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Want to Hire the Best College Grads? Ignore the Degree
 

To build the best work force, hire bright young people--even before they graduate--and don't worry about what they studied.

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Want to save money on personnel and hire people with energy and enthusiasm? One great way to do both at the same time is by recruiting recent college graduates.

That's the word from Craig Vodnik, vice president of marketing at cleverbridge, which provides e-commerce solutions to the software-as-a-service industry. Cleverbridge, a start-up based in Germany with an office in Chicago, began by hiring new grads out of necessity. "As a start-up, we didn't have the funds to hire experienced people," Vodnik explains.

That turned out to be a good thing, as many of cleverbridge's recently graduated hires turned out to be some of its greatest assets. Here are Vodnik's tips for how to hire the best and brightest:

1. Ignore the degree

Don't join the competition for the most sought-after degrees. This is especially important for cleverbridge as a software company: Graduates with computer science degrees are very much in demand. So the company hires from many other majors instead, and looks for people with a love of technology. "If you're not a programmer, two degrees jump out that are well suited for learning programming: music and math," Vodnik says.

He's also had great success hiring actors for customer service roles--their training gives them the perfect skills for talking with customers, and they often appreciate the flexible hours. But perhaps his best hire was a political science graduate who worked in a car wash before joining cleverbridge. "He turned into our No. 1 salesperson," Vodnik says.

2. Invest in training

Music majors may become great programmers, but not on their first day in the job. Smart companies make the commitment to invest in their employees and provide the training to help them learn new skills. Companies that don't do this are making a mistake, Vodnik says. "They miss out on good quality hungry people. And they end up having to pay market rate for them after they've gotten the experience."

Many companies fail to offer training because they see it as a cost and don't see the immediate benefit, he adds. "You should have the commitment that hiring someone is a long-term play."

3. Don't wait until graduation

Vodnik recalls talking to the owner of another start-up recently. This entrepreneur had found a college senior who seemed like an ideal candidate. "He said, 'We're hoping to hire this guy next summer--he's perfect.' I said, 'What are you waiting for?'"

The best time to hire many grads is before they're grads, he explains. "Plenty of them would take a part-time position for $10 an hour and work evenings and weekends while they're in school, and then move to full-time when they graduate. Or you can likely do an internship with them. Go through the interview process and find those smart young people who are eager to show what they can do."

That gives them the chance to get to know your company and build a relationship before they graduate and recruiters for other employers come calling, Vodnik says. And he notes, "There are a lot of talented people who may be juniors."

IMAGE: virtual_lotus/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 22, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
@MindaZetlin




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