Postdocs as Pipelines

Aug 25, 2011

University recruiting, like any relationship-management sourcing strategy, often requires a balanced mix of long-term investments coupled with numerous annual campus visits in order to develop a successful brand and become an employer of choice. Many organizations structure those “long-term investments” in annual or capital campaign monetary contributions, often to career centers or related offices, which have welcomed the donations as their own funding challenges have worsened. But while such contributions may have led to a significant ROI in the past, that may not be the same case in the future.

The reason is simple: students now turn more often to faculty members for early-career guidance and advice on which employers to start out with. In a way, this might make university recruiting relationship management easier: just shift the primary focus to the faculty. For the time being, until the economy really rebounds, this would be an effective sourcing model. But when the economy rebounds, nearly a majority of tenured faculty at many top-tier universities will at least be eligible for early retirement, and the new relationships forged in those few years will take time to rebuild with new replacements.

Regardless of the function, the best strategic plans try to anticipate the potential outcomes of as many conceivable contingencies as possible. Not every contingency can be planned for, but an inability to anticipate the possible contingencies can sink any strategy in record time. In this case, if a company could leverage its need for a long-term university recruitment pipeline with a university’s need for replacing its faculty in the future, such a strategy could create a significant competitive advantage.

While the nation’s top companies have pushed to develop strong internship, entry-level, and MBA programs for college graduates, they seem to have abandoned one other university talent pool: the doctorates. Most PhD graduates each year leave their university to find positions either in industry, research organizations, or government. But what about the PhD graduates who seek to go right from the graduation dais to the professor’s lectern? If these candidates can be recruited to serve as limited-term employees — say, up to two years — before launching their academic career, then a new talent pool could be identified, something I write more about in the July/August Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership (ask Todd Raphael for a copy if you want one). Furthermore, if the aim of an industry-based postdoc program was to help target universities secure new faculty members, then placing its postdocs at those recruitment targets could create a whole new pipeline.

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