Harry Burnett Reese (file away that name for trivia night at your local watering hole) struck gold when he combined milk chocolate and peanut butter to create one of the world’s most popular snack foods - the peanut butter cup. The original confectionary disruptor, H.B. knew some things just go together.

As it turns out, the same holds true for startups and millennials. While no group is entirely homogeneous, millennials share a host of common traits that seem tailor-made for life at a startup. So what makes millennials and startups a match made in heaven, and how can you leverage this in your recruiting efforts? We sifted through the data and found it all comes down to professional growth and cultural fit.



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Most startups lack the financial ammunition to match the salaries and benefits offered by their more established competitors, but when it comes to millennial candidates, this may not be such a bad thing. Millennials are still very much interested in finding an employer that will benefit them, but what they see as a benefit has less to do with cash and more to do with opportunity.  

Opportunities to learn and grow fast.

Recent college graduates will hold an average of four jobs by the time they turn 32 years old, and as individuals who remain at the same job for more than 24 months make less than their job-hopping counterparts, we can’t say we blame them. Given the new realities of employment tenure, millennials are looking for positions that will help them grow as fast as possible, and startups provide just that. Whether it’s a true dedication to growth or simply a lack of resources requiring employees to wear many hats, startup life provides employees with myriad opportunities to learn and advance.



Opportunities to have an impact.

Personal growth is important, but millennials are also looking for opportunities to put their newfound knowledge to good use. They want to have an impact at work, and once again, startups have an advantage over their larger competitors in this arena. Collectively, the Fortune 500 employs roughly 27 million Americans or 17% of the nation’s workforce. While this group is vital to the country’s economic health, its members employ an average of 54,000 people per company. Not exactly the sort of environment that allows an employee to stand out. With smaller teams and less bureaucratic red tape, startups allow employees to be active participants in all aspects of the business.

Opportunities to innovate.

Millennials may be unlike their predecessors in many ways, but they still share some common goals. Developing a resume that showcases an exciting and marketable body of work will always be one of them. Whether they’re a developer, marketer, sales rep or data wonk, any ambitious candidate will be looking to add innovative experience to their resume, and spending time with a startup is one of the best ways to accomplish this. Startups are naturally at the leading edge of innovation, developing products and services that solve unique challenges or disrupt existing industries. Short of a position with one of Silicon Valley’s established giants, startups represent the best avenue for a millennial candidate to contribute to innovative work in a meaningful way.   



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It’s more than a fast track to professional growth that can attract millennials to the startup life. Company culture is a key influencer for modern job seekers, and once again, startups have several advantages.

Work/life balance

Job seekers of yesteryear may have felt defined by their careers, but those days are long gone. Millennials are willing to work just as hard as their Gen X and Baby Boomer forebears, but they’re demanding a healthy work/life balance in return. Working nights and weekends just to earn a raise or promotion doesn’t make sense to them. In fact, even the standard 9 - 5 seems abnormal to many, as 45% of millennials report a willingness to accept a lower salary in exchange for workplace flexibility.

It isn’t that startups are inherently better at providing this balance. In fact, in some ways, they’re worse. Startups are renowned for long hours and tight deadlines. But startups are more cognizant of the issue simply because they have to be. If Google or Apple lose one developer to burnout, an army of candidates are ready and willing to take their place. If a young startup with a team of 10 loses a developer, however, it could spell disaster. It behooves startups to take a proactive approach to work/life balance, which is exactly what millennial candidates are looking for.

Purposeful work.

In Deloitte’s Millennial Survey, 87% of respondents felt “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” In other words, it’s no longer enough for employers to create profitable and stable environments for their employees. Potential candidates expect them to provide meaningful work that benefits the world at large, which puts the onus on the employer (i.e., you) to tell a compelling story and share the overarching vision of the company. So far, startups are winning the mission-over-money battle.

Casper, for example, positions itself as more than a mattress manufacturer. It’s dedicated to leading the conversation about the importance of sleep and helping its customers lead healthier lives. Similarly, Airbnb doesn’t pitch itself as a provider of short-term accommodations. It’s a community of hosts helping travelers discover and experience new places. Is it more marketing than recruiting? In some cases, sure. But it’s what candidates are looking for, and something startups are doing a better job of than their corporate brethren.


Millennials aren’t the finicky, indecisive bunch they’re so often portrayed as in the media. In fact, when it comes to finding a job, millennials know exactly what they’re looking for. Their expectations just don’t align with recruiting tactics of the past. Keep these traits in mind the next time you kick off a hiring initiative, and you can position your startup as the place to be for millennials in your market. 

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