Advice for Employers and Recruiters

The surprising reason why more employers are hiring more first-generation students and other scrappers

Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
February 3, 2021

For years, we’ve been hearing employers talk about the importance of hiring a diverse workforce. Our founder, Steven Rothberg, first encountered this way back in 1989 when he worked for Honeywell as a student. Down the hall from his cube was the Office of Affirmative Action. Typical for that era, the reason for the existence of the office was far more about compliance than furthering any other business objective.

Now, let’s flash forward a couple of decades. Not only were the names of these offices changed to include words like diversity, equity, and inclusion but also changed were the objectives. The world’s largest and most respected employers of students and recent graduates have been diversifying their candidate pools not just for compliance but because the data shows that more diverse workforces are more productive workforces.

Despite these changes, few employers, until recently, were doing more than just tweaking their college employment programs. The vast majority of employers with formalized programs recruited virtually all of their interns and entry-level hires from the same schools and majors year after year after year.

Making matters worse, employers who targeted STEM majors tended to overwhelmingly hire males. Similarly, employers targeting nursing and education majors tended to overwhelmingly hire females. Further compounding this lack of diverse talent was the reality that schools tend to have little diversity when it comes to socioeconomic, geographic, and other such backgrounds. If you are male, middle-class, white, and attend an engineering school in the Midwest, chances are that a very large proportion of your classmates are also male, middle-class, and white.

Eventually, the productivity gains seen by talent acquisition leaders from their efforts to create more diverse and inclusive workforces began to percolate into their college programs. Employers began to slowly expand their recruitment beyond their top schools to be more welcoming to well-qualified candidates from those who applied online through the employers’ career sites, job search sites like College Recruiter, and other virtual channels. For the first time, these employers were actually able to measure the effectiveness of their legacy recruiting channels. Many were shocked to discover just how poorly their traditionally hired employees performed when compared against employees hired through these new (at least new to these employers) and, therefore, non-traditional, virtual channels.

Why would traditionally hired entry-level employees be less productive than hires from non-traditional sources? The reasons varied, but a typical one we heard when talking with these employers was far lower turnover. Hires from elite suburbs who attended elite schools and who had elite grades often stayed with their first employer for only a year or two. “Scrappers” from non-traditional backgrounds who attended second- or even third-tier schools often stayed for five or ten years or even more.

According to Tamara Seiler of Hudsonmann, a human resources company that specializes in consulting federal contractors, “recruiting from different ‘ponds’ ensures that the applicant pool remains diverse and fresh.” Targeted, meaningful outreach to minority, veteran, female, and other such candidates is necessary, according to Tamara, “not only because of their goals but because it is a good business practice. Diversity is key for businesses to stay competitive, stay compliant, and to afford all qualified individuals the opportunity for employment.”

Call me a nerd if you wish, but something I find really exciting is how very large, very well-respected employers have moved far beyond affirmative action compliance programs and diversity programs to fully embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. They do this not just because non-traditional, virtually hired employees have proven to be more productive. Some of these employers are moving toward an agnostic approach when targeting schools and even majors because they’ve found poor and even negative correlations between the perceived quality of the schools and majors and the productivity of their workforce.

To be school agnostic means that you have no preference regarding what school a candidate attended. Consider the typical college recruiting programs.  They focus on sending recruiters and hiring managers from campus to campus, attending in-person and virtual career events, conducting on-campus interviews, wining-and-dining professors, and even attending homecoming football games. You can imagine just how profoundly different it would be to run a program which is school agnostic. Almost completely different, in fact. Rather than focusing on the process of going from one school to another to hire students, a virtual and school agnostic program focuses on outcomes: hire those who promise to be the most productive employees. That must sound crazy to some but seems quite rational to me. At College Recruiter, we believe that every student and recent grad deserves a great career. Our customers are primarily Fortune 1,000 companies, government agencies, and other employers who hire at scale, meaning dozens or hundreds. These organizations advertise their part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs with us to help them hire students and recent graduates of all 7,400+ one-, two-, and four-year colleges and universities.

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