Advice for Employers and Recruiters

Recruitment methods for non-traditional students

Anna Peters AvatarAnna Peters
January 29, 2018


The entry-level talent pool increasingly consists of “non-traditional students.” Recruitment methods and strategies that narrowly focus on attracting talent from top schools, or from a short list of degrees, no longer provide employers with the workforce they need to grow. Employers should become more aware of who non-traditional students are, and how talent from alternative pools brings value.

Why the focus on non-traditional students? 

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner said at a recent conference“Historically here, there’s been a tremendous amount of weight that’s been given to four-year university degrees, and not nearly enough weight, in my opinion, is given to vocational training facilities and vocational training certifications.”

Consider the gap between what “traditional” grads bring to your organization, and what your organization needs. Research from PwC and the Business Higher Education Forum shows a startling gap between educators and business executives when it comes to getting graduates ready for jobs. Their research focused particularly on data science and analytics skills, and found that by 2021, 67% of U.S. executives expect to choose job candidates with data skills over those without – yet only 23 percent of educators believe their students will graduate with these essential tech and analytical skills.

Recruiters, your top schools (that is, traditional higher education) are not preparing students for your future workforce.

Enter, non-traditional students.

Non-traditional students are three-quarters of undergraduates, according to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In addition, the number of on-campus students has declined by 5 percent in 2015.

By “non-traditional,” we refer to students who:

  • Delay enrollment in college
  • Attend school part-time
  • Attend an online college or university
  • Attend technical or vocational school
  • Work full-time while enrolled in school
  • Are considered financially independent
  • Have dependents other than a spouse
  • Are single parents
  • Do not have a traditional high school diploma

A diploma from a top school isn't enough

If you have assumptions about non-traditional students, here’s a challenge

According to Steven Rothberg, President and Founder of College Recruiter, “there is a stigma amongst most employers with formalized college and university recruiting programs against students who attended non-traditional schools including on-line schools. A chief reason, I believe, is a lack of a data-driven approach by the recruiting leaders and hiring managers.”

“Fortunately,” says Rothberg, “more and more employers are embracing data, and really looking not just at their cost-per-hire by source — including schools and job search sites like College Recruiter — but more importantly the productivity of those hires. What employers are starting to discover is that there’s little to no correlation for the vast majority of hires between the status of the school and the productivity of the hire.”

Rothberg cites conversations he’s had with employers such as Lockheed Martin, where they actually discovered an inverse correlation between status of school and productivity of hire. “Perhaps this is due,” says Steven, “to the tendency of so-called scrappers excelling in their environment.”

Recruitment methods to attract non-traditional students 

  • Benefits and perks are not created equal. Financially struggling students may be attracted to a higher paying wage, and thus drawn to the most competitive employers. If your employer can’t compete with the top salary, you should leverage any growth opportunities within your organization. Career development, and thus potential to increase compensation, is a top concern for graduates today.
  • Does your employer reimburse tuition? If so, who is eligible? Eligibility should be extended to part-time students too. If not, offering this benefit can tip talent your way.
  • Look beyond the diploma and academic scores. It’s time to admit that a degree is only a proxy for a skill set. The PwC report recommends that employers instead target their hiring decisions based more on skills. For many in-demand skills such as data analysis and data science, relying on the prestige of a degree just doesn’t work for recruiters. The report explains how graduates of STEM programs and business schools are not necessarily prepared to use data science in business. While there is a growing number of data science degrees, they haven’t been around long enough for many recruiters to trust their viability, let alone assume they will make their list of on-campus visits.

Related: Strategies for recruiting data analytics and related skills

  • Bridge the skills gap with new recruitment methodsOnce you lessen the weight of the institution or degree, you must determine with hiring managers how exactly to measure whether candidates meet skill requirements. To do that, you need to create a common nomenclature to identify needed competencies and skills.
  • Build more collaborative relationships with partners in education, including community and technical colleges, as well as community programs, that will provide job candidates with the skills they need.
  • Identify the barriers to entry. Employers often put up barriers to keep out the people who don’t fit, but those barriers might often keep out the right people. Screening practices for the skills you need must recognize that highly qualified candidates might come through non-traditional paths.
  • When recruiting non-traditional students, the PwC report recommends that employers consider the following:
    • Beware unconscious bias
    • Don’t overstate educational requirements; do consider alternative credentials
    • Use contests to spot talent
    • Create mentor-apprentice relationships
    • Tap into talent exchanges

Related: Diversity recruitment strategies and mistakes

Examples of organizations who include non-traditional students

Here we share a few case studies, provided by Kevin Grossman of The Talent Board.

Humana has a Summer Works non-residential internship program. It’s run in conjunction with the Mayor’s office and the public schools, focused on high school students. They are also increasing their year-round internships that occur while they students are in school full time. Humana offers virtual job experiences as well. For those, they assess the ability and interest to do the job based upon performance of job tasks, as opposed to looking at their previous experience or titles. Finally, Humana says they’re targeting veterans, military spouses and wounded warriors, because this population is so broad and under-utilized, filled with very skilled workers with deep examples of conflict of resolution, mission and collaboration.

Superior Group has an “eXceed Program” for ambitious candidates entering the workforce. They seek bright, driven candidates interested in joining their accelerated learning program, regardless of educational background. This career-advancing talent development program is aimed at shaping future Superior Group leaders through recruiting and sales curriculum training.

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