THE ECONOMIST: For Gen-Z job-seekers, TikTok is the new LinkedIn

The Economist
A growing number of Gen Zers are turning to TikTok in search of advice that will help them climb the career ladder. 
A growing number of Gen Zers are turning to TikTok in search of advice that will help them climb the career ladder.  Credit: The Nightly

Young job-seekers are different from their elders.

They expect employers to be cuddlier, more forgiving and more generous with perks and pay cheques.

The way they go about hunting for work is also distinct.

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Rather than relying on family and friends, a growing number of Americans are turning to TikTok in search of advice that will help them climb those all-important first steps up the career ladder.

Scrolling through their feeds on the short-video app they might come across a creator called Lauren Spearman.

Ms Spearman uploads videos about “red-flag job postings” and “unreasonable job applications”.

Or they might find Kennie Bukky, who shares her “salary journey” and hot tips for pay negotiations.

If they scroll down further, sooner or later they are likely to happen upon Brittany Peatsch.

She went viral after posting a video account of her own experience being laid off from Cloudflare, a software company, and now creates videos offering advice to others suffering through similar ordeals.

Videos like these, with the hashtag CareerTok, have had over 2bn views on the app.

Their creators are a diverse bunch: people old enough to be former chief executives, 30-somethings recounting their own early career mistakes, the youngsters themselves.

Many of those viewing the clips belong, like your guest columnist, to Generation Z.

Given that this cohort, born between 1997 and 2012, will make up 27 per cent of the workforce in the OECD club of mostly rich countries by 2025, social-media career counsel is likely only to grow in prominence.

One thing the success of career-related content on TikTok makes clear as day is that Gen-Zers desire transparency in the workplace.

“I love that people are recording their lay-offs because it is exposing the people who are doing terrible lay-offs,” says Chris Williams, formerly in charge of human resources at Microsoft, a software giant, who is now a career adviser — and a content creator himself.

Ms Spearman started posting videos on TikTok to document the difficulties she was having job-hunting.

“There was a lack of salary transparency, I was set unreasonable tasks, I wasn’t getting any feedback,” she recalls.

“In some instances, it was complete ghosting.”

Ms Spearman’s videos are designed primarily to encourage companies to do better.

A surprising number respond — probably a reflection of the power of TikTok, but also a sign of workers’ expectations.

After she posted a “red flag role” clip about Never Fully Dressed, the clothing firm replied to her and the job listing was updated to reflect her criticism.

In the aftermath of Ms Peatsch’s viral lay-off video, Cloudflare’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, tweeted on X that the video was painful to watch.

He added that the company was determined not to make similar mistakes in the future.

Businesses have hired Ms Spearman to work on marketing campaigns.

CareerTok stardom can, it seems, lead to a career beyond social media.

CareerTok gives the creators and viewers a sense of solidarity. More important, its roaring success and billions of views also give them strength in numbers.

Ms Bukky, a black woman, hopes that her thoughts and experiences regarding pay negotiations make her viewers more confident in their own professional lives.

TikTokers are, she says, forcing employers to ask themselves, “are we paying our employees properly and are we treating them fairly?”

CareerTok videos do not always get the same positive reception.

Lay-off clips in particular have faced a backlash from certain quarters. Even if they do not admit to it, many older executives doubtless find them to be an expression of Gen-Z entitlement.

On X, Candace Owens, a prominent right-wing commentator, called Ms Peatsch’s Cloudflare video “young and stupid”.

A bigger worry than grumpy managers and hectoring conservatives is potential legal liability.

David Harmon, an employment lawyer, cautions creators to “be mindful”.

It is all too easy to post something that runs afoul of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, securities laws or trade secrets, he says — valuable career advice in itself.

Neither the wrath of old fogeys nor fear of legal consequences is likely to stop venues like CareerTok becoming the site of a workplace struggle between the expectations of Gen-Z workers and their employers.

The struggle is not going away, even if TikTok is banned in America.

Young professionals will simply find another outlet.

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