How to hire for startups at all levels.

The Case for Hiring Recent College Graduates

Posted April 15, 2015 by Jacob Donelly in Hiring and Onboarding
Recent graduates can learn a lot fast. Consider switching from hiring experiences rockstars to hiring for entry level jobs, when the time is right.

Hiring is one of the most important tasks a founder will do. When your company is just starting out, attracting the right talent is one of the most integral things you can do to help it succeed. However, that begs the question: what really is the right talent for a young company? 

When we think of the right talent, we normally think of the best-in-class people in each field. But is that actually what a startup needs? Hiring the top available talent, the "experts," is costly and possibly out of reach for new companies. 

People are attached to the idea that you have to hire “rockstars.” These are the people who came from the best school, have worked on the best projects, and are believed to be omnipotent when it comes to getting projects accomplished.  I’ve worked with one of these. He’s an insanely talented developer. He’s also extremely expensive. 

There’s another demographic of potential employee that I think is too easily overlooked. And it’s the demographic that I think employers—old and new—should be fighting to have, but aren’t.

My Personal Story

I remember when I got my first job. I was hired to do full time Search Engine Optimization for one of the oldest websites around. I had zero formal experience in SEO and I had a degree in history. But when I started the job, I quickly realized that even if I had zero experience, I could have done the job. The skills that were needed to do this level of SEO were learned in a month or two.

Had the company gone out and tried to hire a seasoned SEO expert, it would have cost them much more than what they got me for. Because I was fresh out of college, I didn’t have the formal experience to back me up, so I took a salary that more experienced individuals wouldn’t have - I was affordable.

Now if you handed me an SEO problem, I could figure it out. I could audit the website, look at the data, make my technical recommendations, and then develop a SEO plan that would see the site rank better for the competitive keywords. And the thing is, my boss who knew SEO taught all of this to me. As a recent grad, I was in learning mode. I was a sponge. And my boss could teach me what he needed me to learn that would make an effective employee for his department. 

Turn To College Graduates

The thing is, there are hundreds of thousands of these same college graduates out there that probably don’t have the skills you’re looking for, but who can learn them very quickly. And like I was, they are sponges, trying to soak up information.

But more importantly, they are malleable. I didn’t have a degree in marketing, but I have now built marketing plans for dozens of different projects—both internal and external. Most of my marketing plans were contingent on the creation of a lot of content. Part of what made me effective at that was the fact that I was a history major, which required a lot of writing. 

You can take an English major, give them a book on marketing, and they’ll start being a productive member of your team in no time. Or take a math major, give them a book on data analysis, and over time, they’ll start being a productive member of your team. Neither has any experience in the work you need them to do, but they’ve just survived 16 years—public school and college—of schooling that taught them to soak up knowledge.

Other Benefits to Hiring For Entry Level Jobs

But it’s not just the fact that they are malleable and hungry for knowledge that makes hiring a college graduate better. Here are a few other wonderful reasons to consider hiring them:

  • They’re cheaper: A candidate with 5 years of experience is going to cost a lot more than a candidate with 0 years experience.
  • They’ve got different perspectives: You ever hear the saying that kids say the darndest things? It’s because kids have a perspective on life that adults can’t replicate. People who have been in the work force for years can’t see life the same way that a fresh graduate can.
  • Technology: Do you realize that those that are in college today probably don’t even remember the sound of connecting to a dial up modem? The angry sounds that came from my computer are ones that those younger than me are ignorant to.
  • Social Media: Is your company older? Want to try and become a part of the social media world? Those coming out of college now have been using social media for years. It’s second nature.
  • You get to mold them. While it is uncommon for an employee to stay loyal to one company for life, the employee is yours to lose. That means if you do all you can to help them grow within the organization, you can mold them to be the future leader you need.

But Don’t Forget They Still Need Leaders

The thing to remember, though, is that while they are your future leaders, they still need current leaders. After doing SEO, I got into product management. Now I’m a history major writing requirements and telling developers what I need them to do, talking in priorities, business cases, and using data to make decisions. I told you we’re malleable …

But here’s the thing: I would fail miserably if I didn’t have my boss.

She is teaching me how to be a good product manager, how to work with stakeholders, and how to write effective requirements. I need that leader right now so that I can gain the skills that will make me an effective employee for the company in the future.

Therefore, hire as many college graduates as you can, but make sure that your management is comprised of people who are open to teaching them. You need experienced people who will enjoy passing their skills on to the next generation. I’ve stayed at the same company for four years because of that.

In the end, the next time you’re trying to fill that marketing role, consider the fact that a big part of marketing is comprised of content and social media. A history major who has used Twitter and Facebook for years might just be what you’re looking for. 

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.