Organizational Structure

Advisory Opinion: Career Centers Should Not Select Students for Employers

Organizational Structure
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TAGS: advisory opinion, candidate selection, ethics, principles,


This advisory opinion, which draws on Principles 2, 3, and 4 of the NACE Principles for Ethical Professional Practice,addresses how career centers should provide assistance to employers who want students selected for interviews. Key components of this decision include the balance between developing and maintaining a strong relationship with key employers while complying with professional practices, and assisting employers with appropriate and targeted outreach while maintaining ethical integrity.


Oftentimes, prominent alumni or other key supporters of a school may contact a career center to aid in creating a select talent pool made up of highly qualified students. This situation presents two primary challenges for the career center. The first is the potential to secure a much-coveted recruiting relationship with a high-profile employer that will be of great interest to students as well as a benefit to the institution. The second is meeting the expectations of an alumnus who has supported the institution financially and is admired by campus administrators. How the career center 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 legal requirements, and they should be commensurate with assistance extended to any requesting employer. Above all, they must be fair to all 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. Any screening criteria recommended or supported by the center/school leadership must be objective and reasonable—not criteria adopted simply as a convenience to the recruiter and must not discriminate against an individual or group of individuals based upon a legally protected classification.

Ethical Issues and Considerations

There are three principles that apply:

  • Principle 2: Act without bias when advising, servicing, interviewing, or making employment decisions.
  • Principle 3: Ensure equitable access without stipulation or exception relative to contributions of financial support, gifts, affiliation, or in-kind services.
  • Principle 4: Comply with laws associated with local, state, and federal entities, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration, and affirmative action.

In considering how to address a request to select candidates, 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 career center, is a conflict of interest and exposes the center and the educational institution to potential liability. (See “Can a Career Center Prescreen Candidates for an Employer? Can Faculty Prescreen for an Employer?”)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 and potentially the law. In this regard, if the center is selecting applicants for the employer and, therefore, is essentially involved in the hiring process, a student who is not selected may allege that the process is in violation of state or federal EEO laws, statutes, or regulations.

What objective criteria, then, would produce the most likely success rate? Many institutions have targeted 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 by the requesting employer, a logic exists for targeting their students.

It may also be possible to “layer” the approach. If the alumnus or key supporter agrees that students in one of the special programs represent an ideal match, the alumnus or supporter may also allow a slightly broader net be used 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 center to open the net further. For additional content, please see “Case Study: When Employers Seek Connections With Students From Diverse Identity Groups.”

The center lead can explain that no matter how much the outreach to the institution is appreciated, anything that places the career center in a potential conflict of interest and potentially violates applicable law(s) cannot be pursued. Before taking that step, however, it would be wise for the center contact 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.

The Role of the Career Center: Connecting, Not Selecting

The challenge of this situation derives from asking the center to play more of a screening role 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 alumnus/supporter 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 requester to campus—in person or virtually—for the purpose of an industry talk or an information session. It could provide a forum for the students most interested in working for the employer - or in the industry they represent—to learn how to make themselves more competitive.

Individual students’ own volition to attend the session and follow up with the alumnus/supporter 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. It should be noted, however, that the more involvement that the center has in assisting with the selection of student applicants, the more potential liability the center may be exposed to under applicable laws.

Reviewed and revised by the 2022-23 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.

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