Diamonds In The Rough – A perspective on making high impact college hires

Updated: Sep 17

Jeff Hulett, March 1, 2016

Over my almost 30 years in the banking business, I have had the privilege of hiring, managing, leading, and being led by many fabulous people. My personal style and approach to people management and leadership has evolved over the years. My evolution has much less to do with the changing hiring environment or even the differences between the “Gen-X” and “Millennial” generations. My evolution has more to do with my own personal journey and leadership experiences.

But, no doubt, more than ever, an organization’s human resource aptitude is the difference between success and mediocrity. Leaders must care deeply about their organization’s ability to attract and retain talent.

I help lead a Risk Consulting advisory practice for KPMG, providing Advisory services to the banking industry. I devoted the majority of my career to the banking industry, and now, I have the honor to advise my industry. I also lead our practice’s recruiting and alumni relations for James Madison University. To support the clients and advisory service operations, a variety of talent needs to be hired and developed.

At one end of the hiring spectrum are people with significant industry experience. Advisory clients expect engagement management and senior staff to “get it,” to have walked in their shoes, and to have very in-depth industry understanding and capability to help solve their challenges.

At the other end of the hiring spectrum are new college graduates. While the number of nontraditional students are increasing, the majority of new college hires are the traditional twenty something types with little experience, but with tremendous intellectual horse power, growth potential, and personal drive.

From my experience, the most difficult hiring decision is for new college graduates. To some degree, the organizational risks associated with making a college hiring decision (as compared to an experienced hire) are lower because the new college hire typically commands lower financial and client leverage. However, given the volume of new college hires and the recruiting costs, getting it right is incredibly important.

More than that, finding the “diamonds in the rough,” that is, the people that will eventually be an important part of leadership and / or will make high impact client contributions, is an important consideration.

As a client services professional, I also appreciate the role of resource development and training for the industries we serve. While I always hope the new college hires will make a career in professional services, another positive outcome is for the professionally trained resources to find success with the clients.

Why is it hard to make good college hiring decisions? There are several reasons, most involve the ability to predict how the prospective new college graduate will respond to the work environment.

  • By definition, traditional college hires lack significant industry experience. Predicting success is difficult because there is little concrete behavioral experience to guide the hire decision.

  • Many new traditional college graduates are still in their formative professional maturation process and acclimating from the classroom to the real world business environment. Upon hire, they will likely evolve significantly, both personally and professionally. This creates uncertainty.

  • Colleges have become good at preparing their students for the recruiting process. I know, this sounds contradictory, why would this make it harder to recruit? Generally, I am a fan of the recruiting and interview preparation colleges provide their students. However, a drawback is, the résumé workshops and the interview technique practice can create significant standardization. As a result, it is sometimes actually harder to differentiate college hire applicants because of the preparatory standardization.

When I’m evaluating new college hires, I consider many factors. Also, many organizations, especially those in professional services, have a strong recruiting compliance discipline. This discipline ensures compliance with law and sets the tone for recruiting process consistency across the organization.

Given the preceding context, there are 3 primary focus areas that frame my decision process.

  • Collegiate academic performance and the Price of Entry. I’m looking for evidence a candidate took their college academics seriously and has the associated demonstrated performance. I’m also looking for specific majors and disciplines related to our hiring needs. Additionally, I’m looking for certifications or certification commitments in the near future. So, for example, a minimum GPA, a particular business major, and a commitment toward sitting for the CPA, CFA or related designation. Keep in mind, these performance expectations are sometimes, and in some combination, used as minimum screening criteria. In other words, a candidate may not even get an interview if they don’t meet minimum objective criteria. While it is certainly possible good candidates are missed because they don’t meet these initial screens, this process helps reduce the interview pool size and tune interview pool characteristics to help increase the successful hire probability.

  • Leadership and making the most out of college. I look for confirmation a candidate made the most out of their college experience outside their class work. I consider evidence they respected their college experience as an opportunity and a personal investment. Not as important, is the actual nature of the out of class participation itself. There are a number of interesting and useful out of classroom career preparation experiences. For example, it could be the business fraternity or business honor society, it could be an investment club or case study club, it could be the social Greek system, it could be a religious organization, it could be an athletic team, it could be employment to pay for college. It could be something else. But here is the important point, I am not looking for a wide variety of participation experiences. I am looking for in depth involvement and, in particular, leadership roles. The candidate should demonstrate how they grew with an organization (s) and helped improve it by taking responsibility.

  • A demonstration of character. This is, by far, the hardest to evaluate. It is also very important. So here is the thing. Work is hard at times. Clients can be demanding. Hours can be long. Projects can be challenging. Bosses are not always immediately attentive. Promotions don’t always occur as quickly as envisioned. So, I look for evidence the candidate has successfully managed difficult situations in the past. How the candidate managed a rejection, a failure, or some difficult life event gives me insight into how difficult situations will be handle in the future. I am looking for evidence that when difficult situations are inevitably faced at work, the candidate is capable of handling them effectively.

There are certainly other factors, but hopefully this provides a sense of some of the key items considered in the college recruiting process. Now, let’s discuss what I did not mention. That is, the name of the college attending or graduated. That is right, on my list of focus areas, the actual name of the school is not directly on the list. I qualify with “directly,” because the school does need to have the relevant majors and accreditation to qualify as a target school for recruiting. Also, there is a practical geographic element that an organization’s offices tend to recruit in their general regional location. For example, Mid-Atlantic offices tend to recruit out of schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.

My point is, as a person in college, don’t get too hung up on the brand name of the school you attend or graduated. What is much more important is that you got the most out of your school and ultimately, your career experiences. The rest should take care of itself.

Thanks for reading. Thoughts expressed here are my own.

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8. Career choices - Do I need to be a Data Scientist in an AI-enabled world?

9. Career choices - Diamonds In The Rough - A perspective on making high impact college hires

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