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New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed

It’s been awhile since I last wrote here, but I’m back. I’ve been transitioning into a new job and things have been hectic.

Several weeks ago I came across a New York Times article that ranked Cornell University 38th in a list of the top universities throughout the world from which “hundreds” of CEOs from “leading companies” in ten countries recruit. At the top of the list, as expected, were Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Within the top fifty spots, 23, or 46%, are American universities. Although this could be a good sign of the quality of American higher education, I doubt the validity of this ranking. While rankings like this are inherently subjective, this one is particularly bad. Here’s why:

1. One cannot compare school recruiting across industries. The survey gives no mention of the talent pool at which these companies are looking. The type of school at which a financial services firm recruits will likely be different from that of a pharmaceutical company. Some schools may have a strong finance/economics program but a weak science program. The Wall Street Journal in 2010 published a ranking of the top schools by major, which can give a much better estimate of the recruiting focus of “leading companies.”
2. The criteria of “top universities from which [CEOs] recruit” is poorly defined. How did the study define “top universities?” Is it measuring recruiting by number of students recruited or the quality of the students recruited? If the measure is the subjective measure of quality, which would be a better measure than the sheer number of students, I do not think the CEO is the best person to judge the quality of new employees. CEOs interact daily with the collective big wigs of their companies, not with the entry-level college hires. Middle management would be a better judge.
3. CEOs are out of touch with their respective companies’ recruiting efforts. If a CEO operates at 35,000 feet, his company’s recruiters are working around 5,000. The CEO may have knowledge of general recruitment strategy, but he is not involved in the day-to-day of choosing students to interview and hire. When is the last time you saw a CEO at a college’s career fair?
4. CEOs are biased. Let’s face it. Most people are biased towards their alma mater. I haven’t even been a year out of Cornell and I’ve already experienced the power of a strong alumni network when it comes to careers. At least some CEOs are likely to push recruiting at their own schools and would tend to answer favorably about recruiting there.

Even if the study had air tight validity, these rankings do not indicate anything meaningful. The rankings cannot suggest that Harvard (#1) graduates will get more job offers or better job offers than University of Helsinki (#150) graduates. After all, one can’t define a “good” or “better” job offer because each student’s conception of a “good” or “better” job is different. Although the title of the article is “What business leaders say,” I don’t think what they say here matters. What was the New York Times getting at in publishing this flawed study?

Kyle Scott | Posted on December 08, 2011 (#)

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