Let’s Rethink College Recruiting

Jan 23, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 8.21.53 AMCollege relations as a talent acquisition function is broken. It has been broken for a long time, but, like so many things in our space, it can be fixed, and honestly without too much trouble.

Talent acquisition leaders need to drive immediate changes in how we as companies interact and communicate with institutions of higher education. Your college relationships team can focus on the students and career services, but we as senior leaders need to focus on leadership-level relationships at the colleges and universities we want to partner with. That means top-level university leadership, the folks that can actually impact curriculum and programming.

Here are two things ways you can start interacting today with that leadership, that will drive significant long term benefits to your talent pipeline.

  1. Communicate honestly. Our failure is that we do a poor job of truly articulating the skills we will need in our organizations. We give college leaders general information from generic surveys, or  from people in our organizations who are often three or more layers removed from the tactical execution we need from our recent grad hires. We tend to be great at saying many words, but provide little context or meaning. They hear “we need IT folks,” but they don’t hear that we need diverse IT folks; or they hear that we “need a ton of marketing people,” but don’t understand that that is short term and because of low turnover, we won’t need 50 new marketing employees every year in perpetuity. Why we expect great results, when we provide poor information, is beyond me. Now, again, they need to hear the honest needs directly from us, the senior talent-acquisition leaders. We have more broad market intel, we know what other schools are doing, we can connect the strategic and tactical, and as such we are an invaluable source of actionable information for these leaders. Better time spent upfront, means better results on the back end. Always.
  2. Talk about soft skills. The schools do a poor job of preparing their students’ soft skills, and everyone knows it. The four most common failures are:
    1. Likeability. How many articles have appeared on this site that talk about the importance of “cultural fit” for success? I don’t need a fancy term to know that no one hires someone they don’t like. So why don’t more schools require courses in social skills and effective networking?
    2. Critical thinking. I’m no expert, but I would posit that the ascension of the Internet may have something to do with this, but right or wrong, somewhere along the way, information became easily accessible, and additionally, the generation that grew up with it assumed it to be always be factual and correct. Too many of today’s graduates lack the ability to provide clear, well-understood, and reasoned solutions, but they are excellent at spitting back out what they found on the Internet, even if they don’t understand it. This may help them get good grades in school, but it is neither sustainable nor applicable in the real world.
    3. Risk-taking. This is a competitive advantage that we as a society have somehow lost. We’ve allowed our own fear of failure overtake our confidence. That balance shift is perpetuated by parents, peers, schools, etc. Why schools don’t reward calculated risk and failure (provided a lesson is learned) is beyond me. I really respect the concept of Failure:Lab and I wish it was a universally required part of college curriculum. It would help remove the stigma around failure (side note: listen up students, a C or a D grade here and there is not going to keep you from a great job or achieving your dreams!) and help set the stage for learning from your mistakes.
    4. Diversity. We need to have serious and honest discussions with schools around diversity. Far too many schools are essentially microcosms of their communities, and if their communities are not diverse, then neither are the schools. And sorry, having a bunch of international students who are for all intents and purposes isolated by language and culture on your campus, does not diversity make. Students need to have some sustained experiences learning to work with and appreciate differences: cultural, gender, experience, thought, etc. When I worked in consumer goods, I had a frank discussion with the leaders of a local college, who were asking me to hire more of their graduates, to prevent the nebulously defined “brain drain.” I said no, I didn’t want to hire their fresh graduates. We sold our products globally and most of their students had never been more than a couple of hours away from campus. They grew up here, they stayed here for school. They only knew my customers who are here, which is a tiny percentage. If they wanted me to hire their students, I told them to encourage them to move away for three to seven years. This will put them in a position to see, do, and experience new things, and has the added benefit of being an example of risk taking. When they are ready to come back, we and other companies would be there with open arms.

As a final note, as talent-acquisition leaders we need to be out front with the schools we partner with, and be communicating with the right people (again this is not Career Services). We need to be direct and honest, and if you can’t get what your organization needs from one school, there are plenty of others that can meet your needs. There is no shortage of graduates in the U.S., regardless of what alarm bells futurists are sounding.


Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • The Future of Talent Acquisition, April 29, 4:15 p.m.
  • Bold and Strategic Corporate Talent Acquisition Practices Panel, April 28, 11 a.m.
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