Students working part time can fall through recruitment cracks

How employers identify top students

How do employers identify “top students” during the screening process? If they, like most, rely on top grades and extra-curricular involvement as evidence of leadership potential, they may be missing the cream of the crop.

Most employers begin by identifying specific schools and programs based on past recruiting success, and hopefully reviewed each year according to the organization’s hiring needs for the next year.

Once the list of schools and programs has been narrowed down, recruiters often rank and rate candidates based on a combination of criteria.

These may include extra-curricular involvement, past work experience, grade point average, scholarships and awards, and perhaps special school projects that the candidate has completed. Of course, once into the interview stage, recruiters can look for evidence of the skills they seek and begin to assess fit with the corporate culture.

However, many highly qualified students and graduates may never get to the interview stage. That’s because something is keeping their track records from looking impressive: the need to hold a job while in school.

According to From Learning to Work, a campus recruiting research survey of 20,000 Canadian college and university students conducted in spring 2004 (see sidebar), 60 per cent of all students said they held a job while in school to support themselves.

Although recruiters may already be considering the experience gained from past jobs, are they measuring just how much time candidates spend at work while in school? Of the surveyed students holding a job while in school, more than 27 per cent said they worked more than 16 hours per week. Another 14 per cent said they worked more than 30 hours per week. Wouldn’t an employer like to have a closer look at the students who can balance a full-time course load with 30-plus hours on the job each week?

It’s quite possible that those working students do not have a long list of extra-curricular leadership roles because they do not have time to be president of the debating club. And their GPAs might suffer a bit. But there’s little doubt that if recruiters are not considering the demands of part-time work, they’re most likely missing out on some “top students” with some great skills — such as time management.

Other survey highlights

Students are strategic and realistic when jobseeking. Just a few short years ago, many graduating students had expectations of big bonuses and a wide array of job openings. Today, students maintain confidence in their ability to secure work that will interest them, but they are realistic about their prospects.

This was reflected in their extreme willingness to consider “non-ideal” jobs that might be a good starting point for their careers. Less than two per cent of polled students said they would not consider a “non-ideal” job.

Interestingly, despite perceptions by many parents that their children need to graduate from university to get a good career, the college students who were polled were actually more confident than university students that they will find a job they really want.

Return of the “company man” or the “company woman”? Despite a barrage of research that indicates workers will spend their lives hopping from job to job, this does not appear to be what students want. Variety in their career is vital, however. The survey found 62 per cent of students indicating they would like to find an organization where they can spend their whole careers.

It’s all about the people. Students rated the importance of 14 factors that they consider when evaluating employment opportunities. Although they may be keen to find a company that they can stay with for the long term, their loyalty is to their own development and the community of people they will directly interact with. The top rated attributes were all about personal development, training and advancement, as well as the people the students will work with and report to. Students polled said they wanted to meet their future colleagues and bosses and needed to be convinced that they will have an opportunity to grow with their new employer.

Graham Donald works for Brainstorm Consulting, a Toronto-based consultancy helping organizations attract, recruit and retain new grads. He may be reached at

People and opportunities the biggest draw for students

From Learning to Work is an online survey of students from almost every university and college in the country. The survey was commissioned by nine of Canada’s largest employers, including four of the major banks, and was conducted in spring of 2004 by D-Code and Brainstorm Consulting. About 20,000 students were asked to rank 14 factors they consider in choosing full-time employment. Here’s how the factors rank.

Opportunities for advancement 86.7%

Good people to work with 82.2%

Good training opportunities/developing new skills 82.1%

Good people to report to 79.6%

Challenging work 71.8%

Work-life balance 70.2%

Good initial salary level 70.1%

Job security 69.1%

Opportunities to have a personal impact 68.8%

Good health and benefits plan 63.2%

Strong commitment to employee diversity 49.5%

Commitment to social responsibility 48.6%

Organization is a leader in its field 47.1%

Opportunity to travel 36.1%

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