TAGS: legal issues, candidate selection, case study, ethics, principles
Scenario: A prominent alum who is also a representative of Organization Z (OZ), a highly prestigious employer that typically recruits at only the most selective institutions, reaches out to the career center. Recognizing that all institutions have impressive students with exceptional skills, OZ has decided to broaden its recruiting efforts this year to include “alumni network schools”—institutions not among OZ’s core recruitment schools, but which have produced a handful of graduates currently in their executive ranks. Their intent is to create a secondary talent pipeline brokered through alumni relationships. The alum indicates that this is a pilot year, and if things go well the institution may open a more permanent pipeline. Obviously, OZ would like to see the institution’s best and brightest students in the initial pool. “Whatever you can do to ensure it’s a competitive group,” the alum urges, “the more OZ will agree our school is a good source of competitive talent. So how can we make this happen?”
Questions: Should the career center do anything out of the ordinary to support the initiative? Is it appropriate for the career center director (CCD) to scan the center’s management system for the top students and share their resumes with the alum? Should the CCD reach out to certain students and encourage them to apply?
Analysis: This situation presents two challenges for the CCD. The first is the potential to secure a much-coveted recruiting relationship with a high-profile employer that will excite students as well as a few deans. The second is meeting the expectations of an alum who has supported the institution financially and is admired by campus administrators. How the CCD responds will certainly be shared with those administrators, for better or worse.
Helping an employer successfully recruit on campus is a routine part of the career center’s responsibilities. However, proactive efforts must comply with professional practices, and they should be commensurate with assistance extended to any requesting employer. Above all, they must be fair to the students eager to be considered for an opportunity with the organization.
In general, the career center strives to expand the targeted focus of employers to include more students rather than fewer. For example, a recruiter restricting applications to a single academic discipline might be encouraged to consider several other majors whose students possess similar skills. On rare occasions, the CCD may help “tighten” an employer’s selection criteria if previous recruiting attempts have yielded an unsatisfactory candidate pool (and, perhaps, the employer has indicated the institution is in jeopardy of being dropped). But any screening criteria recommended or supported by the CCD must be objective and reasonable—not criteria adopted simply as a convenience to the recruiter.
Principles: Principle 3 states, “Ensure equitable access without stipulation or exception relative to contributions of financial support, gifts, affiliation, or in-kind services.” Principle 4 states, “Comply with laws associated with local, state, and federal agencies, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration, and affirmative action.”
Options for Resolution: One option can immediately be taken off the table—hand selecting potential applicants from the center’s database of student resumes. Applying subjective criteria on behalf of an employer, no matter how noble the intentions of the CCD, is a conflict of interests. The mission of the career center is to support all students on campus (or within a specific program or school, if it is a focused center). The career centers of most institutions are funded predominantly by tuition dollars, which places students in the role of client. Even a recruiting company that annually donates to the career center cannot supplant the primacy of the student. Thus, arbitrarily favoring some students over others in service to an employer violates the student-career center relationship.
This does not mean that the career center cannot explore ways to work within the parameters. The CCD may want to think realistically about a best possible outcome under these circumstances. OZ is trying out this new “alumni network” approach as a supplement to its usual recruiting practices. It’s not intended to displace recruiting from any of the company’s core recruiting schools, and even though the experiment extends to many schools across the country, the expected yield is low. In other words, the highest possible number of candidates (from the CCD’s institution) that may make it all the way through to an offer is probably one or two. In order to be regarded as competitive alongside the talent from OZ’s elite core schools, the candidates will have to possess remarkable credentials. This argues against casting a wide net that may result not only in an unacceptable pool from the employer’s perspective, but also a significant number of disappointed students.
What objective criteria, then, would produce the most likely success rate? Many institutions have special programs—honors colleges or living-learning programs, for example—that admit a limited number of students based on academic criteria, leadership potential, co-curricular involvement, or other distinguishing characteristics. If the attributes required for admission to these programs align in a meaningful way with the attributes required of OZ hires, a logic exists for targeting their students.
It may also be possible to “layer” the approach. If the alum agrees that students in one of the special programs represent an ideal match, the alum may also allow a slightly broader net be employed as well—perhaps students from one or two specific majors that align with the company’s field who have a GPA above a certain threshold; or, a cross-referenced list comprised of students in specific majors with high GPAs who also participate in a competitive co-curricular activity. Obviously, this kind of approach can become unwieldy (and indefensible) if taken to an extreme. But securing a nucleus of candidates who match the company’s expectations wins more trust and, in turn, enables the CCD to open the net further.
There is also the option to simply say, “No, we can’t do that.” If the ethics are too blurry or the slope too slippery—would the career center really take these measures for any employer that asked? —the CCD can explain to the alum that no matter how much the outreach to the institution is appreciated, anything that places the career center in a potential conflict of interest cannot be pursued. Before taking that step, however, it would be wise for the CCD to alert administrators of the untenable proposition that was made. It should not be assumed that administrators already understand the conflict of interest such requests pose. Most important is consistency backed by adherence to campus policies and practices.
Other Considerations: The discomfort of this situation derives from asking the CCD to play more of a screening rather than a connecting role between students and the employer. This runs counter to the orientation of most practitioners, not to mention the fundamental endeavors of the career center. Yet, declining any form of assistance may close off all possibility of opportunities for students with that particular organization. One question to ask is whether the alum can be brought into a more proactive role in the process; that is, help play more of the connecting role with the career center.
For example, it may be possible to bring the alum to campus for the purpose of an industry talk or an information session. It could provide a forum for the students most interested in working for OZ—or in OZ’s industry—to learn how to make themselves more competitive.
Individual students’ own volition to attend the session and follow up with the alum might represent precisely the kind of distinguishing attribute that would vault their candidacy. Such an approach allows the career center to maintain its connection/education function without partaking in the screening process.
Posted June 2017.
Median number of career center staff
Median number of students to professional staff
Percent of career centers that provide internship assistance
# of organizations participating in career fairs (median)
Median operating budget for career center
2016-17 Career Services Benchmark Survey