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Risk Mgmt and Ins Higher Education Scene

A Hiring Fairy Tale: Due Diligence in Hiring New College Graduates

Brenda Powell Wells | April 7, 2017

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Fairy with wand

Hiring new college graduates is kind of like marrying someone you just met. You make a very expensive commitment to train them, mentor them, and give them all the tools necessary to succeed. You hope they work out, but if they don't, you may have a hard time getting a divorce. Firing is expensive, messy, and unpleasant.

I've told the following story many times, but it bears repeating, as all good fairy tales do. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a student named "Skip" failed a class in his university's risk management and insurance (RMI) program. This kept him from graduating. Skip was devastated about not graduating because he had lined up a dream job with a very large, very reputable employer.

Three months later, a professor who knew of the situation ran into two of her alumni from the same employer and inquired about how Skip was doing. The two looked at each other very uncomfortably, squirmed in their seats, and then said, "He's not doing very well. He's just not fitting in." They proceeded to tell stories about sexual harassment in the workplace, tardiness, and unexplained absenteeism.

The professor said to them, innocently enough, "I was surprised they let him start work since he didn't graduate." (Yes, I know the professor possibly could get in trouble for saying that. But this is, after all, a fairy tale. Roll with it.) The head of human resources at the company got wind of this situation and called the professor to say, "Skip handed me a transcript with a 'D' on it. He circled the grade and said that you were 'taking care of it' for him and that he had otherwise graduated."

The firm ultimately fired Skip for being dishonest about his degree. He then threatened to sue for wrongful termination! He said that he had told them he didn't graduate—he "even circled the 'D' on the transcript" for them! No happy ending for this tale.

When Hiring New College Graduates, Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

To minimize the risk of making a mistake in the hiring process, the simple solution to this is to do your due diligence. Here are my suggestions (please note that I am not an attorney and nothing I offer here constitutes legal advice!).

  • Choose a reputable risk management and insurance program to hire from. There are about 45 of them across the country. You'll be getting a student who has a solid framework of RMI knowledge to build upon, who has also demonstrated a commitment to our industry. This will lower your turnover substantially.
  • Don't assume. Every student is unique. Don't assume that because you previously hired six great people from an RMI program that the seventh person will also be a great fit for you. Be sure to evaluate each candidate as thoroughly as you can.
  • Demand an official copy of the college transcript. It is very easy for someone to tell you that he or she has graduated. It is very difficult for them to produce an official transcript that says he or she graduated if they actually haven't. Do not make light of this! Don't let them start work without submitting the official copy to you!
  • Review the transcript. Take a careful look at it. Does the grade point average match up pretty closely with what was initially on the résumé or job application submitted to you? If not, ask the candidate to explain the discrepancy. If it cannot be explained, you know what to do from there. Also, pay particular attention to grades in the risk and insurance courses—make sure there are actually risk and insurance courses on the transcript!
  • Involve alumni in the interview process. If you have alumni from the program already working for you, use them to evaluate the employee. They know the culture of the school, and they will likely know a good fit when they meet one.
  • Check references. I cannot tell you how many times a year employers hire my students without calling me to verify that they are indeed a student in my program. Keep in mind that they are hiring before seeing a transcript, so they really have absolutely no way of knowing if the student has ever taken a single risk and insurance class. Pick up the phone and call the references listed (unless, of course, your attorney advises otherwise).
  • Pay attention to the references listed. Did the student list at least one of his/her professors in the RMI program as a reference? If the answer is "no," that's potentially a very bad sign. Every student should have a good relationship with at least one of their professors, enough that they could include them as a reference on a job application. What I would probably do in that situation is mention to the candidate, "I see you didn't list any of the professors in your RMI program as references," and see how they respond. You'll get a feeling for what's going on by the tone of their reaction.
  • Look for leadership roles. Most RMI programs have a student organization called Gamma Iota Sigma. Look to see if the student lists that as an activity. Are they a member? Did they play a leadership role, or did they help out with specific activities and functions?
  • Ask the right questions. If you're going to take the time to call me to check a reference, don't just call and say, "Tell me about Fred." Ask me about some of the following specifics I can respond to.
    • "Did you require attendance in your class?" "How was the student's attendance?" (What you ideally hope to find is outstanding student attendance even when it wasn't required. And, what you really want to watch out for is poor attendance, which shows a lack of reliability.)
    • "Did the student follow instructions well and show respect for classroom policies?"
    • "How well did the student get along with his/her peers?"
    • "Did you require any group projects or work? How did that go?"

I hope this helps you think seriously about how to perform due diligence in the hiring process. If you have specific questions or concerns that you'd like me to address in a future column, please write to me at [email protected].

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