Maybe Gen Y Isn't So Different After All?

Brazen Careerist released a list of the top 50 companies for Gen Y. I was initially excited to see if there was a shake up or perhaps some cool newer companies who were doing some really innovative things with their employment brand, benefits and the like. Take a look at this mindblowing list though. Count me as just a tad disappointed with the top ten:

  1. NBC Universal, Inc.
  2. PepsiCo Inc.
  3. Nestlé USA, Inc.
  4. Google, Inc.
  5. Citigroup, Inc.
  6. Procter & Gamble Co.
  7. Johnson & Johnson
  8. Grant Thornton LLP
  9. AECOM Corporation
  10. Merrill Lynch & Co, Inc.

Wow, these came out of nowhere, right? With the exception of Google, any of Gen Y’s parents could have been employed at any one of these places 20 years ago (and they might have made the top lists back then with the exception of AECOM). Why did this list resemble a lot of other lists of “top companies”? When I asked PayScale (who provided and analyzed data for Brazen Careerist) about the methodology, here’s what Dr. Al Lee, Director of Quantitative Analysis had to say:

We arrived at the methodology in consultation between Penelope Trunk/Brazen Careerist and the compensation/demographics experts at PayScale.

Our goal was to identify large companies that may be attractive to Gen Y job seekers who are college graduates.

Even though there are many excellent small companies, we focused on large companies (ones that employ more than ~2,500 bachelors graduates) because these are companies where many Gen Y workers may eventually find jobs.

The criteria were derived based on Penelope Trunks research and assessments into what Gen Y is looking for

Those criteria were: percentage of Gen Y employees, total cash compensation of those Gen Y’ers, gender balance and green score. When you leave out any company under 2,500 employees, you basically end up compiling a list of places that have the most Gen Y’ers with some very arbitrary quantitative criteria (Penelope Trunk’s spirited defense aside) to try to justify a ranking system.

In analyzing the results, Dr. Lee states, “Not all large companies in a industry are present [which] is telling. That Google and Yahoo! make the list, and Oracle and Microsoft do not, points out significant differences in corporate culture that Gen Y job seekers should be aware of.”

But is it really a corporate culture issue or is it something completely different? Let’s identify some alternative theories:

  • A high percentage of Gen Y’ers could indicate a high turnover environment or an environment that is seeing senior leadership take retirement. They could also be growth with companies hiring Gen Y’ers into a lower talent pool. Either one isn’t necessarily a cultural boon for Gen Y.
  • High compensation of Gen Y’ers could be in response to a crappy work environment. Take these big accounting and analyst firms that pay a good wage but burn their new employees out in a couple of years with 70 hour weeks. The high compensation keeps candidate quality higher out of college while not having to change their culture.
  • Gender balance on a macro scale means little to the equality or flexibility of environment. Looking at women in leadership roles (who are both indicators and often spur equality where it matters) in the company would give a closer estimation at least.
  • I’ve talked with skepticism about green business and I have to believe that this is more of the same. Being green and having a good green score is more marketing than moral at this point. Especially when you are looking at a company like P&G that talks a good game but still spews tons of toxic pollutants into our air every single day.

The most surprising thing to me is that this is such an old school and broken way of evaluating companies and their value to their potential employees. What I fear and speculate happened is that Brazen Careerist asked PayScale what criteria they have measured in the past and limited themselves to that criteria for any internal analysis. If one were to think about the best data to use to evaluate the best fit for Gen Y, would they come up with these four? I just have a hard time believing that.

In short, what does this list of companies mean for Gen Y’ers? Either we in Gen Y are closer to having the same wants as every other generation (I’ve found these companies on other top lists across the entire workforce) or it is completely wrong and doesn’t mean anything. Neither one of these outcomes has to be what Brazen Careerist wanted.

Note: I am a member of Brazen Careerist and have been featured on PayScale’s blog.


  1. The discussion on the Brazeen Careerist calls out many of the same issues with the study you stated below. Personally, I am most disappointed in the automatic exclusion of companies with less than 2,000 employees with bachelor’s degrees (or higher). While I understand the difficulty in quantifying the great things smaller business are doing in terms of employing members of generation Y – this exclusion removes many of the innovators in attracting, retaining, and promoting generation Y employees.

    How do we compare Brazen’s list to that of BusinessWeek in identifying the top 50 places to launch a career? Or, is that comparison even relevant? BW has used (according to their website) a three prong approach to evaluating such organizations including surverys of the nations career-services directors. While only 23% responded – approx. 60 individuals. This “on the ground” research proves, IMHO, much more effective then the almost purely analytical methods used by Brazen. However, to get a better prospective an even larger study should be conducted with surveys of career services directors, graduating students, and current gen Y employees. I venture to believe that the results would differ greatly from the list posted by Brazen.

  2. I knew the list was a fraud when the number one company was NBC/Universal, which was a load of crap, unless every young person applied for Real Housewives or something.

    Anyway, the big mistake they made was companies over 2000 employees are qualified. Do Brazen believe bigger is better for us? Also, I’ve been trying to turn “green” for a while, but the question about your organization going green is a slap in a face for Gen Yers that you must be required to go green to keep up with our generation.

    I think the point for Brazen’s ranking is money and tell Gen Y that if you go to these companies, you will get a big salary. To be honest, is it worth it? No…but someone in our generation will jump at the chance.

  3. Old school. We’ve both used that phrase, today. My concern is that there isn’t enough transparency behind the methodology. When I read Glamor and they recommend the top 10 salons in NYC, I know someone has been paid at some point. Has there been any advertising arrnagement in the past, present or future with any of these companies? Was the list compiled as an attempt to generate interest in those companies via Brazen and to lure future business? I just don’t know — but the list seems like something out of Forbes 1999. Very Gen X, actually.

  4. Hey Lance,

    I think you bring up some great points here. The most controversial criteria that Brazen/PayScale used IMO is the 50% gender balance. I see the reasoning behind it, but what Penelope explained on her blog is also the reasoning of a Gen X’er, not a Gen Y’er. Gen Y women don’t blink over discrimination in the workplace, because at our level it’s just not there. It could be something interesting to look at in the future when more of our generation is having kids, but I don’t feel our generation is quite there yet.

    I think you are right that looking at senior positions for women is a better measure for this type of study. I also think that the % of women who are senior leaders should be compared to the total # of women at the company to deal with the tech. discrepancies (which are actually terrible, terrible – only 10% of computer science majors nationwide are women, for example).

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts on this topic as usual :).

  5. I’m so glad you wrote this! I missed that top 50 list, but now that I hear how the research was conducted, I don’t even think it’s worth looking at.

    Personally, I know a lot of my friends are looking to work at a smaller company, and excluding companies that are too small automatically eliminates a large chunk of the companies Gen Y wants to work with. Why not ask Gen Y how we would rank companies? Ask us what criteria matter most to us?

    You definitely said it best, this is applying old constructs to a new generation.

  6. I didn’t give that list much more than a passing glance, for the same reason I don’t give any of those types of lists any of my energy. They’re all flawed in some way, have a bias that I may or may not agree with, and overall just don’t have any real relevance. Are those companies hiring? Do they do anything in my field? Do they have an office located near me (or a place I’d be willing to relocate to)? All of those questions can’t be answered in a list, but on a personal level.

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