Hey College Students, the Corporate Recruiting Game is Rigged
Here is a statistic to think about. Last year four out of five college students graduated without a real job. That means the odds are stacked for most students planning on using college as a launching pad into a high paying career.
On the other side of the equation, employers don’t seem to have any trouble finding college talent these days. Given the abyssal long-term retention rates that companies are having with their Millennial workforce, there is a need for employers to constantly be refilling their talent pipelines.
Yet, why are so many college students getting left behind by the corporate recruiting system? When you see such discrepancies between both sides of the job market, you start getting the feeling that the system is rigged.
What I mean by rigged is that companies are less concerned about finding as many qualified students as possible across a broad number of channels and more focused on winning their share of desirable applicants from only a small number of “top-tier” institutions.
Students that don’t make the short-list of schools get left behind. The message that is being communicated is that if you aren’t attending one of our target schools, we assume you aren’t good enough to work for us, or you aren’t worth the extra resources for us to come find you.
The argument you hear from companies on why they recruit from only a small number of top programs is that it ensures that they will find the best talent. After all, schools have already done all the hard work by pre-screening students before admitting them.
However, relying on schools to generate a well diversified cream-of-the-crop group students on behalf of companies feels like a big cop-out.
There is a real danger to this approach to corporate recruiting. It skews the acquisition of talent to a handful of schools that are often homogeneous in their demographic makeup and thought. As a company, you end up with group-think among similar individuals which hinders innovation and positive culture.
From a marketing, perspective if your employees don’t represent the customers and communities that you sell your products and services to, good luck trying to connect with them.
I recently listened to an interview with Albrey Brown (@albreybrown) who is the founder of Telegraph Academy, an organization that helps individuals from underrepresented communities break into tech. He said something that really resonated with me as I thought about this issue:
“The only way you can come up with an idea is by solving a problem that you have. That’s why it’s so dangerous to have the same kind of people in tech. We’re only solving the problems for those people [in tech]. If you don’t have people from your community building the next generation of things then it’s not going to get built.”
Every employer preaches how important the diversity of people and thought are to their organizations. Yet, they continue to support recruiting processes that work against these very goals.
Even when employers do make the effort to bring in more minorities, they are still restricting themselves to recruiting minorities at only the top universities. The resources don’t go towards expanding the pie, they are invested in winning a bigger piece of the pie.
The truth is that the school a student attends has an outsized influence on which career opportunities are available. If you’re not on the list of select schools, your odds of landing a desirable high-paying job dip dramatically no matter how qualified you are.
The tech industry is the fastest growing industry at the moment and hiring the most employees. Check out this chart from Wired Magazine that shows how concentrated these companies are at hiring from certain schools.
Top 5 Schools That Tech Companies Recruit From:
What really got me thinking about this issue was a Harvard Business Review article by Lauren Rivera, an Associate Professor of Management & Organizations at Kellogg School of Management. I want to share a summary of her research into how employers approach recruiting:
The corporate recruiting process is already broken before the first application is even received. What happens behind the scenes is that companies will set a target hiring number and then work backward to allocate quotas to select schools with favored alma maters of leaders at the company getting heavier allocations. In the business, world reputation means everything so employers will focus on highly ranked business and STEM programs.
Schools can be broken out into 4 categories when it comes to recruiting:
Core Schools: These are three to five institutions where companies draw the bulk of their new hires. Companies will dedicate the most resources to these programs and will work to build deep relationships with them. You can expect a number of alumni to be flown in for presentations, networking events, and interviews. Dozens if not hundreds of students can be hired from just this small group of schools.
Target Schools: Companies will include an additional five to fifteen schools to their list that they will recruit from but only on a much smaller scale. While the number of available slots of interviews and jobs are fewer, these candidates have access to the same opportunities as candidates from core schools.
Non-listed Schools: While employers will accept applications from non-listed schools, they are placed in a separate stream where often no one is in charge of reviewing them. To get a shot at an interview, students usually needed a personal connection to an existing employee or client with status.
Specialty Programs: Many employers participate in special programs to employ minorities, military members, and students with disabilities. While companies deserve credit for making these efforts, students from these programs make up a very small proportion of total recruiting numbers and every school isn’t included.
The consensus from Rivera’s interviews with HR leaders is that limiting consideration to elite students is time and cost-saving, while wading through “lower-caliber” candidates to find “diamonds in the rough” is wasteful. The actual commentary is quite discouraging.
For example one recruiter said: “the best kid in the country may be at Bowling Green…but to go to Bowling Green [and] interview 20 kids just to find that one needle in the haystack doesn’t make sense when you can go to Harvard [and have] … 30 kids that are all super qualified and great.”
If you are off-campus recruiting and think that you can get in through a posting on a company’s website, you are in for a rude awakening.
One HR head was asked about how often she looked at non-listed résumés submitted online and bluntly said: “Zero. Zero. … I only have so many hours in a day and that is not my first priority. My first priority is the schedules on campus.”
Having been on both sides of the recruiting efforts at a major management consulting firm and a big retail company, I have personally seen all of this play out. I believe a situation likes this puts recruiters in a bad place because their teams are often understaffed and overwhelmed. They simply can’t cast a wide net and are forced to focus their efforts given their resource constraints.
It’s a shame that this kind of inequality still exists for the sake of efficiency. With the technology that we have that has made it so easy for people to connect, why isn’t there anything that challenges the status quo and these outdated models?
My hope when I left my corporate job two months ago to join the 10-person startup MindSumo was that I could do something about this. I believe that technology does allow companies to reach any college student from any corner of the country and allow for true meritocracy in the hiring process.
Why not let a student’s ideas instead of school choice become the differentiator? That is the goal that I am working towards with MindSumo on addressing this problem and my hope is that I help companies uncover those needles in the haystack.
To summarize, many high-achievers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, end up attending less prestigious universities for reasons having nothing to do with ability. Existing recruiting processes typically steer clear of less prestigious programs so these students are out of luck.
By maintaining the status quo and limiting which schools get access to companies, we risk locking out high potential students that could change the world if given access to the right jobs. It’s time we come up with new ways to fix the corporate recruiting system.