The Best College Hires Graduated Two Years Ago

If you need immediate help on a project, don’t hire a recent college grad. Instead, “poach” a college grad from two years ago that a competitor has trained and developed at their expense. “Two-years-out” grads are more focused, mature, and immediately productive! Most managers know that recent college hires almost always require a good deal of training and “breaking in” before they become truly productive. As a college professor, I’m continually surprised when companies recruit our recent grads. Don’t get me wrong, I like college students, but it’s also clear that they have a long “ramp up” learning period and an even longer payback period. Their low initial ROI makes recruiting them during tough economic times that much harder to justify. As always, in a rapidly changing world, it is essential that you use a data-driven approach to your decision making if you hope to obtain funding for college recruiting. A quote from a Cisco hiring manager says it all: “If Cisco had a choice between hiring [cheaper] college graduates and experienced people, they would go with experienced people because the time and cost of training will exceed the dollar amount of the salary differences.” If you do the economic analysis the results are not encouraging. There is often an 18-24 month breakeven period for college hires in professional jobs. What this means to managers is that the initial “time to productivity” for most college hires is so long that it’s difficult to make an economic case for recruiting them. In addition, this “new generation” has little loyalty, and it is unlikely that they intend to stay with their first job and company for very long. Other reasons to avoid “this year’s” grads is that recent college hires, especially the undergraduate variety, can suffer from a variety of maladies including:

  • A tendency to “overparty” with their newfound income
  • Their need for extensive training
  • An all-too-common impatience with “working their way up” slowly
  • A high error rate
  • The fact that they require a good deal of management time and coaching

I could go on, but the basic premise is that recent college hires have such a long break-in period that it’s better to avoid them altogether and instead focus your recruiting on hiring students who graduated one or two years ago. Let some other “fool” train them first, and then hire them away! I know this “poach them” approach might sound callous, but the costs of recruiting, training, and breaking in recent college grads are so high you need to rethink your approach. So instead of traditional college hiring, why not identify the good ones, track what firms they go to, and recruit them away after they have had a chance to gain a little experience. I call this approach “delayed, two-years-out” college hiring. The Advantages of “Delayed, Two-Years-Out” College Hiring There are many advantages in postponing your traditional college hiring until graduates are two years out of school. Some of them include:

  • The candidate will be trained at someone else’s expense.
  • The candidate will have made many mistakes and hopefully learned from them (again, at another company’s expense).
  • They will be more mature and focused.
  • They will now know what they are good at, what they enjoy doing, what they dislike, and how they like to be managed.
  • They will probably still be enthusiastic, but that enthusiasm will be more controlled and focused.
  • Another firm will have already assessed their work, meaning you can select hires based on results, not potential.
  • Someone else has already paid them a signing bonus, so you won’t have to.

The steps in the “delayed, two-years-out” college hiring process are relatively simple. They include:

  1. Recruit on campus using your standard approach, with the goal of identifying top students but not hiring them right away. Or, if you’re in a hurry, just ask the dean or the alumni association for a list of the top grads from the last two years and target them directly.
  2. Maintain e-mail contact with each of your targeted students while they are still in school in order to build a relationship. Ask them directly where they have accepted an offer. Another option is to ask other students, the faculty, or student group leaders where the top students ended up working.
  3. After they graduate, continue the e-mail relationship. You might also try giving them product discounts, sending them a newsletter, or finding other ways to keep in touch.
  4. Assess their progress and learning at their current firm. Ask recent hires who came from a competitor which recent college grads turned out to be the best performers.
  5. Approach the targeted “superstars” with an offer after a set period of time (between 12 and 18 months, for example).

Don’t Be Surprised If They Jump At Your Offer Don’t be surprised if they jump at your job offer, because most college students are dissatisfied with their first job and by 18 months are ready to move. There are a variety of reasons they are ready to leave, but the most common are:

  • They were given a “learning” assignment, which turned out to be “as dull as toast.”
  • Their initial assignment to a manager was less than scientific, and as a result, they are frustrated with their current manager.
  • They were promised significant decision-making opportunities that never materialized.
  • College grads these days have different values, and job jumping is not a major concern for them.

Conclusion If you’re facing tight budgets and hard economic times it’s even more essential that you make every one of your limited hiring opportunities count. As a manager this means “running the numbers” so that you know for sure which recruiting tools are providing the highest value. In a war for talent, it is essential that you think and act aggressively. By targeting recent college grads from other firms, you simultaneously weaken your competitors while strengthening your own firm (I call that win/lose). In addition, by hiring a two-years-out student, you get an enthusiastic, well trained, but more mature individual who is much more likely to be focused and productive than a recent grad. These hires are likely to be productive almost immediately, and they will invariably have a more stable personal life. I know several firms that have used this approach quite effectively and I recommend it when recruiters come to campus. It’s an outside-the-box approach, but the results are easy to see and measure. So go ahead, give it a try. You’ll be so happy with the results you might never hire another just-out-of-school grad again!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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