The Business Case for Hiring College Grads — 32 Reasons They Can Produce a High ROI
College hiring is about to ramp up again — and the very best college recruiting organizations would argue it ramped up several months back — so now is an opportune time to conduct an ROI analysis to determine when and where you should hire college grads instead of experienced hires. Understanding the unique competencies and skills that college students bring to a business is important not just in determining the number needed, but where to place them.
As a college professor and someone that advises firms on the design of college recruiting programs, I have come up with a long list of the advantages of hiring recent graduates.
If you’re not seeing these attributes in your recent college hires, interns, or those you are courting, the problem is most likely a result of major weaknesses in your recruiting process and not with “this latest generation” of college students.
The Business Benefits of Hiring Recent College Grads
The benefits are split into two categories 1) benefits to individual hiring managers and 2) benefits that may accrue to the entire firm over time. Note that the possible outcomes listed here are based partially on generalizations that cover many but not all top college hires .
Shorter-term Benefits of Hiring College Students
- Lower salary costs – most are willing to work for significantly less salary than “experienced hires.”
- Continuous learners — because they have a recent history of learning, they are self-motivated “continuous learners.” This may actually be the most important competency.
- Comfortable with technology — New grads expect to use technology and have no fear of it. They learn new technologies rapidly, and this, combined with their extensive knowledge of the latest hardware and software, automatically makes them a high-value hire both for current and future needs.
- Comfortable with the Internet and social media – college students are much more likely to be familiar with and skilled in all aspects of the Internet, and in particular the emerging area of social media and mobile applications.
- High levels of innovation – there is a great deal of academic research indicating that many great innovators do their best and most groundbreaking work in their youth. Midcareer hires may bring continuous improvement but lower levels of radical inflection-point innovation.
- Fast change and agility — nothing more accurately describes the business world these days than intense competition and rapid change. If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to need agile individuals who are not just capable of fast change but also those who literally look forward to it. Fortunately college grads have a combination of youth and an excitement for trying new things that makes them more willing to accept and adapt to rapid change. They’re also agile and as a result they are able to shift rapidly and frequently between unrelated tasks.
- Team players — very few major projects can be accomplished these days without teamwork. Fortunately, college hires these days are thoroughly experienced in teamwork and cross-functional teams. Rather than being forced to participate, it comes natural to them.
- Superior communicators — college hires are accomplished communicators. They know how to communicate with teammates, vendors, regulators, and customers in many diverse and economical non-face-to-face ways. This includes the use of social networks and web 2.0 tools that experienced hires might be unfamiliar with.
- The “why” question — a willingness to repeatedly ask the “why question” of others (Why do we do it this way? Why not that way?) helps to force you to re-examine your approaches.
- Better performance on the job — we know from professional sports that the performance of college grads can meet and sometimes exceed that of experienced players (i.e. Kobe and LeBron). If you use a “surgical” data-driven college-hiring process, a majority of your hires will be above-average performers almost immediately. If the same process surgically targets grads with high levels of loyalty, your retention rates will also be exceptional.
- New ideas — they bring numerous new ideas that they’ve acquired from leading-edge thinkers and professors that continually challenge them to think differently.
- No need to unlearn — because they have little work experience or corporate cultural history, they don’t have to unlearn old ways or bad habits that experienced hires might carry with them.
- Multitasking ability — they grew up in a multitasking world, so they look forward to being assigned to simultaneous tasks. Experienced hires might consider it overloading when you expect multiple tasks to be done simultaneously.
- Energy and enthusiasm — their youth and relative health will likely give them what some describe as unbounded energy during the day, requiring fewer breaks and with no lapses in work quality due to fatigue.
- Willing to take high-risk assignments — their relative youth and inexperience may lower their level of fear, making them more willing to take on risky tasks and assignments. With fewer outside-of-work commitments, many may be willing to take career risks that experienced professionals would not.
- They understand metrics — because they’re fresh out of school, recent grads are likely to remember how to use numbers, statistics, and metrics. Although they might not have any practical knowledge, their lack of fear related to numbers and metrics is a positive factor.
- Willingness to do grunt work — because of their eagerness to learn, even top students may be willing to do thankless assignments and even grunt work that others consider beneath them. This may speed up projects that are often delayed because no one on the team is willing to volunteer for the unglamorous tasks.
- Willingness to travel — fewer outside-of-work commitments and a high level of excitement regarding exploring and travel means that they are more willing to take assignments that require a significant amount of travel.
- Diverse ideas — each year, the diversity levels of graduating classes increase making them more diverse than the available experienced hire pool. If your college recruiting program has an effective diversity component, the diverse thinking of these college hires will add richness to your teams and decision-making because diverse  individuals see things differently.
- Professor contacts also — if you hire the very best graduate students, you will likely also get with them their academic contacts and access to the best research professors.
- Access to research — once again if you hire the very best graduate students, you will also do research. You may also gain access to the research of their professors, thus aiding in product development.
- Faster time to productivity — because they learn quickly, have high energy levels, have few family commitments and they have no professional biases to unlearn, new college hires may actually reach the minimum required level of productivity faster than experienced hires.
- Easier to manage — although they may ask lots of questions initially, they may actually be easier to manage. This is because they seldom have the level of entitlement, professional biases, and political awareness that experienced hires usually have. Because they are new, they are less likely to argue, play politics, or complain.
- An opportunity for a tryout — hiring experienced professionals can be a hit-or-miss proposition because you don’t get a chance to actually see them work. Fortunately, with college hires you can preview their work by hiring them as interns. If designed correctly, this internship opportunity can dramatically reduce the number of hiring errors.
Long-Term Benefits to the Firm for Hiring College Grads
Some firms have found that college hires bring many benefits that accrue to hiring managers, but in addition, also help the company over the long term. Some of the benefits that may extend to the entire company include:
- A global perspective — many U.S.-based schools have a high percentage of international students. The curriculum in nearly every discipline these days focuses on global issues. As a result, you can be sure that new college hires will think globally, as well as feel comfortable working with internationally located individuals.
- Essential for filling future management positions — it is difficult to hire first-level managers externally because no matter how strong their management skills, they are unfamiliar with the team and the corporate culture. Consistently hiring entry-level college hires allows you to promote the best into supervisory and management positions within five years. Without this college hire strata of employees, it will be much more difficult to fill these critical management positions.
- Long-term assets — if you do hire college grads, they are yours to lose. So with great retention and career development, they will continue to be an asset to your firm for up to 40 years. Midcareer hires can’t possibly return value for the same number of years.
- You might only get one shot at them — whichever firm hires a new grad, it literally has a chance to keep them forever. Meaning that if this firm treats them well, they may remain at this firm throughout their entire career. However, if you only hire experienced hires, you may have missed your one and only chance to monopolize this particular individual.
- Competitive advantage — if your firm gets this talent, your competitors cannot.
- Youth market benefits — if your firm happens to target many of its products and services toward younger people, having a large number on your staff will likely result in better products and increase sales to this population.
- An opportunity to influence curriculum — even the process of college recruiting allows you to build relationships with faculty. Over time this many help you in steering the curriculum so that graduates more closely fit your future needs.
- Now is the perfect time — in the past, a weak employer brand image or a poorly designed college recruiting program may have resulted in your firm hiring lower performing college hires. However, because almost no one is actively hiring large numbers on campuses these days, you could cherry-pick the very best if you are willing to act quickly.