Playing the Long Game: Sustainable Diversity-College Recruiting


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By Jena Burgess, PHR

Organizations are recognizing the benefits of starting diversity recruiting efforts early and often in order to build the numbers to feed their future ranks. Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Fortune 500’s have been engaging in a college recruiting model that early identifies, but often comes up short in meaningful impact. And while initiatives have been put in place to hold companies accountable and transparent, there are missed fundamentals to consider when building sustainable diversity-college recruiting programs. As CEO of Coach Jena B. LLC, I spend my time coaching both colleges and corporate partners to close the skills gap for Millennials and Gen Z’ers. What I’ve learned? When it comes to diversity-college recruiting, corporate partners need to play the long game for maximum impact on campus and with their recruits.

  1. Walk in as a partner not a recruiter

Before you walk in guns blazing hunting for the best and brightest under-represented talent on campus, have you stopped to ask your colleges how best to partner? The difference in diversity recruiting is your ability to build trusting relationships that meet the needs of your gate-keepers. Especially, when it comes to supporting our HBCU’s. As a recruiter, you may have a plan in place to meet your numbers, even throw dollars to get the job done. But without the proper strategy, your short term play will have you losing the long term gains. Ask your college contacts: 1) How can we best support diverse students? 2) What challenges are preventing placement for un-tapped talent? 3) What do your students/staff need to be successful? If a school doesn’t have what it needs to lift talent through the pipeline, you won’t have what you need either. Find out what partnership means for your key schools and adapt your strategy accordingly, resulting in deeper connections and reach to desired students.

Remember: Your organization has a lot to offer outside of dollars. Knowledge and presence are invaluable. Some may need better administration support for diverse students; others need professionals for mentorship programs. These efforts not only keep your budget intact, but they will go a long way to building your relationship and proving you are a true partner.

  1. Match your brand to your efforts

A quick way to damage your diversity brand on campus is to not walk the walk. It’s great that you brought the CEO to read your diversity statement to the students, but are your actions and student experience matching your sales pitch? In talking with students from across the country for Super Qualified, I was astounded by how savvy students are about company culture. Build sustainable brands by offering students:

  • Exposure to the right executive sponsors (not just diverse leaders, but those with inclusive leadership traits)
  • Bringing diverse professionals to all your campus events, not just the diverse ones (this will also encourage your diverse recruits to attend those events)
  • Transparency to expectations. Yes you are selling, but be realistic and clear on what you need from the student to be a successful match – coach in addition to recruiting

  1. Recruiting doesn’t end at the internship offer

When I speak with colleges, I tell students that the internship is an extended interview. The same goes for your company. Students are still ‘interviewing’ you.  Invest in the intern experience as you much, if not more, than you have invested in the recruiting process. Craft an experience, not just a program. I’ve been working on a curriculum guide to my book Super Qualified that maps out how to create a meaningful intern to career experience. Here’s what I’ve learned…

  • Students need a Sherpa! Let someone on your team (or you!) “own” the diverse student experience. Task this person with checking in on your interns, creating a safe space to discuss company culture/performance issues, or being a central point of contact
  • Give your diverse interns opportunities to connect with the larger company. Your interns know what the company “looks” like. Don’t shield them from it; support them learning it
  • Often and continuous. I hear from many managers at companies that they don’t know how to give feedback to their diverse interns (who later become their diverse professionals). Coach your managers on how to give it. Coach your interns on how to receive it. And if you need resources, the Super Qualified curriculum can help

Do the internship right and you’ve turned your intern into a campus ambassador. Do this wrong, and you’ve turned this student into a walking negative review.

Remember, long term means long term. Your diverse recruits may trickle in slowly, and in this case quality beats quantity. As I tell my clients, this may seem like a lot of initial investment, but you may be recruiting your next CEO. Play the long game by remembering these 3 tips and get to sustainable.

About the Author:

Jena Burgess is the author of Super Qualified: Maximizing Your College Experience To Get The Job You Want and board member of HBCU Career Development Marketplace. She is CEO of Coach Jena B. LLC consulting and focuses on early career success for colleges and companies.