Jump to section
Maggie: We’ve seen a lot of press about what the return (or not) to the office might mean for employees, particularly working parents and under-represented groups. We haven’t given much attention to the impact a remote-first or hybrid world of work has for newcomers: the Gen Z-ers just entering it for the first time.
I wondered (aloud, to Sydnie): Who would guide and mentor them? How would they find their footing in their jobs and develop themselves for the next one? Where would they find friends? I was curious to learn what the transition into full-time work looked like from their perspective.
Last week, we sat down with BetterUp’s interns Raye Cheng, Daniel Pereira, and Sydnie Kupferberg to learn their hopes, ambitions, and concerns for entering the workforce when the job opportunities are often remote.
While these rising college seniors can’t represent all their peers, our discussion showed that Gen Z’s emergence in the workforce might look quite different than that of previous generations. Our youngest generation has fresh expectations for their transition to full-time work and adulthood.
Sydnie: Before the pandemic, entering the workforce for the first time seemed to require us to become polished and serious. Graduating high school and college meant leaving the imaginative, creative, and livelier sides of our personalities behind.
Many Gen Z-ers are captivated by mission-centric companies whose values and vision for a positive social impact align with our own. We are not afraid of virtual work or adulthood — in fact, we’re pretty excited to approach both with autonomy, creativity, and playfulness.
How has this past year’s shift to remote work and school changed how you think about your future career and your job search?
Daniel: The future seemed more accessible. With the shift to online recruiting, and interviewing, and quicker response rates, it was easier to find information, send introductory emails, and arrange interviews. On the flip side, virtual networking has some challenges too. Now, you see a thousand different events with a quick click — it’s overwhelming at first. I had to engage in intense self-reflection about my career ambitions to sort out where to dedicate my time and energy. While the future is more accessible, it also requires us to become more self-aware, immediately.
Raye: It gave me a lot of freedom and flexibility to find a meaningful job. Having access to more career opportunities, faster, helped me find the right fit. Instead of settling for something that was good on paper, but perhaps lacking in purpose, I was able to learn about and become involved with a company whose mission I personally believe in.
Sydnie: I became more intentional in my job search. Instead of casting a broad net and reaching out to as many companies as I could manage in between classes, I focused my search on a few mission-centric companies I was confident would provide me with a meaningful work environment where I could develop my skillset faster.
I found that fast-paced, agile tech start-ups like BetterUp had adapted to the unpredictability of the pandemic and were more than willing to bring new people on board. They embraced change and openly discussed opportunities for growth during the interview process. Before I was even hired, my soon-to-be manager discussed BetterUp’s goal to expand from a product offered to highly experienced professionals to a platform for personal development accessible to all people, including those just entering the workforce. It was clear our company intended to empower everyone, not a select few.
Without the pandemic, do you think you would have pursued a company that was offering only virtual internships with no guarantee of in-person work?
Raye: I would not have sought out a virtual internship. But remote work opened my mind to what's possible. I can approach my career with more creativity and autonomy. To be successful in the digital world of work, we need to leverage digital systems to take risks and develop newer, faster, and bolder approaches to problems.
Sydnie: I was nervous about it at first. I thought it would be difficult to find a sense of comfort and social connection without meeting my team members in person. I overcame that fear on day one of onboarding. Learning about the company culture through highly participative sessions with people at every leadership level and across departments helped me feel welcome, included, and valued.
My team also frequently discusses how we can be productive and engaged while working remotely. This topic is a driver of many conversations, not an afterthought. Through these discussions, I’ve come to view virtual work as an opportunity to strike a healthier balance between my personal and professional life.
BetterUp encourages us to schedule virtual coffee chats with people we work closely with and others we’ve yet to meet. Regional teams have also begun to have in-person meet-ups. During these fun meet-and-greets, I’ve learned more about my team members’ hopes and interests outside of our shared projects. It’s easier to be vulnerable in person than it is on camera. Interacting with my coworkers in-person has helped me connect with more of them on a personal level.
How did you convey your personality during the virtual interview and recruitment process?
Daniel: As Sydnie touched on, it’s easier to experience social connection in person. Virtual introductions can be awkward and uncomfortable. Oftentimes people want to leave the call or Zoom meeting as quickly as possible. During my interviews, I wanted to be intentional about not only finding out what my prospective team members do at BetterUp, but who they are in all aspects of life. I wanted them to know who I am too.
I made sure to ask questions about their personal interests and hobbies-topics that we often skip over in virtual meetings. I approached the virtual interview and recruitment process the same as any introduction. It was an opportunity to achieve a great job and find mentors and friends along the way.
Raye: Before reaching out to BetterUp, I did thorough research on the company and its mission: to spark professional and personal development for all people. This is the place I wanted to work at most. When I had my first conversation with a BetterUpper, I felt my personality come through plenty over video. I let my genuine passion and excitement about the idea of contributing towards the company’s mission show for itself.
Sydnie: The mission is our company’s uniting force. It’s the source of community that builds social connection across our teams and departments. It becomes the focal point of many conversations. Why engage in small talk about my past experiences when we can talk about future-oriented, organizational goals we share instead? That’s what we care about most, after all.
During my email outreach and interview process, I focused less on what makes “me” special and more on how the vision BetterUppers and I share makes “us” special. I talked about my strengths, opportunities for growth, and past work experiences in terms of how they would help me fulfill BetterUp’s mission. I positioned my interest as a personal investment in the company’s mission and an alignment with its values. I wasn't going to settle for working anywhere else. This is where I needed to be to evolve as a person and a professional.
Younger people seeking internships and first jobs can stand apart by highlighting their determination to become involved and how and why they resonate with that particular company. It’s more important to showcase their passion and persistence than the skills already reflected on their resumes.
Sydnie Kupferberg, Content Marketing Intern
In pre-pandemic research, we found that people who worked remotely struggled to find meaning and purpose. How do you find purpose and meaning in your work?
Raye: Working remotely at BetterUp has allowed me to step into a purpose I’d been discovering through inner work and personal learning experiences. During my first year of college, I was getting good grades, but I felt really lost. I met with a coach in hopes of cultivating more purpose in my everyday life. I actually told him I wanted to drop out of school. As we talked through my headspace, he helped me discover my desire to empower others.
Becoming involved with BetterUp was a natural fit for me. I can witness the power and value of coaching firsthand. I’m able to find purpose here by contributing to a company built on providing specialized, one-on-one coaching services at a large scale and high speed. I have become part of a movement beyond myself — one that enables people to become their best selves.
Sydnie: Like Raye, I want to contribute to something bigger than myself and create positive impact on a large scale. To be effective, I have to be courageous enough to be playful and bold in my professional setting.
Working remotely allows me to spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts. In the virtual setting, much of our professional development occurs internally. I feel encouraged to think independently and to develop ideas, especially the unconventional ones, more fully before presenting them to other people. Not being surrounded by others, I have an opportunity to avoid conformity and to trust my judgment.
What would you like executives and other leaders to know as they restructure their business models and company cultures?
Sydnie: Our generation enjoys being challenged. We are more than willing to tackle uncomfortable, inconvenient, and uncertain situations at work and in life because our victories will make society brighter, bolder, and more inclusive. We crave being at the forefront of change. We want to actively contribute to something that matters and we want to do so right away. This means involving us in complex, meaningful projects with large-scale impact on day one.
Raye: Building on Sydnie’s point of being challenged, there is space for a more aspirational work model in the virtual setting. In this new model, leaders trust that they're hiring the right people who will perform to the best of their ability because their purpose aligns with the company’s. If you’re going to bring me into your business, I would hope that you’ll trust my dedication to our collective objectives and allow me to contribute with purpose and autonomy.
Daniel: Companies that adopt this aspirational work model will also have to redefine output. We've realized people are able to do their jobs faster from home. Working remotely means developing innovative solutions on the fly. Efficiency and creativity drive success in the virtual setting.
We’re finding new approaches to achieve our vision and goals more quickly. It’s time to start restructuring our expectations for productivity and performance. We’re capable of more than ever before — and we don’t need a 9-to-5 work day to become our best selves at work.
Daniel Pereira, Strategy and Business Operations Intern
How do you feel about your ability to learn how to be an adult professional in a virtual work setting?
Sydnie: As you get older, it seems like you’re expected to become more serious, less willing to take risks, and less capable of learning to navigate the unfamiliar. “New” is a norm of the virtual world of work. Products and services are being developed constantly and updated with a few quick clicks. I will learn something new every day of my life. As an adult, I not only get to be playful, innovative, and even silly at times, I have to be all of these things to keep up with the agility and speed of virtual work.
Daniel: I'm not too concerned. I'm almost excited. The shift to virtual work has redefined adulthood and professional development. As work environments transform, so will the very definition of “professionalism.” We get to reset what it means to be an adult. What could be cooler than that?
Adulting for us will be defined by agency, not rigidity. Who says our imagination has to cease when our childhood does? Our transition to full-time work and adulthood won’t be defined by hierarchical organizational structures and five-day work weeks. It will be infused with self-empowerment and agency.
Raye Cheng, Operations Intern
Sydnie Kupferberg is a content marketing intern at BetterUp.