OpenWork Conversations: Steven Rothberg
by Tammy Nelson
College Recruiter — a recruitment website for students, recent grads and employers — was founded 20 years ago. We caught up with CEO Steven Rothberg to learn more about the evolution of hiring at the college level.
OpenWork: A lot of media attention is paid to the supposed differences between millennial employee and other workers. As someone who’s worked in the college space for quite some time, do you think these generational differences are real?
Steven Rothberg: I do not believe that there are substantial differences between generations, but I do believe that there are substantial differences between age groups. In other words, if you were to look at how a baby boomer behaved in the workplace when she was 20, you’d see striking similarities to the behaviors of a millennial at the age of 20. It is to be expected that a baby boomer at the age of 60 will behave differently than a millennial at the age of 20. Quite frankly, I’d be concerned about one or perhaps both if their behaviors were quite similar.
OW: In your opinion, how important are practices like flexibility, balance, wellness and parental leave right now?
SR: The most important issues to employees right now are compensation and job security. That’s not to diminish the importance of the soft benefits that OpenWork promotes and which College Recruiter believes are important, but employees first must make enough money and know that they’re going to have a place to work tomorrow before they start to worry about issues such as job flexibility. Compensation and job security are more important right now because both have been declining for decades and young adults face far higher costs of living due, in large part, to exponentially higher student loan debt.
OW: How often are companies promoting these types of flexible work and open culture topics when recruiting college students and has that changed in recent years?
SR: Almost every employer with a formalized college and university recruiting program does a pretty good job of promoting soft benefits such as job flexibility, work-life balance, wellness, telecommuting/remote work, parental leave and time off, etc. Few, however, are able to promote that they offer good pay and job security. They may honestly claim to offer competitive wages, but if almost everyone is paying employees less in inflation-adjusted terms than they were in 1973, is “competitive” good enough?
OW: On the other side, how often students are seeking these types of offerings and flexible cultures? Has that changed?
SR: Candidates who are fortunate enough to have multiple job offers will typically value hard benefits such as compensation and job security over soft benefits and flexible cultures. If the candidate has two job offers with similar hard benefits, then they will look long and hard at the soft benefits and those may sway their decision about which offer to accept. Quite frankly, I look at soft benefits more as a retention than a recruitment tool. People choose where to work based largely on factors such as the job responsibilities, geographic location and hard benefits, but they choose whether to continue to work there based largely upon how well they get along with their co-workers and how enjoyable it is to go to work each day. Soft benefits play a significant role in that.
OW: How different is the process of recruiting college students different now than it was when you started your first job boards in 1996? Economy aside, do you think it’s harder or easier now for jobs and candidates to connect now?
SR: Back in 1996, the primary way that students found jobs was by interviewing on campus through their career service office and networking with friends and family. Today, fewer students are using their career service offices, and there’s been a dramatic shift by employers to either reduce or even eliminate their on-campus recruiting efforts in favor of what some call a “virtual” strategy, meaning job search sites and other interactive media. Employers used to believe — and some still do — that to reach students at specific schools, you had to work through those schools. That’s just not the case. College Recruiter and other interactive media sites can target students by school, major, year of graduation, GPA, diversity and more. Lockheed Martin finds the cost of hiring a student virtually is about 10 percent of hiring the same student through on-campus recruiting, and the hires they make through their virtual process are higher performers than those it hires on campus.
OW: Any predictions about how recruiting and hiring might evolve in the next 5-10 years?
SR: Recruiting and hiring of students and recent graduates is evolving rapidly. It only took about 20 years for most employers to understand that they can hire faster and less expensively by advertising their openings online instead or in addition to physically going on campus to interview students. Still, there are significant entrenched interests that prevent more employers from doing more of their hiring using interactive media. The budgets for career service offices are typically tied directly to the number of employers who recruit on campus, and some offices create informal or even formal barriers between the candidates they consider to be “their” students and the employers, unless those employers use the services of the career service offices. This is a pay-to-play model and not in the best interests of the students.
As more employers gather more data around their hiring programs, properly analyze that data, and then act upon it, what we’re seeing is a dramatic difference in the cost-per-hire, time-to-hire and quality-of-hire between candidates through on-campus recruiting versus more virtual channels such as job boards and other interactive media solutions. Quite simply, it costs less, it takes less time and the productivity is better for students and recent graduates hired through virtual channels such as job boards and other interactive media solutions as compared to those hired through the 1950s model of interviewing on-campus. The evolution threatens some in career services, but is embraced by those who truly want what is in the best interests of their students.
OW: Are there specific industries that you see as being more competitive right now? Particularly where the soft benefits like flexibility provide an edge?
SR: Everyone who monitors the labor market knows that there is a significant labor mismatch in some industries and equilibrium in others. A mismatch might occur where there are far more workers than jobs or the other way around. The labor market is actually pretty tight right now across almost all industries. Wages haven’t kept pace with inflation and there’s significant underemployment, but generally speaking, in most geographic areas and in most industries, employers are able to hire who they need and employees are able to find work.
The industries which are particularly competitive and where soft benefits like flexibility around working hours and the ability to work from home can make a difference include long-haul trucking, software engineering, data science and actuarial science. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) shortage is a more difficult problem to solve as those positions typically require years of education and there are significant, informal barriers to entry that discourage women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities from entering the labor pool. Women, for example, are entering these program at a far lower rate than men, have a far higher drop-out rate before graduation and stay in these professions for far fewer years than men. More needs to be done to make these workplaces and professions welcoming and attractive to these candidates, and that’s a hard problem to solve.
OW: What types of skills do you think are most important for college students to possess currently?
SR: Probably the biggest differentiator between candidates with otherwise similar credentials is a proven ability to think critically. Demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do more than just complete tasks accurately and on-time. That’s important, but employers tend to use their college recruiting programs to hire their next generation of leaders, and to be a good leader, you need to have good critical thinking skills.
For more tips and information about college recruiting and employment, check out College Recruiter’s informative blog.