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If you work in talent acquisition for the business industry, you might have noticed something different about the people you’ve been recruiting lately—they have probably been younger than people you’ve ever recruited before.

This year, talent acquisition specialists from the financial, banking and consulting sectors ramped up their recruiting efforts for undergraduate business students, targeting students as early as their junior year of college. “This is the year where the banks as a whole made a commitment to focus on the fall, and the schools have become more accommodating,” said Tom Fitch, associate dean of career services and employer relations at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.

This past fall, the McIntire School of Commerce and business schools across the nation hosted recruiters on their campuses as early as September, with resume deadlines and interviews for coveted business industry internships following not long after. With most undergraduate business programs not beginning until students’ junior year, schools have had to adjust their traditional programs in order to prepare newly matriculated students for the whirlwind of recruiting. “For a two-year program, it certainly has presented some challenges in being sure that students are prepared and know what they’re getting into,” said Jane Hershman, director of the BBA Career Management Center at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Many business schools adjusted to the early recruiting efforts by offering crash courses during the summer for incoming business school students. “Typically we would not have bothered newly accepted students before they matriculate, but now we are really working with those students to anticipate what their needs might be,” Fitch said. Across the country, business schools offered industry seminars, networking trips and training over the summer to prepare students for the intense recruiting process that would begin before they received hardly any formal instruction from the program.

Is this early start to recruiting just another industry trend that will pass? Michael Roberts, assistant dean and director of the Career Center at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management, believes that this aggressive practice might be here to stay. “The intensity of the recruiting and how early it is just continues to reinforce that it is more than a trend now,” Roberts said.

So what is causing the business industry to actively recruit young talent so early? It likely has roots in the Great Recession. When the U.S. economy spiraled into a deep slump in 2007, companies across all industries were forced to lay off thousands of employees, issue hiring freezes and rescind job offers that had been extended to upcoming graduates. In November 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, there were more unemployed college graduates seeking work than there were high school dropout jobseekers, but recent college grads were hit especially hard. In fact, Americans who received bachelor’s degrees in 2008 were almost twice as likely to be unemployed than those who received their degrees in 2000 or 1993.

Once the economy started to improve in 2009, companies realized that they were unprepared for an economic upturn, from a talent perspective. So, companies began to offer recent college graduates and soon-to-be graduates with internship opportunities in order to tentatively create a candidate pipeline for when their budget allowed a new hire. Steve Patchin, director of Michigan Technological University’s career services department, referred to this practice as building a “talent bench.”

Today, employers still offer internships as a way of developing a talent bench. Internships can also be a way to “test drive” candidates before hiring them, as noted by Dr. Linda Henman, founder of the Henman Performance Group. Today’s economy is, luckily, very different than it was in 2008. The biggest difference? Today’s job market is candidate-driven, not employer-driven—in other words, candidates have the power. After companies were forced to downsize during the Great Recession, many have been steadily rebuilding since 2012—especially in the business industry. For instance, the consulting sector grew by 9 percent in 2014 to an over $50 billion market, and growth has continued in 2015. The financial and banking sectors have also experienced steady growth since the economy turned around—the Federal Reserve declared that 2014 was the best year since the recession for these sectors as loan portfolios increased and more jobs were created.

Essentially, with job growth skyrocketing in the business industry, jobseekers are often presented with offers from more than one company. So, recruiters have to “do more” in order to land the top talent. It appears that “doing more” means targeting college juniors and offering large signing bonuses to those who quickly accept job offers. “It’s all a matter of securing talent in a competitive marketplace,” said Patchin.

My question is this: is hiring college juniors, before they’ve received a formal business education, really a sound hiring decision? I don’t have the answer to this. Perhaps companies trust that the top-notch business schools they are recruiting at will provide all students with a high quality education, so they hire for soft skills and cultural fit rather than for knowledge and skills. What do you think?

As U.S. companies are targeting universities more heavily than ever, the U.K. offices of several reputable international business corporations, such as Deloitte and EY, are altogether nixing college degrees as a hiring requirement. If this trend were to come across the pond, the business industry would have to completely revamp its recruiting strategies. It will certainly be interesting to see how the recruiting landscape changes in the coming years—who knows, perhaps algorithms will be calling the shots soon.

Author Christina Boodée

More posts by Christina Boodée
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