5 Things that Education and Social Sector Organizations Don’t Know about Hiring Talent that Hurts Them

Need a rock star on your team?

Someone with a particular background, skills, or experiences? Someone who can tackle your mission-critical work or move it forward in a way that you can’t right now? And wouldn’t it be nice if he or she loved burrito Tuesdays, bagel Fridays, or whatever your organization’s specific brand of fun is?

Brutal truth: Get in line.

The skills that education organizations need are the same skills that private sector companies also want. That means that we’re all.competing.for.the.same.people.

Organizations and companies across sectors vie for talent aggressively, and those of us in education and the social sector need to know what’s going on.

Recently, we at EP heard from some students about what it’s like to be recruited.

Here are five things that most education and social sector organizations don’t know about recruiting sought-after talent that can hurt us:

1. Companies start recruitment early and recruit aggressively. 

Private sector recruiters champ at the bit to get to graduate school students. In fact, many schools make employers wait until late September or October, but after that, companies don’t let up until they secure offers with students.

One sought-after student tells us, “we have multiple events per week every week through the end of the [academic] year after that. The larger and more competitive firms will bring up to 40 people to campus for kick-off events, so candidates can interact with employees from offices around the country and the world.”

Companies who have the resources to secure top candidates early are often successful. Another candidate explains,

“By the time most social sector organizations determine their summer talent needs, my classmates who would have eagerly pursued those opportunities will already be committed elsewhere. As a result, the firms that wind up with MBAs for the summer won’t necessarily be the ones that need them the most or can offer the most exciting work. They’ll be the ones that acted first.”

2. Many companies are increasing 1:1 contact with candidates.

Via coffee chats, 1:1 prep sessions, or phone calls with employees who work in students’ area of interest, companies work to sell candidates on the opportunities they are offering.

Successful candidates are often invited into offices for private talks, invited to small dinners and get-togethers, and are given “hints” throughout the process that they’ll be “close-listed” or invited to interview.

One student says,

“Networking is a huge part of the process. It’s important for both sides, and I’d estimate that I spent 2 to 5 hours in 1:1 or small groups (of 2-3 candidates with one employee) with each of the consulting companies I recruited for before officially applying to the internship.”

3. Many companies seek candidates with “non-traditional” backgrounds.

Think that there’s a separate “pool” of social sector talent willing to wait to work for your organization? Think again.

As a student tells us,

“As someone with an interest in education and social impact, I was surprised by the number of professional services firms that reached out to me as early as October. The major consulting firms, in particular, have identified people from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds to be some of their most successful recent hires. As a result, this year people with education, nonprofit, and government backgrounds were recruited very heavily, and received a lot of one on one attention like private dinners and phone calls.”

4. Successful companies are on top of all details.

Organizations competing for talent know it’s a competition. They provide candidates with full information up front and are very clear about expectations, job descriptions, and deadlines. They know that in the high-stakes recruiting environment, ambiguity is their enemy.

Many graduate students already have years of work experience and have invested significant resources, time, and money to pursue a graduate degree. They simply can’t afford to waste time on unclear offers or timelines.

As one student describes it,

“MBA candidates are conditioned against ambiguity, and have recently taken a huge, potentially risky investment in their education. Many people want to close in on an internship ASAP. People receive offers as early as mid-January, and nearly all on-campus companies provide clear start dates, geographic location expectations, and notification deadlines.”

5. Delays can be deal-enders.

In aggressive and intense recruiting environments, coupled with pressure from universities (and sometimes families), students are pushed to make decisions about their summer work early.

As one candidate explains,

“The quantity and quality of companies recruiting us is overwhelming and exciting. Although I want to hold out for the best opportunity within the education sector, it is hard to keep waiting while my peers have already signed their summer contracts.”

Another candidate says of the impact of the timing of offers, “It’s very stressful to wait on information. Many people opt for certainty over a long wait.”

Certainly, there are candidates who are set on work in the education or social sector. They’re willing to put up with more ambiguity, longer decision timelines, and less money. But ultimately, they’re investing a lot in their own futures, and they need a degree of certainty (or at least reassurance) from the sector that they’re making the right choice.

Does recruiting talent feel like an even taller order now?

Whether education and social sector organization either think they can’t compete with private sector companies, or don’t know how to, the fact is that talented people are clamoring to work with us.

As one MBA candidate says, There is an overwhelming desire from MBAs these days to work in the social sector. I truly believe that if organizations in this sector were able to start the process even slightly earlier, they would have more opportunities to secure passionate, top performers who are hungry to leverage their skills to serve others.”

These hungry candidates are eager to answer what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “life’s most persistent and urgent question”—“‘What are you doing for others?’”

It’s the most important question they’ll ask. Let’s help them answer it.

Need a competitive edge when recruiting sought-after talent? Partner with EP. It’s what we’re here for.