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Corporate Recruiting In the 21st Century

Corporate Recruiting In the 21st Century

Minority-serving institutions have long been recognized as great sources of talent in the search for diverse and qualified candidates.

By Ronald Roach

Recruiting for diverse talent is a major priority in corporate America. At a time when employee recruiting is being transformed by the Internet and other technologies, corporate recruiters and campus career services professionals share the belief that college and university campuses represent the most important source for diverse talent. Within the literature on diversity recruiting, as well as what conventional wisdom prescribes, colleges and universities are touted for their diverse populations.

“The very nature of universities is that they are a diverse pool of people. Universities are the best source for diverse candidates,” says Bill Craib, a senior director at the Human Capital Institute, an educational and consulting organization that provides advice to companies and their recruiting professionals on attracting and managing talent. 

Those in the corporate recruiting community say minority-serving institutions, such as historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions, are highly valued because they are perceived as quality sources of minority talent. Those urban public universities with significant minority numbers, whether Asian American, Black or Hispanic, also rank high with recruiters.

“It’s well understood that minority-serving schools are excellent places to find diverse talent. Informed recruiters are attuned to what these institutions have to offer,” Craib says. 

Students at Howard University, a private historically Black university in Washington D.C., benefit considerably from the corporate push for diverse talent. Prior to 2001, the university’s career services office used to host one job fair, which attracted about 130 organizations. Now, the university hosts fairs in the fall and the spring, drawing 170 and 140 organizations, respectively, says director Kim R. Wells.

“It’s clear that Howard has one of the best pools of African-American talent in the world,” Wells says. “A lot of employers come with diversity as a priority, but not all. Some come to Howard simply because it has a talented pool of students. It’s more than just diversity. They’re looking at talent. Our students fit either category.”

Celeste Robertson, the assistant director of the career center at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, says that with minority students making up 20 percent of the school’s 20,000 undergraduates, employers say that they are looking for racial, ethnic and gender diversity among the students they’d like to reach and consider for employment.

“Saying that diversity is important to their companies is something we hear a lot from employers. They come to us seeking diverse talent,” Robertson says.

Recruiting in the 21st Century
Whether at a minority-serving institution, an urban public university or a majority White school where there’s modest racial and ethnic diversity, the career services field has been a growing arena for higher education institutions, according to professionals in the field. When Angela Walker began working at Georgia State University 16 years ago, the university’s career services office was known as the Placement Office. It had just six employees and focused mostly on juniors, seniors and graduate students. Today, it has 11 employees, says Walker, the office’s acting director. 

 She says there has been a shift away from an exclusive focus on upper-level students. Today, the office provides programming for undergraduates at all levels. For instance, GSU has begun programs for freshman and sophomore students that stress skills like résumé writing and job interview techniques.

The rise of the Internet has also changed the field of career services, says Walker. Much of the job search process, from writing résumés to coordinating job interviews, is handled over the Internet, requiring students to be proactive and savvy about using computers.

“Technology has really allowed us to communicate more effectively with the employers and our students,” Walker says. “We can do all of our business on these new systems.”

Walker believes there’s a greater recognition among career services professionals that their work can improve an institution’s overall ability to retain students. With that recognition, the career service office at GSU has undertaken steps to improve its operations based on having students report how much they are learning and benefiting from career services programs.

“Career services [are] part of student retention. It’s been shown that when you get students involved with career services they stay in college longer,” she says.

Students are savvier now than they were just five years ago, says Howard’s Wells. “Freshmen know they have to have internships,” he says, noting that students attend a required career services orientation session during the first week of freshman year.   

Wells says he has also seen a revolution among how firms position themselves to work with both schools and individual students. Just as career services offices have expanded their offerings to better serve first- and second-year students, companies have moved towards getting involved with potential hires at the earliest stages of students’ academic careers. This trend has occurred because the competition for talent has increased, he says.

“It’s important that employers spend time with freshmen and sophomores. There are a growing number of organizations that are engaging students in competitions and activities,” he says.

The old practice of an employer leaving flyers at a campus and hoping for a response is ineffective in the current climate, Wells says. For employers to successfully recruit quality students, they must work to build a relationship that also benefits the university and the students.

“Dropping flyers from 40,000 feet just does not work. What works with students is trust and being committed to a form of partnership,” he says. “Students are not just looking at a job.

They’re looking at careers and lifestyles. They’re looking for the complete package.” 

Special Initiatives
Craib, at the Human Capital Institute, says recruiters are looking for specific and highly targeted ways to attract minority and female recruits to the companies they represent. It’s not uncommon for organizations to seek campus meetings and sponsor activities with groups, such as a National Society of Black Engineers chapter, at a given university. Other special initiatives include the growing sponsorship of contests, such as business case studies and engineering and computer programming competitions.

“Recruiters know that it’s not always the person with whom they’ve made contact they’ll hire, but rather it’s someone that person knows that they’ll recruit,” Craib says.

For their part, schools have also been willing to participate in and develop special initiatives that match their students with companies who are seeking diverse talent. Bowling Green, for example, has developed the Multicultural Career Institute. Under Robertson’s direction, the institute has evolved from a program that targeted only Black students to one that prepares students of all backgrounds to work in culturally diverse environments.

Over the past four years, roughly 40 sophomores a year participated in the institute, which taught students how to work in culturally, ethnically and racially diverse teams. The students also learn traditional job search and professional etiquette skills. This academic year, as many as 120 students will participate in the institute, says Robertson.

“There’s considerable interest in this program because students know they’ll be working in diverse settings,” she says. “Our institute will get Black students from Detroit interacting with White students from small Ohio towns where there’s no racial diversity, and they learn how to work with one another and to respect their cultural differences.”

Individual academic departments are also undertaking initiatives to link companies with diverse student talent. Careers services divisions are popping up at business schools across the country, for instance. Career service professionals say it’s a growing trend and one that allows the business schools to cultivate unique relationships with corporate partners.

One well-known example has been the college of business at historically Black Florida A&M University, where legendary former dean Dr. Sybil Mobley established a national reputation for the high quality of undergraduate business education. Mobley attracted the interest and support of the nation’s most prestigious companies during the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in hundreds of FAMU business students going on to careers in Fortune 500 companies and top-tier investment banking firms. 

This decade, minority-serving schools and public urban universities remain eager to partner with corporations. In recent years, Tennessee State University, a historically Black university in Nashville, has pioneered one of the country’s few supply chain management education programs among business schools.

A newly emerging field, supply chain management encompasses the strategy through which goods are developed, produced, distributed and purchased in wholesale and retail markets.

By allowing companies to develop their products with materials and manufacturing processes spread across multiple countries, supply chain management is one of the fastest growing business sectors in the world.

Lisa Smith, the director of public service at TSU’s business school, says the supply chain program was developed in cooperation with companies, such as Dell Computers, Corning Glass and Lexmark International. In two years of operation, the program currently has more than 30 undergraduate business students and several graduate students pursuing the supply chain management major.

Program supporters say the program has helped make TSU a reliable source of minority talent for corporations.

“We have students who’ve been in internships and now entering their senior year and they already have job offers,” Smith says.

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