12 Professionals Offer Tips for Hiring College Graduates

With students graduating from college across the nation, many employers are looking to hire fresh talent. Discover the pros and cons of hiring college graduates for your company.
May 14, 2018

Are you planning on hiring college graduates this summer? You wouldn't be the only one.

According to the recently released Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) by the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of job openings in the U.S. increased to a new high of 6.6 million (645,000 more jobs than last year.)

That statistic might explain why, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, U.S. businesses plan on hiring four percent more college graduates this year.

I talked to 12 business owners who explain why they believe in hiring college graduates and their advice for taking advantage of America's young, emerging talent.

Why Hire College Graduates

"Hiring college graduates isn't an obligation or last resort for our company—it's a necessity," says Adriaan Zimmerman, co-founder and president of Colorado-based Ned, which creates natural remedies.

"The older senior leadership gets, the more apt we are to lose that intimate connection with what's relevant in pop culture, music, art and technology," says Zimmerman. "That's why it's important to tap into the abundant resources coming straight out of colleges.

"What these candidates might lack in experience," he continues, "they make up for in direct exposure to what really matters to their generation."

Bill Cahill, president of Beacon Plumbing, agrees.

"The world is constantly changing. One thing we don't want is to become stagnant in the way we run our business and manage our employees and customers," Cahill says. "Hiring college graduates who suggest changes that better the way our business runs saves us time and money and helps ensure future success."

College grads also tend to be highly creative, believes Eran Shacked, co-founder of CityBee Architecture & Design.

"My co-founder Eran Leshem and I have found that many graduates are in-tune with their instincts and intuition," Shacked says. "That's why we gladly give young architects the opportunity to suggest design concepts."

College graduates' familiarity with new technology and the constantly evolving digital landscape is invaluable.

—Bo Lais, CEO, Lula

If you're concerned about the possibility of hiring college graduates who are hoping to skip the necessary hard knocks and learning curves of the work world, don't be.

"College graduates today are different than a decade ago," says Matt Stewart, co-founder of College Works Painting, which provides house-painting services and hires college students. "Today's college grads are Generation Z. Much of the entitlement has been lost. They come hungry to learn and perform and ready to assimilate. They also understand technology and the globalization of markets and bring a new view of how business should work."

Benefits of Hiring College Graduates

Hiring college graduates can be a plus for your company in many ways. One of the most significant pros is their intimate knowledge of technology.

"The fact that college grads tend to be tech-savvy often results in innovation," says Liz Wessel, CEO & co-founder of WayUp, a platform for early-career professionals to explore job and internship opportunities and receive advice. "We often ask our new grads for product feedback, because they're so in tune with mobile apps. They provide excellent insights and ideas."

Fresh perspectives are definitely welcome, agrees Bo Lais, CEO and founder of Lula, an app that connects homeowners to home service providers.

"College graduates' familiarity with new technology and the constantly evolving digital landscape is invaluable," Lais says. "It's great to have innovative ideas and fresh perspectives brought to team meetings."

Hiring college graduates can also be great for company culture, believes Aviva Legatt, a college admissions expert who founded VivED Consulting to assist students with the college admissions process.

"Colleges instill a sense of responsibility to a larger community and a willingness to collaborate and work hard to make a strong impact and positive impression," she says. "Fresh grads are likely to be enthused about contributing to the larger organizational goals."

If that isn't enough, college grads may also energize your organization, adds Wessel.

"New to the working world, college grads come armed with positivity, gratitude and enthusiasm. The best employees are adaptable and think on their feet, and new college grads embody this more often than not," Wessel says. "They bring fresh ideas to the table and ask questions that keep existing employees on their toes in the best possible ways."

Tips for Hiring College Graduates

Since this is often a college grad's first foray into the "real" work world, it's a good idea to take a few special considerations in mind when hiring college graduates.

Hire to their nature. "Every position requires a certain type of personality," says Brandon Wheeler, co-founder of Gulf Beach Weddings, which does wedding planning. "If [the position is] not in their nature, then it will never be a good fit."

Consider culture fit. "To retain young people, it's important to create an environment where people feel safe sharing ideas," says Legatt. "Research shows that autonomy, mastery and purpose make for a meaningful job.

"In essence," she continues, "you want to give people a sense of the larger goals of the company; give them the space to create in their own way and give them the tools they need to do the job well."

Watch leadership style. "Leaders at all levels will need to ramp-up quickly with new leadership skills for this new employee cohort," says Don Rheem, author of Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures, and CEO of E3 Solutions, a provider of employee workplace metrics and manager training.

"Old style, top-down, punitive and transactional management styles are an anathema to recent grads," he adds. "Most will recoil at toxic managers and workplace dysfunction."

Check work ethic. "When hiring college graduates, I don't look for 'bright and precocious,' " says Joe Palumbo, president of Ice Dam Guys, a rooftop ice and snow removal service. "I look for grinders: people who've had every opportunity to give up on difficult things—and maybe took a wrong turn or two—but who have stuck it out."

Be flexible. "Be open to applicants from slightly different college majors than you might typically hire," suggests Dominic DeStefano, co-founder of City Strings & Piano, which offers in-home music instruction in various cities. "We've had tremendous success with hiring college graduates who had experience in the field, but didn't have a degree from one of the programs we typically hire from. Their unique perspectives allowed them to be more open than other employees and connect with a wide range of clients."

Foster learning and professional growth. "Whether it's exposure to senior-level management, career-path programming, educational stipends or other perks, in order to attract and retain college graduates, make sure your company fosters a culture that supports professional development," says Wessel.

Ask nonstandard questions. Considering that recent grads haven't had career experience, it's advisable to change your tactics when interviewing.

"I ask about past projects they've enjoyed and are proud of," says Shannon O'Brien, founder of Whole U., a career development program. "Dig a little deeper about their true motivations, including what will keep them engaged and how to set them up for success within the company."

Pay attention to writing skills. "Consistent grammatical errors, typos or generally incoherent sentences are not worthy of giving the benefit of the doubt," says Zimmerman. "Written communication is too important in our digital age to hire a candidate who is poorly equipped in this skillset."

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