Chris Russell

3 min read

Recruiting Tactics

Early Career Recruiting

On a recent episode of my RecTech Podcast I talked with CEO Steven Rothberg about the early career recruiting space. He’s been helping employers recruit in this space for more than 20 years. I wanted to ask him his advice on how companies should approach recruiting in this critical segment.

So here’s the question I asked him.

If you were starting a college recruiting function today, instead of a large employer, how would you set that up?

His answered surprised me. “So I wouldn’t set that up that way. If I was working for say, a Fortune 1000 company, a government agency, some employer that’s hiring at scale, I would not actually create a college recruiting function. And if I came in there and there was a college recruiting function, I would get rid of it.”

They should have an early career or early talent function. Simply by naming it that way, and then setting up the goals or the rocks for that organization, you inevitably deemphasize the school, you deemphasize the major, and you start to become more inclusive of people like military veterans, people who went to boot camps, people who graduated from high school without good grades, without good standardized test scores, but who are just fantastic at software development or architecture or something, whatever that skill it is that you’re looking for.

If you are CarMax, big car dealership company, and you’re hiring thousands of college students and recent grads a year to work as mechanics, to work as salespeople, et cetera, why do you care what school that person went to? Why do you even care if they went to college? You should be hiring them based upon what they’re likely to do for you. And you shouldn’t have to anymore look at the school or the major as a proxy. You can use assessment tests. There are plenty of really good ones out there. You can build one on your own for very little money. You’re looking to hire a mechanic? Bring somebody in and have them do something for 15 minutes.

It’s like, “Do you know how to change a spark plug?” Well, I don’t, and they’d see that very quickly. And they’d say, “Get the hell out of here.” But Chris, if you know how to change a spark plug and you can tell them, “Oh, on this car, this is the catalytic converter” and blah, blah, blah, it’s like, “Okay, I can see that you’re probably well qualified to be a mechanic.” What difference does it make if you went to school for that or not? If you know how to do it, you should be able to do it.

If you were in the army for four years and working in the motor pool, wouldn’t they rather hire you than if you just went to some trade school for a year and never actually had done the job other than outside the classroom? So I think that we’re starting to see this with more organizations. It’s a rapidly increasing minority of organizations are renaming their college or university recruitment departments as something to the effect of “Early career, early talent”, and I am really excited about that. I think it’s going to lead to much better matches between the organizations and the candidates.

Early Career Recruiting Mistakes

What mistakes do you think employers make today when it comes to recruiting students and grads?

One of the mistakes that they make is that they are… especially the ones who are focused on on-campus recruiting. This is not all of them, but it is too many of them. They’re focused too much on the process and not on the outcomes. And what I mean by that is a lot of employers that are specifically targeting college and university students and recent grads, equate the school and the major with quality.

And the data shows it’s just not the case. Now, certainly, there are some majors that are required in order to be in that profession. So you want to be a nurse, you have to have a nursing degree. You want to be a teacher, other than now, apparently in Arizona, you have to have an education degree. You want to be an engineer, you have to have an engineering degree. So hey, if you’re recruiting engineers, it does make sense that you’re going to be looking at engineering majors and not fine arts. But for almost every job out there, your major’s actually pretty irrelevant.

Employers have come to understand that soft skills are far more important than hard skills. Ernst&Young, years ago, probably 5, 6, 7 years ago, one of the top recruiting people there, they were quoted as saying that, “We can teach you how to read a balance sheet, but we can’t teach you how to think critically.” Well, do you know who does teach you how to think critically? Your liberal arts or fine arts or whatever undergraduate program. You spend two years or four years learning how to think critically. And so the smarter, the better employers, like the E&Y’s of the world, they look at those students and they’re looking at, “Is this person likely to be productive?” And they’re not using proxies like, “Did they happen to go to Carnegie Mellon? Did they graduate with a computer science degree?”

The better employers now are far more interested in, “Oh, okay, you’re applying to be a software engineer with us, show me some of the work you’ve done. Have you and your buddies built an app so that you can beat everybody at fantasy football? If so, you’re of a hell of a lot more interest to us than somebody who got a bunch of A’s on exams because we’re going to be paying you to build apps. We’re not going to be paying you to take tests.”

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