I spent twelve years running a managed internship program at a state university. My program was run very much like a temporary staffing agency; companies came to us for interns, and I placed talented students in those roles.
At my first job fair on campus, I watched students walk up and down the aisles trying to connect with recruiters from dozens of companies on site. I realized I was competing with some very large firms that could out-pay my opportunities, outshine my booth, and offer better swag to take home.
It didn’t take me long to conclude that in order to compete, I would have to be different.
So, I left my booth and started walking up and down the aisles just as the students did, talking with the recruiters at these firms. I asked them questions—especially about resumes. What were they looking for in a resume? What do they do with them? Most recruiters said they collected a stack of resumes then went back to the office to sort through them based on noted experience, skills, and GPA.
And that’s when I decided to do just the opposite. I tossed aside resumes and GPAs.
You might be wondering what I did, then, to screen the candidates.
I met with them. Every single one of them. I invited anyone interested in any of our opportunities to come in and interview. Did this take time? Yes, it did. But did I discover some amazing talent—including tons of students who would have “failed” the initial resume/GPA screen? Absolutely. And today many of them are knocking it out of the park in their professional careers.
See, a funny thing happens when you start piling up a stack of resumes. They all look pretty much the same. What I’ve since learned is that this principle applies at every level of experience, whether interns or entry level, middle management or executives. The true differentiator is the person sitting across the table from me.
I got to know my applicants, heard their stories and passions even when their resumes did not check the boxes of the job description. At their stage, as students, many of them had experience in retail, babysitting, waiting tables and summer construction jobs. And they were aiming to get experience in HR, finance, accounting, operations, social work and teaching. Their resumes couldn’t claim a background in those fields—not yet. But we hired them based on universal skills, teachability, and passion. And they flourished.
My experience managing this college internship program created the foundation of my current approach to talent management at every level. Here are some key truths I observed:
- Students with less than stellar GPAs were working three jobs to stay in school and couldn’t dedicate as much time to studying as other students. They traded higher grades for the chance to earn that all-important degree.
- “Job hoppers” brought a variety of valuable skills sets to the table.
- Many students held passions for things that did not exist yet. Ten years ago, an IT intern mentioned he wanted to work in artificial intelligence—before AI was a buzz word. Same with social media and many other rising technologies.
- Students were interested in learning on their own via avenues beyond the classroom—such as podcasts, webinars and other certifications. School transcripts were not necessarily an accurate or full picture of the student’s knowledge and experience.
- Each student shared a unique story that added value through a different perspective. I could never have discovered this in the recruitment phase had I not met with the applicants personally.
All of this led to one profound conclusion: I was daily discovering top talent that other companies missed because they were focused on checking the boxes.
You might argue that businesses seeking talent at higher levels are different. But I disagree. Our marketplace is teeming with strong talent looking for their next opportunity—but they’re getting screened out because they don’t check the boxes. That’s why I’m so passionate about doing what I do, operating against the grain of most recruiters. And it’s working—for the great benefit of my clients and talent alike.
For more information on talent coaching and recruiting solutions through NextGen Advantage, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.