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Why leading employers want to hire more diverse interns

Posted October 22, 2020 by

For years, most medium- and large-sized employers have moved beyond hiring people of color and other diverse candidates because they need to for compliance or public relations reasons. Instead, they’ve come to embrace the importance of hiring diverse candidates because they understand that study after study after study demonstrate that the more diverse their workforces are, the more productive those workforces are.

Oddly, some of these same organizations are the most resistant to hiring diverse students for internships. Some have done a decent job of trying harder to hire women for STEM roles or people of color for just about any role. But there’s still often a divide within the talent acquisition departments when it comes to students who are veterans with the college and university recruiting teams shying away from veterans, in part, because they don’t want to step on the toes of their colleagues who recruit military veterans. Unfortunately, those same recruiters of military veterans will often shy away from the same candidates because they don’t want to step on the toes of their college and university recruiting colleagues. The winner? No one.

A different problem can be found when it comes to the recruitment of other diverse students by college and university recruiters for internships. Since the 1950s, the vast majority of students hired for internships have been hired by medium- and large-sized employers and the vast majority of that hiring has been done through on-campus recruiting. The immense cost of sending recruiters and hiring managers to college and university campuses meant that those organizations needed to be selective about which schools they visited, and that selectivity bred exclusivity and that led to an appalling lack of diversity.

Even if the employer successfully recruited women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, etc., they were never going to recruit a diverse group of students for internships because those students almost all went to the same schools. Because they went to the same schools, it was highly likely that they lacked geographic, socioeconomic, and other diversity characteristics.

A small number of employers have recently moved toward being more school and even major agnostic, meaning that it didn’t really matter to them what school the student was enrolled in or even what classes they were taking. Why? Because employers value students who have good, critical thinking skills. In the words of a recruiting leader friend of mine from a Big Four accounting and consulting firm, “We can teach them how to read a balance sheet but we can’t teach them how to think critically”.

By reducing the importance of the school and even major, these employers were expanding the pool of students who would be well-qualified for their internships, and that had the direct and hugely beneficial result of increasing the number of diverse students applying for their internships. The ability of these diverse candidates to think critically made their teams more productive, which is exactly why leading employers work hard to hire diverse students for internships.

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