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Recent Graduates … Only?

B/W Planet Earth with graduation capIt is both amusing and problematic that the old paradox of recent graduates with 10+ years of experience is going away. It is amusing because the swell in nontraditional graduates, especially in terms of those who are either finishing their education while working a career, means that it is actually possible to hire someone who graduated in the last year (i.e. recent graduate) with a decade or more of experience.

The problematic component is, however, is that so many “recent graduate” or college recruitment programs focus narrowly and exclusively on contacting the shrinking number of traditional college students. While I can understand the case for recruiting at truly elite schools (e.g. MIT, Princeton, etc.), but why spend so much time at the comparatively vanilla state schools? And, why systematically exclude so many nontraditional students who have, during the course of their studies, gained an equal number of years of experience?

Are We Just a Box of Skills?

Like the puzzle of hard skills versus soft skills, education versus experience isn’t about figuring out which is more important or which should be preferred. We need all of these things in some proportion, and to prefer a relatively complete absence of any of them is, in my mind, a sort of lunacy that flows through human capital practice. After all, given that our soft skills account for the vast majority of our bottom line successes, assuming adequate (i.e. “enough”) technical skill, doesn’t it make sense to get enough technical expertise in our hires while maximizing the soft skills? Likewise, once we determine what enough education is, shouldn’t we seek to maximize the level of experience in our candidates?

To look at it a slightly different way, consider these situations:

  • A relevant 4-year degree + no years of experience
  • A relevant 4-year degree + 5 years of direct experience
  • A relevant 4-year degree + 5 years of general experience
  • A relevant 4-year degree + 4 years of general experience + 1 year of direct experience

I could go on, but you see that a relevant degree – assuming no practical difference in schooling – is simply the common denominator among these situations. However, so many consulting and banking firms actively and aggressively pursue what is objectively the least skilled of the lot. Even Federal agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) actively court candidates on college campuses, candidates who still need to be cleared through security investigations and such, while ignoring experienced and educated candidates that are already “in the system.” (Of course, maybe the NSA is actively screening candidates, right here on LinkedIn…)

Hire for the Whole Person, Hire or Who You Need

We are going to have to revise our thinking on hiring, this much is widely discussed. We need to get rid of the boxes on our org. charts and focus on brining whole people into our teams, maximizing both what we get from them and what they are inspired to do for us. Will hiring become more difficult? Sure. Will the results be worth it? Absolutely. Even if all you consider is the value of tacit understanding of the culture and values acquired through years of working in a particular industry, you gain something right at the start, something that even the best training can only hint at, and that you may never see in your usual college-direct hires.


About the Author:

Dr. Philip D. Mann is an experienced trainer, speaker, and problem solver who gets things done. His primary expertise is employee engagement and the people side of how organizations grow and (resist) change. He also knows a thing or two about the government works, and those principles apply to all large, bureaucratic structures. If you need help getting things done, reach out to Dr. Mann here on LinkedIn or at

Published inDecisions and Decision AnalysisEmotional Quotient (EQ)Employee EngagementLeaders and ManagersLinkedInMillennialsRecruitment

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