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10 questions to Millennial Emma Smeets about her experiences with the War for Talent

Saskia - 1 October 2019

10 questions to Emma Smeets

In the current economic climate, companies and businesses are increasingly struggling to attract and retain the right talent for their organization – the War for Talent. That is why I decided to talk to the people themselves.
How do a millennial, an elderly employee, an entrepreneur and a representative of a corporate organization experience the War for Talent? Are their expectations far apart? Are their desires realistic? Is talent really that hard to find or is it rather about retaining talent?

The first enlightening and inspiring conversation I had with millennial Emma Smeets, Junior HR Consultant graduated in Human Resource Management with minors International business II and HR Analytics – to learn first-hand what she thinks is important as a millennial in her life and in her work and what she is up against.


1. You are an educated junior HR consultant with a job. What attracted you in this role?

What especially attracted me in this job was the attention for my personal development, the possibility of doing different assignments and the challenge. The traineeship at the GrowQu Academy is all about developing yourself and gaining experience at different companies. I am challenged to step out of my comfort zone and to gain new experiences by carrying out work that I might not initially look for myself. For instance, every assignment has its own challenges and I always learn something new (also about my own strengths and capabilities).

2. What is your top 3 of things that a potential employer should definitely offer?

This is quite similar to the reasons why I started working at GrowQu, namely:

  1. Attention to personal development (and walk the talk!);
  2. Variety and challenge in the workplace;
  3. Freedom and autonomy (no clocked hours, being result-oriented, flexible working hours and workplace).

3. What is your top 3 of absolute no-goes with a potential employer?

  1. I love autonomy and efficiency, so the moment I need a signature or approval from the boss for everything I have to do, that’s a no-go for me;
  2. Having to work in the office from 9 to 5 every day instead of being result-oriented and flexible in terms of working hours and workplace;
  3. If an employer does not show appreciation towards his/her employees. People think of money quickly, but I mean a ‘thank you’ if you have done something for somebody or ‘you have done this really well’; give compliments.

4. You work for various clients. Where do you see that they run into attracting and retaining talent?

So far, I have only done assignments with smaller companies who were not looking for a new talent during the time I was there. I did internships at public institutions and a large multinational. What I believe, for example, in government institutions what is working against them, is the reputation of sticking to office hours and being slow and bureaucratic. In contrast, the large multinationals have a better reputation because of the many opportunities for growth and development due to the size of the company. The challenge for multinationals lies in my experience especially in retaining talent. After attracting talent, it is the manager who is largely responsible for retaining the talent. In a large organization, a lot of managers run around. Some of them are very good but there are also a few that are less suitable for managing people. People management is really a profession in iteself and if you have become a manager because of your expertise in your role, that does not necessarily mean that you are a good people manager. In my opinion, a manager needs to be good at managing/supporting people and having knowledge of the work that is being done. In short, I think the stumbling point of retaining talent in large organizations often lies with the managers/executives.

5. What would you like to advise them?

Personally, I don’t want to just make a career. Besides the fact that I want to develop myself, I also want to add something with the work I do. For me personally in HR, this is the creation of a pleasant working environment where everyone is having fun and doing something that he/she is getting energy from instead of only consuming energy. Actually contributing to the work pleasure of people, since we spend a significant part of our time working and in our working environment. Because we want to mean something to other people/colleagues or more general contribute to creating a better world (think of working for a good cause), my advice would be to demonstrate on how your organization is contributing to making the world a better place. One example is Tesla, that makes electric driving possible for a future without CO2 emissions.

To recruit talent you have to distinguish yourself as an employer as well. An example of this is CoolBlue, which understands how to attract talent with fun videos. A prerequisite of this is that you also have to make it all true. Walk the talk! There is nothing more annoying than hearing a wonderful story only to find out that it is not true. Hiring talent is one thing, but to retain talent, you must offer challenging opportunities, development possibilities and autonomy. Whereby it is crucial that the supervisor/line manager facilitates and motivates this.

6. What gives you energy?

I get energy of doing a variety of things. One day an appointment in The Hague and the other day in Utrecht. Or doing various different assignments. I also get energy from good, pleasant and interesting conversations. Whether this is with colleagues or with customers.

7. In what way can an employer contribute to your work-life balance? Does that also happen in everyday life?

In my experience, employers have more influence than they realise. For example when there is an open and pleasant work culture, where there is an understanding of each other’s situation and emotions, and there is a willingness to help each other. The supervisor has a lot of influence on this. If a supervisor is very dominant and predominantly focused on the work, I experience that as an atmosphere in which I feel pressurized more easily. A supportive supervisor who is genuinely interested in you as a person, to whom you can talk to if you want to, makes me feel, even though the workload is significant, more relaxed and more comfortable. There has to be room for you as a person (both privately and professionally), since your private life, whether you like it or not, affects your work and vice versa. I am very fortunate that I have a very nice, supportive manager at GrowQu, with whom I can safely share my private situation and who really makes time and space for me.

8. Lately there has been a lot of attention for the millennials burn-out. Have you ever had any symptoms of that nature or do you recognize them with fellow millennials?

I myself have had symptoms of a burn-out. It happened when I was doing something that I did not like and had little contact with others. I can be very busy with work, social life, sports and so on, without getting stressed. I think this is even fine. The pressure was only a problem when I was doing something I did not like.

9. What would you like to advise yourself or your colleagues in that regard?

My advice is, therefore, if you suffer from burn-out symptoms, look critically at what you are doing and if it is still something you enjoy doing. Also discuss this with your supervisor, so that you might be able to make adjustments to your role profile or perhaps look at a different role which suits you better. In addition, I find it very nice to be able to tell my colleagues and boss what is going on in my life, also privately. If you share this, there is often more understanding and things can be taken into account. Besides being critical towards the things you are doing at work, also look at things you do outside of work. I have been doing a certain kind of sports for a while which I used to like very much, but in the meantime I actually resented going. Then I switched sports and now I get a lot of energy from sports again.

10. What does your career look like in the next 5 years and where do you stand in 2025?

I am not one who thinks very far ahead. I never really had a plan for my future. I live in the here and now. I look at what I like, I look at the opportunities that arise or that I can create myself and I look at how this can affect my future/career. If I really should make an assessment of what my career will look like during the next 5 years, I would say that after my time at GrowQu, I would like to get started at a nice company that has all the previously discussed positive elements, where I can further develop as an HR Consultant/Advisor. I hope to always be able to continue to learn, develop and grow, not only in my work but also as a person.