How Generation Z Preferences Affect Career Decisions and Expectations

Career Advice
02 April 2020 | Career Advice | Guest Author

Generation Z, the generation born after Millennials, includes individuals who were born between 1996 and 2004. Some say the generation actually extends to those born before 2012. This age group now populates the newest cohort of college students and young professionals who will shape the future of both higher education and the workforce based on their experiences and how those experiences have shaped them.

If you are in college or university, you might be part of this group or work closely with members of Generation Z. Knowing and understanding the preferences of Generation Z will inevitably help you grasp and navigate your own career choices or better communicate with the members of Generation Z who you work with or manage down the line.

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), in partnership with Hanover Research, has published the 2018 Career Interest Survey, which outlines the forces and circumstances that have shaped Generation Z as a whole. The survey also demonstrates which careers individuals within Generation Z have been most drawn to pursue and how this generation approaches career decision making.

Forces Shaping Generation Z

First, to better illustrate where specific Gen Z career decisions are coming from, the survey describes the outside forces that have influenced Generation Z’s preferences. These forces stem from the atmosphere in which Gen Z individuals have grown up, including political circumstances, technology, and the economy.


Since Generation Z grew up with devices in hand and the ability to almost instantly reach anyone else in the world through the Internet and social media, this generation operates based on the ability to connect, with both people and information.

This means that Generation Z is part of a much more globalized world with knowledge of more than their own cultures and belief systems. They have been able to learn about more types of people and ideas than previous generations, likely from the comfort of their own homes.

The ability to gain information at the touch of a button or even through voice command has also created a generation with a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of how to easily obtain knowledge. At the same time, this generation has not had to work as hard to gather information and thus might get more easily frustrated when more difficult solutions take time to achieve.

Economic Insecurity

According to the survey, this generation tends to note a fear of economic insecurity, due to the 2008 economic recession. These individuals may have older siblings or friends who are part of the Millennial generation and have had a difficult time gaining lucrative employment or paying off high student loan debt.

Perhaps members of Generation Z also watched their parents struggle through the recession and thus worry about their own ability to secure a stable income.

This fear is bound to affect Gen Z’s career decision making, as well as what they expect from their current or future employers.


Of course, technology plays a major role in the lives of Generation Z. This generation is the first to have grown up with access to technology at all times. In fact, many members of this generation do not remember what it was like before people could access the Internet from a smartphone. 

Though members of older generations have criticized this aspect of Generation Z, early access to and understanding of technology has also shaped a generation more capable than ever of making further technological advances.

This helps to explain the preference Generation Z individuals have toward STEM-related fields and careers that interact more closely with technology.


With access to technology also comes a thirst for opportunity. 

Members of Generation Z have grown up seeing the possibilities of life, both in work and in recreation. They have been shown to gravitate toward experiences like study abroad and are more likely to ask for work/life balance from their employers. In fact, 62% of survey respondents expressed interest in gaining international experiences as part of their education.

For better or for worse, Generation Z individuals crave upward mobility in their careers while also hoping for a fulfilling life outside of work.

Education and Career Trends

As a result of the forces working on Generation Z, it seems this generation is interested in gaining a high level of education and working in lucrative fields. 

The survey results suggest, however, that unlike the Millennial generation, Gen Z individuals are not as worried about simply attending the best college. Instead, they are more concerned with getting the right degree that will lead to a successful and fulfilling career.

Highly Educated

According to the survey, 76% of participants expected to not only seek higher education but also to attend graduate school. This points to a trend of high achievement in education and a desire to also achieve in the workplace.

Leaning Toward STEM and Business

The survey also shows that most respondents were interested in pursuing careers in medicine/health, the sciences (including biology/biotechnology), and business. About 15% of respondents, however, did cite a hope to work in the arts.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Based on the forces working upon Generation Z and the preferences individuals have expressed as a result, Generation Z displays some strengths and some weaknesses as a group when it comes to career decision-making and placement.

Strengths: High-Achieving, Realistic, Civic-Minded, Tech-Savvy

Since Generation Z is a group with clear goals, they are likely to be high-achieving and thus an asset to the workforce. This group seems to understand the need to work hard toward a realistic goal. 

Unlike many Millennials, though, individuals within Generation Z did not grow up expecting to choose any career path and succeed on hard work alone. In addition, they saw the high cost of college and, instead of accruing student loan debt, are more interested in finding more affordable ways to prepare for a successful career.

In addition, with globalization and access to more political information around the world, members of Generation Z show a tendency to be civic-minded and more politically active than groups of young people who have come before them. They will be well-positioned to focus on justice and equality in the workplace and hopefully continue to fight for that equity in their positions and companies.

Finally, Generation Z tends to be such a tech-savvy generation that they are bound to be assets in any work environment. They will continue to advance technology and be able to help their employers and coworkers navigate an increasingly tech-based world.

Weaknesses: High Expectations, Fewer Soft Skills

At the same time, members of Generation Z should be aware of some weaknesses they might possess. For example, since they are such high achievers and crave opportunity, many members of Generation Z have high expectations for upward mobility in their careers that their employers might not be able to fulfil.

With such a focus on work/life balance and great work benefits, members of Generation Z might also be prone to leaving jobs frequently to find better benefits and work/life balance, thus becoming less trustworthy to employers.

Finally, since Generation Z grew up with technology at their fingertips, some members might not have the same level of soft skills required to work with people face-to-face. If you are a member of Generation Z, work on strengthening in-person communication and public speaking skills if you feel you might be lacking those skills.

Promising Future

Overall, the 2018 Career Interest Survey reveals a generation bound to create a promising future, especially in the wake of global uncertainty. The power to connect through the Internet and social media is proving to be beneficial as the world faces the threat of a damaging pandemic. 

In addition, Generation Z’s experience with diversity, desire to travel, and trend toward political activism will hopefully lead the world to a more connected, loving, and collaborative future in which fewer people distrust each other because of their differences and instead come together in times of trouble based on all the similarities that connect humanity.



Author Bio

Chris is a content writing and marketing specialist for the National Society of High School Scholars (more simply known as “NSHSS”), an academic honor society committed to supporting young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow.

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