What HR Expects From Universities

I was talking recently to a head of HR of a manufacturing company in the Midwest about some recruiting challenges they were having.  You see, I don't know if you know this or not, but I'm kind of a big deal when it comes to providing solutions for people's recruiting challenges. Anyway – my solution for her was she needed to hire more entry level college grads, because she was cheap and couldn't afford real talent (See! Solutions! And I've hundreds more!).  Her response was something I've heard a thousand times –

“We can't hire entry level college grads because they don't know anything!”

You see, traditional HR/Talent Pros expect that a college grad knows something! Actually wait, I'm lying, traditional HR/Talent Pros expect that college grads will know how to perform the “entry level” job that we have a job description for listed on our career website.  Like, let's say – entry level “System Engineer”.  No experience necessary, expect you need a background in J2EE and know of application development.  So, if your college IT degree program doesn't teach J2EE – yeah, we really can't use them.  So, I have my bachelor's degree in IT from State U, but I'm not good enough for your entry level IT opening? Yes, correct.  (By the way, you can replace IT with engineer, finance, marketing, etc. it doesn't matter – but the technical degrees are the worse!)

I'm not sure how we got to this point, but for some reason HR/Talent Pros in companies truly believe entry level college grads should come to them fully “trained” and ready to begin th

eir careers in specific positions we have open.  Why is that?  It harkens back to the beginning of the industrial area when many folks would come out of “programs”, not necessarily colleges, fully ready to begin their career as a machinist, electrician, pipefitter, carpenter, etc. – Apprenticeship type programs prepared our 'kids' to begin work.  Colleges were supposed to do the same thing, right?

Wrong!  And, well, right.  We get stuck because we see degree programs for Nurses, Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers and feel like all those people graduate and can go into entry level jobs with their perspective organizations – why can't the rest?  Well, they can, but your expectations of what an entry level person can or should be able to do, have lost perspective!  Sure a teacher can graduate and teach a class, but do you think they are really as good as a teacher with 20 years under their belt.  When you go to have your heart surgery, do you want to be a young surgeon's first case, or would you rather see the gal who has been doing it for 10 years?

Higher Ed's job isn't to prepare our kids for their first job with your company.  Higher Ed's job is to create people who are capable of learning.  It's your job to teach them your jobs – it's their job to learn those jobs as quickly as possible.  We need to stop thinking Higher Ed is going to deliver us finished products.  I don't want finished products, I want products I can still adapt, grow and become more than what I first got.   I don't expect that Entry Level candidates will know anything – only that they are willing to know everything I'm about to show them!


FOT Background Check

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at www.timsackett.com. Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. akaBruno says:

    Universities/colleges are not tech schools. They give the graduate the license to learn.

  2. Bruce Kestelman says:

    Hi Tim,

    I agree with you, yet I’m not sure that the “business community” and conservative governors agree with you. Take a look at this recent article regarding Governor Walker of Wisconsin.


    Many businesses interested in treating employees like necessary cogs in the wheel want them trained so the company doesn’t have to spend that money. Why should they pay taxes they ask to help support the state schools and then have to pay additional money to train the graduates?

    I think there may be more to the context related to this blog than you’ve considered.


  3. Juliana says:

    It seems like smaller companies don’t want to spend resources hence the reluctance to hire a complete newbie unless it’s an intership position. With the current economy, they can afford to do that since they are a lot of people looking for jobs. Long term however, I am not sure how sustainable that is. Big company that exist for longer time typically have an in-house graduate program because they know that the best talents are grown internally.

  4. Jim says:

    Tim, I have had numerous conversations with students, and univerisity leaders, and after 20 years of staffing experience I can tell you the biggest failure of colleges/universities as that they fail to teach students to be likable.
    It’s amazing how much likability makes up for when you don’t have experience. Companies will take a risk, invest in training, etc. for someone they like. Someone that can make a little eye contact, has a personality, knows how to have a converstation.
    I speak to incoming MBA’s at a BIG 10 University every year, and the sheer shock on their faces when I explain to them the secret of getting hired is knowing that 80% of the decision is based on being likable, is priceless. They are conditioned that it’s GPA and being in this club and that club, but no it’s do we like you.

  5. Dan G. says:

    Many of the trades that once guarantied a job are no longer a sure thing. Entry level RN positions are much harder to find now than they were 10 years ago. Even experienced RN’s are finding it harder to find the type of work they want to do. Like with most jobs now, the employers want to see certifications and extra licences on the resume.

    I would also say that likability get’s you the job but I think the GPA and clubs help get you the interview. New grads often have very little to put on their resume and volunteering and club participation help fill out the page and make it look like you care about something other than just school (even if that’s not the case.)

  6. Christie Xiao says:

    Dan G-

    Your comment is spot on. I work in an engineering consulting firm, and although we have entry-level jobs for those who have academic training, we have the option to choose from those who have experience that is relevant. Our internship program has really helped us with recruiting. Almost 75% of our new engineer class had an internship with us in the past. Although this limits the offers we extend to new grads only with volunteering and student org experiences, it does help our recruiting. Last fall, we put up a few listings on InternMatch (www.internmatch.com) and a few other websites and hired 6 new interns for the summer.

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