Employers: Avoid the Brand-Name College Trap—and Start Looking for Talent in Places that Pay Off
MIT. Stanford. UC Berkeley. Carnegie Mellon. Ask a tech hiring manager to name the colleges their dream candidate comes from, and they are likely to rattle off U.S. News & World Report’s top 101 engineering schools. Every year, employers descend on storied campuses or comb through resumes to lure the crème de la crème, then return empty-handed and confused as to why these sought-after graduates pass on jobs upgrading a call center or designing a chatbot. Yet, as sure as the next hiring season, businesses from manufacturers to healthcare systems once again come courting seniors at brand-name schools for entry-level tech positions—while jobs go unfilled, projects sit unfinished and growth opportunities languish.
It’s high time employers end this doomed romance. The country’s most prestigious computer science and engineering schools may be talent conveyor belts for the likes of Facebook and Google, but these elite graduates often have their sights set on Silicon Valley or high-flying hedge funds. That’s okay: there’s plenty of talent around to fill the millions of less glamorous but well-paying and rewarding junior tech jobs—if only companies knew how to bring the opportunities to the people who would grab and run with them.
Why is this seemingly simple act of career matchmaking so difficult for even veteran hiring managers? Much comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what everyone calls the “tech skills gap”—the supposed shortage of technical talent for open jobs. To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation across industries, intensifying already fierce competition for web and software developers, IT specialists, data scientists, and cybersecurity staff. Over the past five years, demand for tech talent has surged 190 percent, according to a CompTIA Cyberstates 2021 report.2
But the problem is not a skills gap—it is an opportunity gap, exacerbated by the myopic hiring practices of employers. Yes, if a business confines it’s recruiting to elite schools, it should come as no surprise that the average tech job takes more than two months to fill.3 But there is no reason it needs to take that long, when lesser-known four-year and community colleges churn out millions of able, eager graduates who simply require training in specific skills to slot perfectly into an IT job in procurement or a Java developer position for a company’s website.
Employers make the hiring process even harder by putting candidates through a gauntlet of challenges that have little to do with whether they’ll succeed in a job or grow into a leader. Exhibit A: Coding challenges. Senior engineers love to pose these high-pressure puzzles to all who apply, ostensibly to separate the best from the rest. While these tasks may sometimes yield insight into how someone thinks, they can just as easily eliminate a great person who gets an attack of nerves and flubs the test—or dissuade candidates from going through with the application process at all.
Employers would do much better to look at candidates through a more practical lens. Instead of grading them on an artificial, isolated challenge, evaluate them for aptitude plus attitude. Are they quick and curious learners? Do they demonstrate the “soft skills”—ability to collaborate, communicate effectively and build relationships—that 62% of executives rank as equal in importance to hard technical skills, according to CompTIA’s “Workforce and Learning Trends 2020” report?4 Will they bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, as companies strive to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces?
With a fresh class of college graduates collecting their degrees—in ceremonies real and virtual—employers, do yourselves a favor. Break up with the brand names and bring opportunity to talent.