I deal with the HR management and would like to ask what are the most effective attractors and motivators for young highly skilled people.

Some more details: I am not project manager; I am head of university department. So I am partly manager and partly university teacher. I teach HR management and also project management is taught at our department. I know many researches and forecasts about the work trends: shrinking labor pool of young talented people, the usage of virtual work, ad-hoc team creation for particular project. There is a lot of theory about effective recruitment and motivation of young people for project work. I would highly appreciate if some project manager is willing to share his/her practical knowledge. I will share it with my students and also to use it for my work as we solve also projects, mainly scientific.

  • 2
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7 Answers 7


After having spent years watching young and highly motivated groups of people I’ve come to simple conclusions on what moves them:

  1. Purpose (Meaning); Let’s accept it. Talented people are going to have bigger dreams than earning a paycheck. Think about it, what would a young talented programmer fresh out of college prefer? Working for an enterprise that pays him 100K+ for building CRUD applications or working on the core pieces of the Google Page Rank algorithm and making it better for a 80K a year? Most kickass young talents know instinctively that if they can build meaning and find purpose in their work, they have plenty of time for the money part to take care of itself. If your organization, product, company, project is built on meaning and a genuine story it will attract the best of the best. If your only story is that you “work for the fortune 500 and build enterprise projects” the best of the talents are going to yawn when they hear your story.

  2. Sense of Belonging (The ‘At Home’ Factor); That probably comes from the fact that they have been rock-stars and alpha geeks in their current educational environment and want the same sense of respect, the same sense of acceptance, the same sense of belonging and the same sense of tribe from their workplaces. Are they allowed to speak their minds? Are they allowed to bring about change? Are they recognized and valued for the changes that they bring about? Are they rewarded and respected justly? Put simply, do they sense a culture where they can be ‘At Home’ and work with likeminded talents without having to worry about being bossed around.

  3. Autonomy And Lack Of Interference; most kickass young talents crave autonomy and the fact that there is so little of it out there, should make your organization a hub for talents to flock if you can offer genuine autonomy. Genuine autonomy however, is very different from telling people you trust them and then having them to fill an approval form for a ten dollar cab fare on a business trip.

  4. Other Young Kickass Talent; Good talent is viral. It tends to have a multiplier effect. Good young folks know other talented folks and if they are happy at your workplace they tend to recommend others. Geeks have a reputation for being introverts but you’ll be surprised at how large their circles of influence are. Hire a few kickass guys and if they are happy they will go out and recommend friends and do the recruitment for you.

  5. Managers and veterans that can Handle talents; Let’s face it. Most managers out there aren’t competent enough to handle genuine talents. I’ve seen managers get all worked up and insecure the moment they land up with young talents who have the spinal cords to have their own opinions. Having managers who aren’t insecure, can listen to new ideas, can allow these ideas to exist, accept difference in opinions and allow these folks to grow without becoming impediments to their growth is a very important factor. Most genuine kickass guys leave their jobs when they are rubbed the wrong way. So again having managers who can allow talent to grow is an important factor. Also having talented veterans who have been there and done that that the young ones can learn from and who have an open mind to learn from the young ones is a huge plus.

  6. Empathy and small things; Flexible timings, flexible dress code, logo ware, swag, mentions of names in meetings, genuine appreciation. All of these count. Appreciation of success and empathy for failure are two things which can attract the best of the best to work for you. Acknowledging that people have a personal life, that they have up and downs, that they are not automatons, that they have bad times once in a while where their productivity takes a nose dive. Having one on one conversations. Office picnics and parties. All of these small things add up and result in stories which spread within the corridors of your organization and outside your organization so pay attention to the small details. Pamper your employees and give them all it takes to kick ass.

  7. Culture; This is not your policies. It’s the core values with which your organization runs. Success Factors has a “No Asshole” culture where being nice is not an option. It’s a mandatory requirement. Culture is something talented youngsters can sense by taking one walk around your office and they can tell if you are faking it or if you are serious about it. Hire a few seed employees who become templates for the culture you want to build and then get out of their way. Very soon your culture might be doing most of the work for you as far as hiring kickass youngsters is concerned.

  8. Salaries; I am going to include this here primarily because the whole idea that awesome guys are so awesome that they don’t need a paycheck and that just because you think your cause or culture is awesome they should work for you for food, is often publicized by organizations in a bizarre kind of a way. You don’t need to have the highest of salaries but if your paychecks are an insult, it just means that your cause isn’t successful enough or profitable enough. That or you don't respect your employees enough. Respectable salaries matter because when you spend peanuts you get monkeys.

There are many others but I think these eight are often a good start and form a foundation for building on top of. Also, all of these are also true when hiring veteran employees also, but things like culture, meaning, purpose, autonomy etc. matter as much to young talents as they do to veteran employees. This is because most young talents want to have the highest impact that they can possibly have and build something meaningful that changes lives. Anyone who doesn’t care about the above eight items and only works for a paycheck is not someone you probably want to attract even if he is the most talented dude out there.

  • That summarize it very well, in my opinion. Well done! Apr 7, 2011 at 10:58
  • Stupendous! +2 if I could
    – Adam Wuerl
    Apr 7, 2011 at 11:40
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    One of the best answers I ever found in stackexchange sites!
    – WinW
    Nov 22, 2011 at 6:21
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    This aligns very much with Daniel Pink's "Drive" if you haven't read it. All about this subject. Feb 2, 2012 at 20:20
  • +1 for the amazing post! I'd +1 again if I could for Respectable salaries matter because when you spend peanuts you get monkeys...
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Feb 4, 2012 at 0:25

Enablement and Engagement

If you want to attract and keep young highly skilled people on a project/in a company you should enable them to have active input into the project, not just make them do the grunt work.

If they feel that their opinion is highly valued and that they are a key part of the project team, they will feel more engaged and influential. This in-turn gives them a great feeling of ownership of a project.

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    I think that the same mechanism of motivation will perfectly work for all other team members, not only young
    – yegor256
    Apr 7, 2011 at 10:26

Apart from thousandtyone answer (+1), which is great, I'd add that whatever you do to improve the workplace have humans in mind as you want to attract, well, humans, and the best of them.

  • From my experience one of the most commonly mentioned excitement attributes in workplace is atmosphere. It's hard to introduce one, but you may do much to help it emerge and it basically can be reduced to think about individuals whenever making any workplace-related decision. Think how people react for adding one more policy and how they react for organizing social room in the office. Learn what your people care about and try to improve these things.

  • Internships works great in terms of attracting people with great potential who can't somehow show their full value during the interview. It doesn't matter whether it's because one has no experience whatsoever or is just such an orthodox introvert that it's hard to learn what they really know - give them a chance. With internship program it's easier.

  • Isolating engineers from office politics is crucial in terms of making them happy and getting referred candidates. I don't fool myself that it's possible to get rid of office politics in many organizations, but the least you could, and should, do is to get managers isolating engineers from it.

  • Getting rid of rotten apples. That's somehow omitted pretty often - if you don't do anything with slackers and other rotten apples the basic effect is other apples rot as well. This was by the way a key frustration of a few companies which were considered by engineer paradise some time ago. Best specialists expect to work with at least decent ones and it takes just a couple of slacker who peacefully do their crappy work not bothered by anyone to make the place labeled with "they don't care about professionalism and expertise here."

  • Having an industry star in the team attracts many people. I guess FogCreek doesn't have a problem recruiting best folks as everyone know Joel Spolsky. I guess it would be hard to hire Joel but there are other, like Scott Berkun, who actually can be hired.

  • "Having an industry star in the team attracts many people" it's an excellent point, I've seen this working. However it was hard to guarantee that the new employee will closely work with the star for her whole career.
    – Zsolt
    Feb 2, 2012 at 10:56

Rather than provide a specific answer, I suspect you may find a lot of parallels with motivating young professionals in adult learning theories such as andragogy and their explorations of adult motivation. There is also a lot to learn in the experiential learning theories of David Kolb and transformative learning theory as proposed by Jack Mezirow.

Understanding how adults are motivated and learn has been a key part in my ability to mentor and excite professionals, especially in knowledge workers. Taking a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the other related theories mentioned in the Criticisms section can also be very valuable in understanding impediments to this motivational process.

Finally, none of this takes anything way from the very practical advice offered by @thousandtyone and @Dan, and I've found that having highly engaged people in an organization tends to attract very high quality candidates and keeps the successful candidates there longer due to the tight personal & professional network that grows from successful internal referrals.


I would like to add to @thousandtyone very good answer an element which contributes to its point #5 : a word that is not yet present in this page -- leadership.

I would have a single definition for leadership / leader : someone you like to work with. It seems a bit tautologic, but it's plain clear to me that leadership is not the product of a recipe, but rather entails some genuine human attitude.

The two best project managers i worked with simply had this leadrship, and when i try to analyze why they were much appreciated, I find : competence, attitude to share, showing by exemple, humour.


I agree that keeping people fully engaged requires the people on the project to have a sense of ownership, and that they see how they are contributing to the success. I would also add that they should be able to see how their contribution and involvement will benefit them personally, in terms of career growth, peer recognition, and personal satisfaction.

Attracting young people to the project is a slightly different - but related - issue. You need to be able to sell the project to them, by showing how it will either advance their prospects of develop their technical capabilities. This is probably easier if using cutting-edge technologies, but even using well-established technologies can be stimulating if the subject area is interesting. A bigger challenge might be attracting people into a straightforward project using conventional methods... and that's where you may have to get a bit more creative in terms of rewards and future opportunities.


With what I read and witnessed in my carreer, my conclusion is that money is not the no 1 factor in motivating an employee, young or not. With the economic crisis, one can estimate himself lucky only to have a job! The main factor motivating an employee is the quality of his work life including a positive work ambiance. Having an high salary can keep somebody on the job, but will he or she be motivated to do it in a proper way or in an outstanding way? I had a professor who was also a consultant, he used to visit enterprises asking employeurs: "Are your employees happy?" He usualy did not get an answer. More and more work places are difficult places to be in because there is little team spirit. Everybody is going after his own little glory. Those who try to bring a team spirit are often marginalised. My hope is that with the economic crisis we will invent a new way of doing business that is more human. But the key to achieve that is to have a fair and objective way of giving promotions. Unless everybody will reach for his own goals and not for those of the organization as a hole. We have something to learn from what we used to call "the american way of doing business". Let's take contact with our roots again.

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