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How To Think Like A Recruiter!

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Diamonds in the rough

Today, we are going to take a different kind of decision journey by taking you to the other side of job decision-making. This article shows you --

How To Think Like A Recruiter!

Earlier in my career, I led college recruiting for KPMG at James Madison University. Over the years, I am fortunate to have worked with many dedicated people. These are the hiring managers, recruiting leaders, and the many people collaborating to hire large intern and full-time hire classes every year.

About the author: Jeff Hulett is a career banker, data scientist, behavioral economist, and choice architect. Jeff has held banking and consulting leadership roles at Wells Fargo, Citibank, KPMG, and IBM. Today, Jeff is an executive with the Definitive Companies. He teaches personal finance at James Madison University and provides personal finance seminars. Check out his new book -- Making Choices, Making Money: Your Guide to Making Confident Financial Decisions -- at

Please check out Jeff's YouTube channel for the presentation of this article: How to think like a recruiter!

If you are looking for a new job, especially when you first get out of school, it helps to think like a recruiter. The better a job candidate understands how large firms approach their recruiting decision-making, the better you will be able to get the best job!

So here we go!

First – there is no doubt, more than ever, an organization’s human resources aptitude is the difference between success and mediocrity. Leaders must care deeply about their organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. This is even more true in the professional services arena. For professional services firms like the Big 4 - people are the product. Client success is all about the people hired out of school or with experience.

A college recruiting priority is finding and developing the ‘diamonds in the rough.’ These are the new hires who will eventually be an important part of leadership and will make high-impact client contributions.

As client services professionals, we also appreciate the role of resource development and training for the industries we serve. While it is always hoped the new college hires will make a career at our firm, another positive outcome is for the professionally trained people to find success with the clients.

When evaluating new college hires, we consider many factors. We do boil it down to three essential factors called The 3 Cs. Also, many organizations have a strong recruiting compliance discipline. This discipline ensures compliance with the law, sets the tone for recruiting process consistency, and generally keeps us well-meaning hiring leaders out of hot water!

Firm Recruiting The 3 C's

Next are the "3 C's." These help to frame the college new hire decision process.

  1. The first C is - intellectual Competence → which is the ability and willingness to learn

  2. Next is Conscientiousness → which is a resilient and hard worker

  3. And finally, the third C is Collaborativeness → which is a team player

Let’s dig into each of the 3 Cs:

Intellectual Competence - Academic performance and the price of entry.

I am looking for evidence a candidate took their college academics seriously. Academic performance is generally mediated by grades. I am also looking for specific majors and disciplines related to our hiring needs. Additionally, depending on the role, I am looking for certifications or certification commitments in the future. Example criteria may include a minimum GPA, a particular business or STEM-based major, and a commitment toward sitting for the CPA, CFA, or related designation. Keep in mind, that these performance expectations are sometimes, in some combination, minimum screening criteria. In other words, a candidate may not be invited for an interview if they do not meet the minimum objective criteria. While it is certainly possible good candidates are missed because they don’t meet these initial screens, this process helps tune interview pool characteristics to increase the successful hire probability.

Conscientiousness - A demonstration of resilience.

This is, by far, the hardest to evaluate. It is also very important. So here is the thing - work is challenging at times. Clients may be demanding. Work hours may be long. Projects may 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 handled in the future. I am looking for evidence that when difficult situations are inevitably faced at work, the candidate is capable of effectively handling them.

Collaborativeness - Leadership and making the most of college.

I look for confirmation a candidate made the most of their college experience outside their classwork. I consider the 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 many 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 consider the depth of involvement and, in particular, leadership roles. The candidate should demonstrate how they grew with an organization and helped improve it by taking responsibility.

Those are the 3 Cs! Think of college as an opportunity to demonstrate the 3 Cs. There are certainly other ways, but many employers have developed trust and experience in hiring great talent from our college system. Early in the recruiting process, when decisions are made about who to interview, the GPA and major are the most important 3 Cs signal.

Now, let’s discuss the criterion NOT on the list. That is -- the name of the college from where the new hire will graduate. Big 4 firms consider many colleges – Big schools and little schools -- private colleges and public colleges.

This may surprise you. You may think, “Why wouldn’t successful firms focus on hiring from selective colleges and universities like the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Chicago, or others?

There are a few good reasons.

  1. The biggest practical reason is that there are too few students in the selective colleges. Only about 1% of college grads come from the selectives.

  2. Another big reason is our results. Big 4 experience teaches that the best strategy is to target colleges broadly and target high-quality students narrowly within those colleges.

  3. The law and many progressive people encourage hiring diversity. Common hiring practice is to stay in sync with legal expectations by hiring from a diverse group of colleges.

There are amazing students at every college. The trick for the recruiter is finding them and encouraging them to join our team.

Finally, next is advice for those in college and at the beginning of the college recruiting process. Think of your job hunt as a multi-year process. Every recruiting touch matters AND the more the better! Actions include:

  • Going to networking events,

  • Activating club meetings with employer presentations,

  • Going to the recruiter's office hours,

  • Selling yourself on social media,

  • Preparing your resume and yourself for the interview.

IT ALL MATTERS. Taking the small risk of putting yourself out there will have big rewards!

So, keep your grades up, do not pay too much for that good GPA, and put yourself out there for recruiters to see!


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