Bringing Sanity to the Campus Recruitment process

For the last 2 months, my interns have been MIA, because “companies are coming to campus.” When I speak with students about the process that they (the companies) follow and the torture that they (the students) undergo, a few things become apparent:

  1. Every company does things its own way. In broad terms, the process is similar, but the details are different enough to make each one unique. To an outsider, these processes seem to be ad-hoc. None of them are like what Shell does (incidentally, Shell recruitment for an IT position also doesn’t seem to follow the normal evaluation process!). Consequently, replacing one process with another won’t make much of a difference in terms of outcomes (see the next points)!
  2. I’m curious if any company examines the effectiveness of its selection process. Wouldn’t it be great if they kept the evaluations (and hence expectations) of candidates, and then revisit the data in a year or two to figure out how accurate they were? And then tune the process to improve the outcomes for the company. Google did this a few years back with not-so-surprising results (link).
  3. Related to the above, what is the cost-benefit tradeoff of this exercise?
  4. In all fairness to the interviewing process, it is difficult to judge the suitability of each candidate in a packed 1-day schedule. But still…. a few of my students would be fantastic additions to any team, and they’ve been passed over.

From the student’s perspective, they pretty much lose out on two months of time that could be spent on more productive endeavors. And don’t even get me started on the stress that they put themselves through as they do not get selected with each successive company.

A serious drawback of the current system is the power difference between companies and students. Companies fight for the privilege of being first on campus. They can accept or reject students from the pool that applies. Once a student has been accepted, they can no longer apply to other companies. They may have preferred a company that comes to campus later, but didn’t want to risk not applying for the first company! So students end up interviewing for companies in the order that the companies are scheduled, not in the order that they prefer!

To summarize, the current process does not seem efficient to the company and even less so for students. Here is a modest proposal based on the observation that most positions at the entry-level fall into a few categories (developer, IT analyst, customer support, …) and technologies (cloud, databases, Java, Android, …). From the cross-product of role and technologies above, administer one set of evaluations that cover aptitude, technical knowledge, specialized skills (e.g. implementation) and an interview. Companies can use these results and calculate their own weighted scores to rank students. Students also rank companies based on their criteria — job profile, company profile, salary, etc. You can guess where this is going: this is an instance of a stable matching and we can use some variant of Gale-Shapely to generate an optimal matching (whether this is optimal for the student or the company is left as an exercise for the reader!).

Students/companies end up with the best possible outcome. A student gets the best job that they can get from the list of their preferences. The companies get the best candidates for their requirements who want to work for them. The process takes a week at the most. Students don’t waste time and are relieved of unnecessary stress. Collectively, companies save a huge amount of time as well. The data generated can be used to track and modify/improve the process as needed.

This can be done at one institute, but really speaking, should be extended nationwide. It is not feasible for every company to visit every college they would like to go to. A process such as the above vastly increases the pool of good candidates and minimal cost.

The main objection that companies may have relates to the validity of a common system. (aside: in an ideal world, interviews should be unnecessary and college grades should be enough to evaluate a graduate hire. The fact that interviews exist indicate that something is amiss in the grading system. Funnily enough, companies use GPA as a cut-off to filter candidates, but not as the only deciding factor). However, the current interviewing system isn’t an efficient system anyway and I believe that my proposal will be no worse than what companies do; and will be much better when the cost is taken into account.

A second objection could be the loss of prestige points for no longer being a “day-zero” company. With this system, if you’re getting the best candidates, the ego is the only thing that is bruised.

The nature of recruitment is going to change in the near future. Even now, I believe TCS no longer goes to campus, they have an online test that anyone can give, and candidates get selected for following stages based on the performance on this test. All of a sudden, a student from a remote college that TCS would not have visited has the opportunity to apply.

It’s not just recruitment that is changing. Don’t look now, but the nature of “work” and education itself is undergoing a transition, which is a topic for another article. We’re in for interesting times…

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