The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

College Recruiting: What Are You Paying For?

systematicHR Avatar

I’ve always been a fan of the theory that a 4 year bachelors degree means almost nothing.  Having gotten a degree in business administration, finance, Economics, or philosophy amount to almost the same thing as someone enters the workforce.  Let’s say a person enters a job in pharmaceutical sales.  Were any of the degrees going to make any difference?  If the person had a biology degree, would that be better?  Certainly it might make the person more attractive, but in reality, the pharmaceutical company is going to pursue a rigorous line of training no matter who it hires.  Unless you get an accounting degree and intend to be an accountant, the degree really does not matter.  What a four year degree tells employers is simply the following:

  1. The potential employee had the ability to get through 4 years of schooling
  2. The potential employee has some degree of intelligence
  3. The potential employee has some degree of analytical skills

The Wall Street Journal’s law blog had an interesting write-up of two ex Latham (I assume Latham and Watkins) partners who broke off on their own.  Rather than competing for the top students from top schools, they recognized that many of their clients were displaying dissatisfaction with the high price of low value junior attorneys.  Therefore, rather than paying top dollar, they decided to go after the second tier students who could be had for much less money, and therefore much lower cost to their clients.

My theory here is that if the top students from top schools are seen as low value add, the second tier students are not going to be so different.  They will still go through the exact same training and ramp-up regimen, and eventually some of them will become the highly paid attorneys that the top tier students also have a shot at.  Sure, good grades say something about the quality of a student and their ability to study.  It might speak to their level of intelligence.  However, no matter who you hire, you should observe what the 3 to 5 year success rate is.  How many of those employees are dropping out? And how many of them are measurably successful in that time period?  Perhaps the timeframe is 10 years or more, but I’ll bet you that given the same training program and the same opportunities, the differences between first and second tier students are minimal.  Are you investing too much money to get the cream of the crop when you just plan on retraining them anyway?

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7 responses to “College Recruiting: What Are You Paying For?”

  1. second tier students are minimal.  Are you investing too much money to get the cream of the crop when you just plan on retraining them anyway? Thank you for reading the Tribute Media Human Resources News Feed. Please check the original post here:systematicHR – Human Resources Strategy and Technology. The purpose of this feed it to provide information to the greatest audience possible. In addition, we can drive inbound links to your blog. If you would like to have your blog featured or removed from here or in any of our other newsfeeds, please

  2. Andrew Marritt Avatar

    A few observations…

    1) Recruiting graduates regardless of their degree subject is a pretty Anglo-Saxon thing to do. In many other locations students wanting to go into finance have to have done a finance related degree.
    2) Having looked at the data there is a good correlation between high performers at univeristy and in the workforce. Of course the relationship is not perfect.
    3) Other factors, many of which can be tested, but for whatever reason are less likely to be tested in the US than other coutries are even better predictors.

    As long as you’re capturing the data these types of analysis can be done. They probably should be done more often, especially in the US to prove that selection criteria are objective and non-discriminatory.

  3. systematicHR Avatar

    Andrew – It is always good to have data on your side.

    I wonder if the correlation is with the quality of the student, or the quality of the school? Honestly I could see the first, but not the latter.

    Perhaps the type of school is also important. Here in the U.S. we have very large public schools, large private schools and then small “liberal arts” colleges, with the smaller schools educating in a very different philosophical framework.

    Unfortunately, more often than not, large organizations go to large universities and try to hire the brightest from those schools. Perhaps that is not the correct success factor to be looking at.

  4. Andrew Marritt Avatar

    Going to these schools probably is the right answer in the US. Almost everywhere else, maybe apart from emerging economies, the school makes less difference.

    The data I suggested is based on applicant ability in carefully tested competencies as you note.

    Unfortunately I’m not at liberty to discuss why university makes such a difference in the US but I’ve got data to suggest it does. There is a key variable that determines the probability of success for an employer at any university. The distribution of this factor (for our sector) is far from even across universities.

    This is not to say that the schools that we go to have more bright people, it’s just that the return on our investment of marketing spend is likely to be higher.

    Sorry for being vague. I spent the early part of this year modeling this on a global basis and am loathe to let our competition know which needle to look for. All I can say is that there is reason behind the apparent madness.

  5. Tom Ruff Avatar

    I can only speak to your hypothetical example pertaining to pharmaceutical sales and does it help to have a biology degree if seeking a position in pharmaceutical sales. I’ve been recruiting for pharmaceutical sales for 18 years, I’ve owned my own pharmaceutical and medical sales recruiting firm for 16 years and recently wrote a book titled; How to Break Into Pharmaceutical Sales, A Headhunter’s Strategy.

    In researching my book, we conducted a survey with 150 pharmaceutical sales representatives and 20 pharmaceutical district managers. I thought it might help to show you some responses to some of the relevant questions that we posed to these individuals.

    – 53% of the hiring managers said that education (e.g., science background) was the most important attribute they looked for when hiring a new pharmaceutical sales representative vs.

    -17.6% Leadership in college
    -17.6% College Athletics
    -11.8% Healthcare background

    When asked how important is GPA to you and your company:

    10… (extremely important) 31.3%
    9… 12.4%
    8… 6.3%
    7… 31.3%
    6… 12.4%
    1 (not important) 6.3%

    When asked what is your minimum GPA requirement:

    None 43.8%
    2.5 6.2%
    3.0 37.5%
    3.5 and above 12.5%

    I hope this information sheds just a little insight as to what some of the managers are looking for in corporate america and the importance of your degree for our little niche.

    Tom Ruff is President and CEO of Tom Ruff Company and author of How to Break Into Pharmaceutical Sales: A Headhunter’s Strategy

    Tom Ruff Company

    How to Break Into Pharmaceutical Sales: A Headhunter’s Strategy

  6. Colin Kingsbury Avatar

    My dark suspicion is that the primary value of college education is as a proxy for IQ.

    If you want to know what works, look at what the government does, since it can statutorily exempt itself from all sorts of legal challenges. Every federal law enforcement agency that I know of uses polygraphs, and the military has some of the best long-term longitudinal data on IQ thanks to decades of using the AFQT, which tracks cognitive intelligence very closely. The ironic twist in this is that since elite colleges still have a bias towards the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum, preventing the use of IQ may have the practical result of disadvantaging people who are intellectually but not economically fortunate.

  7. Andrew Marritt Avatar

    Colin is right, tests for intelligence are good predictors of success. They re the sort of thing which seem to be done much more often outside the Americas than in it. Litigation is obviously a deterent, but my take is that if you have enough data to prove the test is a good predictor of performance in your firm you don’t need to worry (of course, how many firms have that data?)

    A great book on using top schools for education is Henry Mintzberg’s ‘Managers not MBAs’. The basic hypothesis is that the selection process to get in is the value to employers, not what they learn. Effectively you outsource some really dificult selection decisions to the schools.