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How to Select the Best College Talent

June 1, 2014

graduates-from-the-business-school-celebrate-during-harvard-universitys-359th-commencement-exercises-harvard-university-in-cambridge-massachusettsThis article is motivated by a Harvard Business Review article by Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of CollegeFeed entitled How Companies Can Attract the Best College Talent.

Agrawal’s article is insightful and provides some very interesting survey results from CollegeFeed. Interestingly, some of the findings contradict the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys. According to a 2013 NACE study, 98.1% of companies they polled believe that on-campus fairs are the number one avenue for them to brand themselves with students, whereas, “on campus” received less than 40% rating for how Mellenials hear about jobs. For college recruiting, how students hear about your company’s jobs is absolutely the right question to be asking as a recruiter. The other question you should be asking is “how do we hire the best college talent from our pool?”


This article isn’t about social media branding. It is about selecting the best college talent. However, one of the important parts to being able to select great talent is to have a powerful presence at the right time and in the right place. To take your on-campus talent sourcing strategy to an entirely new level, build relationships with key faculty. Faculty can play a powerful role in bringing attention to the right students to check out your upcoming visits and interview schedule. Support relevant career-related on-campus clubs by offering speakers. Once you have a cadre of top talent identified, do something extraordinary for that select group as part of the next steps.

I recall a recruiting trip to University of South Carolina to recruit accounting majors while I was with an international oil and gas exploration company in Houston, Texas. We found the quality of candidates to be very high caliber. We typically select 2 or 3 from any one campus, but this time we had seven students we were very interested in having visit our headquarters. We knew it would be difficult to convince these students to relocate to Houston, Texas. With seven, we also had the opportunity to cost justify the company jet going to pick them up. We also recognized the perceptions of “Texas” vs South Carolina might be a challenge from a quality of life standpoint. Once we received seven acceptances to visit and interview at the headquarters (we were pleased with this 100% acceptance rate but also knew there was a big difference between visiting and accepting an offer of employment), we booked the company jet and planned their visit to showcase the beauty of Houston while they were in town. The interviewing day was designed for each student to meet with one of last year’s recruits informally as well as participate in interviews with different managers throughout the accounting organization so they could learn about the many different types of accounting. And of course the company jet did deliver them back to campus. The entire effort was seamless and executed beautifully from every standpoint. We made seven offers. We received seven acceptances. Of those seven, all but one remained at the company and reached management levels within five years. It just doesn’t get any better as desired outcome. Keep in mind, our success metric wasn’t an acceptance rate – it was to see each one of these recruits flourish and succeed.

With that success, and the way it was done, you’d think that was the end of this article on “how to hire the best talent”. What I learned over time is that I was part of an unusual organization. The HR organization was staffed with top talent and the accounting organization was staffed with top talent. The accounting organization embraced HR and together we made a great team for evaluating and selecting talent. We co-created the recruiting strategies. From HR’s standpoint (I was the HR Business Partner assigned to Accounting), Accounting was the customer and I was there to find the best way to accomplish their goals – which was not measured by offer-to-hire ratios. Finding and acquiring the best talent was the goal. Success would be measured five years later. That was in the 1980’s.

Today, for many reasons, we are finding GPA and interviewing skills for hiring managers and the recruit are insufficient. The cost of a mediocre hire off campus is extremely high. College recruits for the most part should be seen as an investment in the long-term need for top talent up the ranks. To have a college recruit leave after two years needs to be considered a total failure. Someone, and likely everyone involved, failed in their responsibilities when this happens.

In the 1980’s talent assessments were starting to be used, especially for sales hiring (early adopters). Management hires were given a relatively expensive assessment and perhaps a full round of psychological interviews which were even more expensive. Today, companies are still paying $5,000 or more for a management candidate evaluation.  This approach is not only a totally unnecessary expense but is proving to not generate the desired result – to hire the best talent and ensuring their value to the organization.

AssessmentTriadGraphicNot all, but some talent assessments have come a long way both in quality and in cost. These assessments are being used at all levels within an organization, from executive-level positions to the lowest professional exempt levels and even positions that don’t need a degree but are considered critical positions. The cost-benefit analysis consistently shows the payoff. Let’s look at how this applies to college recruiting.

Cost to Hire a College Recruit

  • Branding and marketing costs
  • On-campus visits including interviewing trips
  • Corporate visits for the student
  • Time of all involved in the corporate interview process
  • Relocation expense for the new hire

Let’s say conservatively we are investing $5,000 per student candidate that makes it to the corporate headquarters interview stage and add another $5,000 for relocation and new hire start up costs. And our failure rate between offer non-acceptance and new hire turnover within the first two years is 40%. For ten college hires, that is a cost of doing business of $20,000 that is typically rationalized as part of what it takes to get the 60% success rate. In the case above, we knew the college recruit needed a strong GPA (we benchmarked a need for at least a 3.25 gpa) and the proper undergraduate degree in Accounting. For many companies, the lost $20,000 isn’t significant enough to worry about when you are planning to pay on average $50,000 in a first year salary.  But after two years, your investment is not only the $20,000 but the added $100,000 per hire. And we know for the occasional poor performer that needs help in finding different employment there is added time and money. And for each failure, you’ve created a hole in your internal talent pipeline.

Now add a high-quality talent assessment that is tied to a job benchmark that identifies the makeup of a highly successful person in the job (the job’s talent requirements). You still need the GPA and degree benchmark. Those are part of the screening used to evaluate the 15 or 20 students you interviewed on the college campus. After filtering out the undesirables from on-campus recruiting at all campuses (let’s say you went to ten campuses), you are down to 50 students (5 from each campus) who you are wanting to invite into corporate headquarters for a day of interviewing.  For the 50 students (that will generate 10 hires), let’s place a $325 assessment cost that is applied before they are provided an invite to corporate. That is an expense of $16,250 for 50 students. Remember, you were ready to invite all 50 to the home office before the assessment results. Now, of the 50 students, you can safely cut 10 of them from the invite list, leaving you 40 recruits that you are more confident they will be worth the investment of time. You’ve just traded $50,000 (or more) for $16,250 and increased your ability to effectively interview the remaining 40 students (the assessment results can provide greater insight to target some of the interview questions).

STEM Collage563x563So why aren’t more companies using talent assessments as part of their college recruit selection strategy?

There are likely many reasons, but I see the most common one being a resistance by HR (talent acquisition professionals). In my experience, the hiring manager (the client of HR) quickly recognizes the value and consistent accuracy of predictiveness of the assessments I offer. For HR, using a high-quality assessment means they need to be knowledgeable in how to use the tool properly and that tends to slow down the adoption rate. Perhaps it is a fear of loss of control. It might be their inability to see the cost as an investment in cost-avoidance. The fact is that these assessment tools are very effective and a must-have if you want to cut traditional hiring costs. But more importantly, you need to understand that your college recruits feed your talent pipeline for years to come. Starting with the best talent possible and avoiding the kind of talent that is disruptive to your talent management goals is a best business practice.

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