Diversity hiring initiatives to recruit minority candidates from universities — including first-generation college students, women, immigrants, students from underrepresented racial groups, and those with disabilities — aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
To begin with, just getting started on a career search made us minority students feel at a disadvantage. While our parents passed on a strong work ethic and a belief that hard work pays off, “optimizing” a resume and trying to woo recruiters just wasn’t on our radar as we worked part-time jobs and took on full course loads.
We didn’t have family connections at well-known companies, and we felt uncomfortable talking with recruiters at career fairs. As a result, we left with as many resumes as we came with — and felt like we didn’t belong.
“Growing up with a dad who was a warehouse worker, a mom who was a custodian, they taught me how to work my butt off,” explains Noel Arellano, a Texas A&M University graduate and now a project engineer. “They didn’t teach me how to ‘woo’ recruiters. But a lot of my classmates did have parents who were in professional fields and gave them guidance on what to do. Candidates like me had to figure things out on their own.”
Despite employers promoting inclusiveness and “best places to work” awards, we were discouraged before we even applied, and that led to feeling further isolated. Even after getting help with our resumes from our college career centers, our experience wasn’t a perfect fit with job application-requirements. We knew we would be overlooked, passed over, and screened out.
“At a career fair, my classmates had long conversations with recruiters while I was being told not to leave my resume for consideration,” Noel continues. “It was completely discouraging because it felt like I didn’t belong there at all.”
Illinois Institute of Technology graduate and current supply-chain analyst Fabian Reynoso-Ramirez, adds: “My classmates had connections to make introductions while I pressed ‘submit’ on online applications, sent out emails, and heard nothing. Over time the demoralization of being stuck in this application cycle caused a sort of mental paralysis, which made it harder to keep trying.”
Even after chatting with recruiters directly, we felt like our experiences didn’t matter. The grit, drive, and motivation instilled in us didn’t matter to them. Recruiters discounted our accomplishments because they didn’t match a list of job requirements. It didn’t matter what companies’ careers sites were saying, especially about D&I. Our applications weren’t matching what their computer software was filtering for. Our hard work wasn’t going to pay off. And the cycle would continue.
“I was always working in restaurants and couldn’t afford to dedicate more time to look for a job or to work as an unpaid intern and gain some experience,” Fabian says. “So I didn’t have the cookie cutter qualifications for many entry-level roles, nor the connections upon graduation. I was overlooked by so many recruiters because my set of experiences, education path, and lack of a traditional internship held more weight than my degree and work ethic.”
While we don’t believe that this was employers’ intention, we know many students from similar backgrounds share our perceptions. Ultimately, we were fortunate to land in great jobs with great companies, and that’s why we want to share our suggestions for how recruiting programs can better serve diverse candidates.
Ditch the Checklist
We’ve seen too many job ads for entry-level roles that demand years of experience and specific majors, but many of us are fast learners and eager to prove ourselves, especially if we’re the first in our families to attend college. If you’re looking for a cookie-cutter profile, we don’t have it. Plus, keep in mind that you never know if the person serving your coffee or driving your rideshare could have what you’re looking for and might be doing that work just to pay for school.
We also don’t want you looking for us just because we are “diverse.” “My resume got my foot in the door, but I faced unconscious bias during interviews,” reveals Rachel Choe, an Illinois Institute of Technology graduate and now a business analyst and UX designer. “I had a recruiter recognize me as ‘international,’ then comment on how good my English was ‘given where I came from.’ I want to be given a chance because of my capabilities, not because I help diversify your workforce.”
The First Screen Matters
Too many times, our first screen comes at a busy job-fair booth or is led by a recruiter who may not appreciate how our skills align with specific needs for the role (which is just as likely to happen now in virtual job fairs). Having recruiters from a variety of backgrounds at such screenings can help us picture ourselves at the company. This can also provide you with a more effective way to translate our life experiences to the requirements of the role.
Create Opportunities to Prove Ourselves
We need more opportunities for mentoring, micro-internships, and experiences that fit into our packed schedules but still allow us to get to know your company while demonstrating our skills. We need paid opportunities to work with you, as well as short-term and remote arrangements to get to know your team. We also need flexible opportunities to chat with recruiters while we work, go to school, and push hard to finish our degrees.
The hiring process is stressful and overwhelming for diverse students, but you can help us by being patient and listening. In a world increasingly run by AI, we appreciate human connections, timely follow-ups, and feedback on our resumes and interviews. The job may not be a fit for us, but you can help us stay motivated to find the right fit by simply being kind.
“I was submitting application after application without any feedback loop or response,” Fabian says. “I felt stuck every time I submitted a resume and application online and got no response.”
Adds Rachel: “I’ve been through multiple day-long interviews and have been given soft offers by the hiring managers themselves, only to find out that they can’t hire international students in the first place. Afterward, there was no real acknowledgement of my time or apology for dropping the ball.
“Meanwhile, other recruiters didn’t make eye contact with me. They stared at the resume or off into space. It felt hostile and unwelcoming. There were many times that I was in the middle of my pitch to recruiters and I could tell they had already decided that I was not what they were looking for. They made me feel like I was just annoying them at that point.”
We got the emails. We saw the texts. We also know they were automated. What meant more were the real interactions with employees of your organization. The conversation at an info session where we talked about fit was much more useful than recruiters just rehashing corporate talking points. We loved any time we could spend with current employees.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that when recruiters rely too heavily on technology, they miss out on diverse candidates like us. When companies fail to evolve their hiring processes to be more inclusive, more welcoming, and more flexible, they artificially narrow their talent pool. When we’re met with more resistance and hurdles than our peers, we self-select out. Let’s work together to bring more diverse graduates into professional roles.