The University Degree: Essential? Yes. A Core Differentiator for Recruiters? Not so much.

It’s hard to believe that it has already been 30 years since I graduated with my MBA and went out into the real world for my first graduate job search. I had a simple and vague idea I wanted to break into the world of international business, whatever that entailed. I went to a well-respected graduate program at the University of Birmingham in England, rated in the top 50 globally at the time and thought this was going to be key to my success. It still took me another 6 months and 100’s of interviews at a time when the MBA was not so widely available and was in high demand. In fact, Canada at the time was graduating more MBA’s than all of Europe. I was eventually successful, going through 9 levels of interviews and finally landing my first job with Mitsubishi Corporation in new business development for their Aerospace and Telecommunications businesses. It was a grind, took months and was stressful not knowing how things would end.

Times have changed over the last 30 years, enrolment in higher education has more than doubled and over 40 percent of our population now has some form of higher education. Getting a degree is still a must to be considered for most higher value graduate jobs, but the degree on its own is no longer the core differentiator for top recruiters.

At Acadiate we engage a wide array of on-campus recruiters for top Fortune 1000 employers who are tasked with identifying and attracting young talent to their companies. Some companies we talk to have a team of 10-20 dedicated in-house recruiters because their intake is so great, measured in the thousands across North America and receiving 30-50,000 resumes/job applications from graduates every year.

As we interview and organize focus groups to find out how these professional recruiters are screening through candidates in such high volumes, we are gaining deep insights. It is interesting how much the industry still relies on a very simplistic document of the resume to make first level decisions that eliminate 80-90% of candidates, whether they are a recent graduate or not. This is interesting because there is a recognition of the necessity of the resume to quickly communicate certain basic facts about an individual, but at the same time most recruiters recognize it can be a very misleading and incomplete view of a candidate. Increasingly, recruiters are using more sophisticated and indirect methods for screening and evaluating candidates looking for personal attributes that separate them from the pack and demonstrates passion, commitment and drive.

It is our mission at Acadiate to demystify how professional on-campus recruiters approach hiring today and relay those findings to students and new graduates so that they can become better prepared for successfully achieving their career goals. This transition zone from academic life into professional life, is still a mystery to most students and the existing resources and approaches within higher education institutions are falling short. Talking to experts from Academia, they attribute this lack of proper preparation of students into professional life is a legacy view that higher education’s purpose is to teach complex learning and knowledge and not improve employability. That successful complex learning curriculum and pedagogy should in most cases lead to the development of highly capable individuals, who if motivated should find professional success. Unfortunately, this is leaving the successful transition of graduates into professional life to chance and unnecessary friction.

Academia is waking up to the demands from students for more resources and guidance to better transition into professional life. This is where Acadiate positions itself as a resource made available at the program level to help University programs better target career preparation systematically within their curriculum, but also to more relevantly tie their studies with specific employers and career fields that enable real and meaningful outcomes.

Within a number of the University programs we support we often can get 30-50% of a graduating class to participate in a specific employer’s job application(s) workshop with only a few days notice. For example at the University of Toronto, we have been used as a resource to help guide students applying to highly relevant employers or careers related to their studies with top employers like IBM, RBC, or Deloitte.  With a focus on greater preparation and access, we’ve had highly positive feedback from employers with several telling us these students are the “best group of job applications from graduates they have ever seen”.

Acadiate’s unique role between industry and academia, well positions us to gain deep insight and knowledge into how employers are screening and hiring new graduates, but also concurrently see how graduates are preparing themselves or lack of. There is a clear gap of understanding and preparation by large groups of students, leading to a massive problem of labour force misallocation, but also unrealized opportunity for many of our youth. All easily prevented and correctable.

This is not about receiving special treatment or privilege, this is about increasing your awareness of your own talents and knowing how you can better communicate that talent to an employer in a form they can understand and make actionable decisions on.  It is from this premise that we have observed most new graduates have many misconceptions about graduate job search that Acadiate is systematically addressing within its community of University programs and individual users so they can find their own competitive edge.