligated to spend years there. Unlike millennials who entered the workforce either gunning for a specific position or trying to get experience so that they can be qualified for that particular position, Gen Z is more than willing to say, “Thank you, next” and pivot to another job or change industries altogether. In other words, Gen Z is evaluating their employers as much they’re being evaluated.

And millennials agree…?

Yes. Late to the party as they may be, Gen Y is in full support of this new era. Millennials may have entered the workforce with the goal of securing the “job a million girls would kill for” a la Andy Sachs in Devil Wears Prada, but that mindset has shifted in the last few years.

“The millennial generation grew up in a world of movies like How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days with Kate Hudson in a glamorous editorial position at a magazine, or The Devil Wears Prada, with Anne Hathaway landing a dream job in fashion, but learning it may not be her ‘dream job,’” explains SoFi career expert Ashley Stahl. “Along the way, so many millennials got stuck in jobs that weren’t a reflection of their actual talents.”

Seismic events such as the 2008 recession and the recent pandemic have been a major catalyst for both generations, with COVID-19 especially prodding them to look for positions that are way more flexible in their policies and offer more benefits than years past. “[We are now facing a] ‘post dream job market’ where Gen Z and Y are both facing and challenging the decades of ‘hustle culture,’ with the pandemic renewing the focus on friends, family and hobbies beyond the typical 9-5 (or 9-9!) hustle,” Stahl tells us.

So, what does this look like in practice?

Though it sounds like Gen Z’s way of doing things results in a lot of chaos within the workplace and an incredible amount of turnover, that’s not necessarily the case. Just because Gen Z is more nit-picky about who they work for doesn’t necessarily mean they’re adverse to putting in years in a company the way their predecessors did. The main difference is that Gen Z is making the job fit their criteria as opposed to grappling to meet a company’s criteria the way millennials were conditioned to.

“Employees want to feel like they are working for a company that aligns with their values and brings real breakthroughs to the populations it serves,” writes Hudson. “This generation has simply had enough of older and other generations discounting their lived experiences, underestimating their capabilities, and standing in the way of progress on pressing issues: climate change, crumbling economies, and global health challenges.”

That means if a company boasts about the importance of mental health, Gen Z-ers are expecting adequate mental health days in their benefits package; if a company claims to care about the environment, Gen Z-ers are expecting to see recycling and energy-saving initiatives within the office; and if a company says they care about their employees’ professional growth, the youngins expect clear tracks to achieve those goals.

Simply put, if the job doesn’t pass the vibe test, Gen Z is out.

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Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...