The Spring 2023 semester has officially come to a close, and today’s graduates are faced with a complicated job market; one marked by remote work, mass tech layoffs, recession threats, AI, and more.

To find out how this new generation of workers is approaching their job search, in June, surveyed 345 higher education students, ages 20-25, from the classes of 2022-2024.

Key findings:

  • 77% of new and upcoming graduates would prefer in-person or hybrid work over remote
  • 1 in 6 say they prioritize a company’s ethical standpoint over salary
  • 1 in 4 graduating from a 4-year college won’t accept a starting salary under $70K
  • Only 1 in 5 students graduating this spring have a job in their field lined up

Three-Quarters of New and Upcoming Grads Want to Opt Out of Remote Work

When respondents were asked to rank their preferences for job location, 43% ranked in-person work as their top choice, 34% ranked hybrid work as their top choice, and just 23% ranked remote work as their top choice.

This is certainly at odds with the current narrative in the job market, in which employers are having to force their workers to return to office, often to much protest.

“While the stereotype of Gen-Z is that they prefer to interact through their devices rather than in-person, and that they are slackers who invest the least amount of work possible, that isn’t the case,” explains Diane Gayeski, a higher education consultant with, Professor of Strategic Communications at Ithaca College, and internationally-recognized thought leader.

“Gen-Z workers want to be connected to like-minded people and to a shared cause, and they want to feel valued. If they are spending their irreplaceable lifetime and energy, they want to feel that it’s for a good cause,” she continues. “They also want to feel supported and validated. For instance, McKinsey’s Great Attrition survey found that about half of the people who quit their jobs recently said they lacked a sense of belonging and didn’t feel that co-workers trusted and cared for each other,” Gayeski says.

1 in 6 Say a Company’s Ethics Are More Important Than Their Own Salary

This generation of workers appears to be highly attuned to the social and ethical impact their potential employers have on the world around them. When respondents were asked to rank the importance of a company’s ethical standpoint, 91% say it is ‘very’ (45%) or ‘somewhat important’ (46%) to them, with only 9% saying company ethics are ‘somewhat’ (8%) or ‘not at all important’ (1%) to them.

Of the 91% who say a company’s ethics is important to them, 18% even say that a company aligning with their ethical standpoint is more important to them than their own salary.

“Gen Z has had the life experience of seeing their elders burn out at work, often to find that they are dismissed abruptly in a downsizing or restructuring,” explains Gayeski. “They’ve watched corporate scandals that cost innocent people their jobs and their health, and have seen that life can be unexpectedly shortened by shooters, defective products, or pandemics.”

“Recent graduates have also had a high school or college experience that robbed them of the typical kinds of social interactions like internships, jobs, or foreign travel that foster maturity, social savvy, and knowledge of the world outside the home. The companies that will attract and retain the top talent from this generation are those that can articulate and demonstrate their values and build a community of co-workers who support the company’s goals and each other,” she continues.

1 in 4 Won’t Consider a Job With Less Than a $70K Starting Salary

Despite talking a big game about company ethics, one-quarter of respondents graduating from a 4-year college say the minimum salary they considered or will consider when job searching must be at least $70,000.

However, the average starting salary for a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree is actually closer to $60,000. In addition, only 1 in 5 students graduating this spring have a job in their field lined up.

Why Rejecting Remote Work May Prove the Right Choice for Gen-Z

Gayeski elaborates on why recent grads are making the right choice by eschewing remote work, especially in the context of the post-pandemic world.

“Young professionals learn a great deal about cultural norms, effective communication strategies, and how to navigate the people and processes of an organization through observation and serendipitous opportunities for learning. They might walk past a conference room as a group of senior leaders are engaging in a heated debate and take in how one person is disagreeing passionately, but doing it in a way that shows respect for the others and even interjects a bit of humor into the tense situation.

“They will probably overhear some gossip that gives them clues about the informal norms of the company – like comments about a coworker whose choice of attire is considered unprofessional and thus should not be invited to a big client presentation. Or, an older coworker might notice a picture of a sailboat on their desk, and their shared passion for boating turns into an invitation to lunch and a valuable inter-generational mentoring relationship.

“In fact, some of the most important skills that young professionals need to master for success are learned by modeling the behaviors of others, as we have known for decades through the research of psychologists such as Albert Bandura who developed a theory of social learning. Even when experts try to formalize training or create instructions, tacit knowledge (the know-how that’s gained through experience) is sometimes difficult or impossible for them to articulate – they just need to show it in action.

“Mentoring relationships and informal learning happen naturally in an office setting, but are extremely difficult to engineer in a remote work environment. In fact, A recent MIT brief  estimated that during the COVID shutdown, informal and observational learning decreased by 25%. It’s also from these kinds of informal interactions and observations that young professionals get impressions about the ethical grounding and values of those in charge.

“Gen-Zers want to be seen and acknowledged for who they are and for their unique contributions, and worry that working from home might compromise their ability to be promoted because it doesn’t give them exposure to managers. Their concerns are justifiable. A Harvard University study comparing call center workers who worked from home to those who worked in the office found that while the productivity of the two groups was equal, 23 percent of on-site workers were promoted within their first 12 months of work, while the remote promotion rate was 10 percent.

“This lack of exposure to executives is especially critical if they don’t run in the same social circles– heightening the disparities for women, people of color, immigrants, or those who spend their non-work time in volunteer, hobby, or faith-based groups that are different than those of most of their co-workers.

“Young professionals are also likely to be single and may be moving to a new city, so the primary way for them to meet people and get acclimated is through work, but Zoom meetings usually don’t offer the opportunities for the kind of socializing that happens naturally just waiting for the elevator or walking to one’s desk.

“Working remotely is great if you can saunter from the kitchen with your cappuccino to your lovely home office, take a break and have a good run on your treadmill, and then join your family for dinner on the patio at the end of the day.

“It’s not so wonderful to be isolated in a studio apartment working on a little kitchen counter, or if you’re still living with your parents and trying to work on the edge of your bed, being distracted by younger siblings or the expectation that you should be doing housework or errands. Working from home, you might waste half a day trying to set up a new printer. Office environments provide much better spaces for collaboration, the furniture is ergonomically designed for work, and there is professional support for IT and tasks like scanning, printing, and mailing.”


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Prodege from May 26 – June 5, 2023. In total, 345 respondents completed the full survey.

All respondents were screened to ensure they were between the ages of 20 and 25 and intended to enter the workforce upon graduation. Sixteen percent of the respondents graduated in the class of 2022, 14% graduated in the class of 2023, and 70% will graduate in the class of 2024.

Nine percent of respondents are graduating or have graduated from community college, 76% from a 4-year college, and 13% from graduate school. Please contact [email protected] for more information.