The Business Case for Hiring College Grads — 32 Reasons They Can Produce a High ROI

College hiring is about to ramp up again — and the very best college recruiting organizations would argue it ramped up several months back — so now is an opportune time to conduct an ROI analysis to determine when and where you should hire college grads instead of experienced hires. Understanding the unique competencies and skills that college students bring to a business is important not just in determining the number needed, but where to place them.

As a college professor and someone that advises firms on the design of college recruiting programs, I have come up with a long list of the advantages of hiring recent graduates.

If you’re not seeing these attributes in your recent college hires, interns, or those you are courting, the problem is most likely a result of major weaknesses in your recruiting process and not with “this latest generation” of college students.

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The Business Benefits of Hiring Recent College Grads

The benefits are split into two categories 1) benefits to individual hiring managers and 2) benefits that may accrue to the entire firm over time. Note that the possible outcomes listed here are based partially on generalizations that cover many but not all top college hires.

Shorter-term Benefits of Hiring College Students

  1. Lower salary costs — most are willing to work for significantly less salary than “experienced hires.”
  2. Continuous learners — because they have a recent history of learning, they are self-motivated “continuous learners.” This may actually be the most important competency.
  3. Comfortable with technology — New grads expect to use technology and have no fear of it. They learn new technologies rapidly, and this, combined with their extensive knowledge of the latest hardware and software, automatically makes them a high-value hire both for current and future needs.
  4. Comfortable with the Internet and social media — college students are much more likely to be familiar with and skilled in all aspects of the Internet, and in particular the emerging area of social media and mobile applications.
  5. High levels of innovation — there is a great deal of academic research indicating that many great innovators do their best and most groundbreaking work in their youth. Midcareer hires may bring continuous improvement but lower levels of radical inflection-point innovation.
  6. Fast change and agility — nothing more accurately describes the business world these days than intense competition and rapid change. If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to need agile individuals who are not just capable of fast change but also those who literally look forward to it. Fortunately college grads have a combination of youth and an excitement for trying new things that makes them more willing to accept and adapt to rapid change. They’re also agile and as a result they are able to shift rapidly and frequently between unrelated tasks.
  7. Team players — very few major projects can be accomplished these days without teamwork. Fortunately, college hires these days are thoroughly experienced in teamwork and cross-functional teams. Rather than being forced to participate, it comes natural to them.
  8. Superior communicators — college hires are accomplished communicators. They know how to communicate with teammates, vendors, regulators, and customers in many diverse and economical non-face-to-face ways. This includes the use of social networks and web 2.0 tools that experienced hires might be unfamiliar with.
  9. The “why” question — a willingness to repeatedly ask the “why question” of others (Why do we do it this way? Why not that way?) helps to force you to re-examine your approaches.
  10. Better performance on the job — we know from professional sports that the performance of college grads can meet and sometimes exceed that of experienced players (i.e. Kobe and LeBron). If you use a “surgical” data-driven college-hiring process, a majority of your hires will be above-average performers almost immediately. If the same process surgically targets grads with high levels of loyalty, your retention rates will also be exceptional.
  11. New ideas — they bring numerous new ideas that they’ve acquired from leading-edge thinkers and professors that continually challenge them to think differently.
  12. No need to unlearn — because they have little work experience or corporate cultural history, they don’t have to unlearn old ways or bad habits that experienced hires might carry with them.
  13. Multitasking ability — they grew up in a multitasking world, so they look forward to being assigned to simultaneous tasks. Experienced hires might consider it overloading when you expect multiple tasks to be done simultaneously.
  14. Energy and enthusiasm — their youth and relative health will likely give them what some describe as unbounded energy during the day, requiring fewer breaks and with no lapses in work quality due to fatigue.
  15. Willing to take high-risk assignments — their relative youth and inexperience may lower their level of fear, making them more willing to take on risky tasks and assignments. With fewer outside-of-work commitments, many may be willing to take career risks that experienced professionals would not.
  16. They understand metrics — because they’re fresh out of school, recent grads are likely to remember how to use numbers, statistics, and metrics. Although they might not have any practical knowledge, their lack of fear related to numbers and metrics is a positive factor.
  17. Willingness to do grunt work — because of their eagerness to learn, even top students may be willing to do thankless assignments and even grunt work that others consider beneath them. This may speed up projects that are often delayed because no one on the team is willing to volunteer for the unglamorous tasks.
  18. Willingness to travel — fewer outside-of-work commitments and a high level of excitement regarding exploring and travel means that they are more willing to take assignments that require a significant amount of travel.
  19. Diverse ideas — each year, the diversity levels of graduating classes increase making them more diverse than the available experienced hire pool. If your college recruiting program has an effective diversity component, the diverse thinking of these college hires will add richness to your teams and decision-making because diverse individuals see things differently.
  20. Professor contacts also — if you hire the very best graduate students, you will likely also get with them their academic contacts and access to the best research professors.
  21. Access to research — once again if you hire the very best graduate students, you will also do research. You may also gain access to the research of their professors, thus aiding in product development.
  22. Faster time to productivity — because they learn quickly, have high energy levels, have few family commitments and they have no professional biases to unlearn, new college hires may actually reach the minimum required level of productivity faster than experienced hires.
  23. Easier to manage — although they may ask lots of questions initially, they may actually be easier to manage. This is because they seldom have the level of entitlement, professional biases, and political awareness that experienced hires usually have. Because they are new, they are less likely to argue, play politics, or complain.
  24. An opportunity for a tryout — hiring experienced professionals can be a hit-or-miss proposition because you don’t get a chance to actually see them work. Fortunately, with college hires you can preview their work by hiring them as interns. If designed correctly, this internship opportunity can dramatically reduce the number of hiring errors.

Long-Term Benefits to the Firm for Hiring College Grads

Some firms have found that college hires bring many benefits that accrue to hiring managers, but in addition, also help the company over the long term. Some of the benefits that may extend to the entire company include:

  1. A global perspective — many U.S.-based schools have a high percentage of international students. The curriculum in nearly every discipline these days focuses on global issues. As a result, you can be sure that new college hires will think globally, as well as feel comfortable working with internationally located individuals.
  2. Essential for filling future management positions — it is difficult to hire first-level managers externally because no matter how strong their management skills, they are unfamiliar with the team and the corporate culture. Consistently hiring entry-level college hires allows you to promote the best into supervisory and management positions within five years. Without this college hire strata of employees, it will be much more difficult to fill these critical management positions.
  3. Long-term assets — if you do hire college grads, they are yours to lose. So with great retention and career development, they will continue to be an asset to your firm for up to 40 years. Midcareer hires can’t possibly return value for the same number of years.
  4. You might only get one shot at them — whichever firm hires a new grad, it literally has a chance to keep them forever. Meaning that if this firm treats them well, they may remain at this firm throughout their entire career. However, if you only hire experienced hires, you may have missed your one and only chance to monopolize this particular individual.
  5. Competitive advantage — if your firm gets this talent, your competitors cannot.
  6. Youth market benefits — if your firm happens to target many of its products and services toward younger people, having a large number on your staff will likely result in better products and increase sales to this population.
  7. An opportunity to influence curriculum — even the process of college recruiting allows you to build relationships with faculty. Over time this many help you in steering the curriculum so that graduates more closely fit your future needs.
  8. Now is the perfect time — in the past, a weak employer brand image or a poorly designed college recruiting program may have resulted in your firm hiring lower performing college hires. However, because almost no one is actively hiring large numbers on campuses these days, you could cherry-pick the very best if you are willing to act quickly.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



16 Comments on “The Business Case for Hiring College Grads — 32 Reasons They Can Produce a High ROI

  1. When I first started sourcing for a company in Silicon Valley in the mid-90s I was continually frustrated by their refusal to take any names that did not have a college degree or were not likely to have one (sourcing was restricted to companies who also required college degrees).

    Granted, most of it was high tech sourcing.

    The main reason given was (and still is) that a college degree was a good indicator that an individual could “stay” with something until finished.

    It’s not easy to finish four years of college.

    No matter what the pundits say.

  2. John,

    The “experienced hire” that you compare the “college hire” to seems like a straw “person” (editorial convenience).

    The suggestion that job experience correlates negatively with teamwork, energy, agility, facility with numbers, comfort with technology, understanding (use) of metrics, commitment to continuous learning, etc. and positively with complaining, playing politics, risk aversion, intransigence, etc. depicts the workforce rather harshly.

    Employers would do well not to generalize – either way – based on age, experience, gender, educational attainment, etc. Cognitive ability, behavioral traits and occupational interests are better predictors of job performance. Employers should do their own housekeeping, starting with job analyses and job designs tailored to the knowledge work and knowledge worekers that will underwrite their business’ success, going forward.

    I’m for quality hires – selecting those who have what it takes. But first, employers need to determine what it does take to perform well in each particular job and then determine how to validly gauge candidate match.

    Final note: multi-tasking always wastes time and degrades work product. Sure employees can manage portfolios of responsibilities, but anyone – employee or manager – who believes that multi-tasking has any virtue, whatsoever, needs a reality check.

  3. Let me say that this is of course not personal as I am a big fan of John Sullivan. He is as nice a person as you will ever meet.

    On the other hand, I am astonished by some of the conclusions drawn in this article – so much so, I am speechless.

    Even if there is some truth to the conclusions drawn, to create a class of employees that we simply do not wish to hire due to all of the “reasons” they are not as desirable as the college grads is fundamentally a terrible idea.

    Tell me reader, do YOU know of a brilliant performer who is not a college grad? How do you explain that? Do you know Master’s level people that are total losers? Got explanations on that?

    I know a guy named Bill Gates who is not a college grad and has managed to do OK. make a few bucks and by the way, change the world.

    I know a guy I just worked with on a project who is a Software Director who is one of the best I have ever come across. No degree whatsoever. My friend’s 400 person software company was just acquired and he is the smartest guy I have ever known. I can go on and on but you get the point.

    A business case? There are few things more frightening than a business case.

  4. Thanks, Dr. Sullivan. You’ve just given some employers 32 reasons to justify implicit or explicit age discrimination (as if they need a list of reasons), starting with your Reason #1.


  5. OK, I’ll bite. To begin my post I shall address those who make cases for non-degreed people to also be considered. The article is not about how you should ONLY hire college degreed people. It is directed as cases for why hiring a recent grad has benefits.

    Now, to pick on the author, and John you know I like ya, I need to point out that the only case a college professor has for encouraging the hiring of college students is revenue. e.g. college bound students select their university on a few criteria, one of which should be “will I get a good job if I attend this school verses that school”. If the school places lots of kids, ta-da, they get lots more to enroll=Enrollment equals revenue.

    Now on to other fish to fry. Sure, a lot of these are good reasons to hire college students, if you have a well balanced work team to create and achieve. The college student adds to the mix but left alone, scary thought . A company of innovation and creativity will have a good mix of the experienced and the fresh college level. Afterall, it is those of experience who got the company to where it is.
    Remember, even the boy genius has a mentor (an experienced one).
    Balance your workforce and you will find yourself achieving.

  6. Here are a couple more:
    1) They’re likely to have to start paying off giant student loans very quickly, so they’ll be very grateful for a decent-paying job.

    2) Assuming they haven’t been frakked over too much already by authority figures, they’re fairly likely to be eager-beaver types willing to drink the noxious Koolaid of corp- speak brewed up by the hype-meisters paid to do such things….i.e., they’re more likely than their more jaded and cynical elders (like me) to whole-heartedly believe the exaggerations, half-truths, and downright lies told to them.


    Keith “Jade: It’s Not Just a Semi-precious Stone” Halperin


  7. I don’t believe Dr. Sullivan writes this to discriminate against more seasoned employees, but rather to remind recruiters that new grads have value as well.

    I am a newer grad, extremely capable, and a high performer, and am continuously turned down because recruiters and hiring managers get hung up on the number of years of experience. For a go-getter, they can gain more valuable experiences in a year than a burned-out, unengaged, uncaring employee can in five years.

    I’ve also seen workplaces get stagnant because they only hire experienced workers that break out in a sweat if their old, comfortable ways of doing things are even remotely challenged. New grads have a place in the workplace when balanced with seasoned workers. They need each other.

  8. Interesting insights on politics I like some of the comments money motives of the schools, exclusion of “experienced” employees when they tell you you need experience to get a job or good pay in other job markets and I guess I am already 10 years of career retention used up so not worth as much as a 22 year old. The thing about implementing these practices is that it causes an upside down system where once your past your expiration date you are threw you have one shot for it as your graduating once and at one point in your life and only if you graduate at 22. Clorox practices these hiring practices with all of their hires and then they “use” other people who didn’t make this small window pay them very little and lead them on to a career path that they can’t ever get enough “experience” for while the high wages of very inexperienced grads drive up inflation and the cost of living with their higher salaries while they take trips to Europe and have instant success I am sure many of the people on the normal track that have to work for far less far longer to earn work experience would be far less bitter had they gotten this treatment coddled and pampered strait out of college 80k starting wages which move up to over 6 figures quickly while they are cheered on by the company with full benefits and lax requirements I am not a hater. I can see the political wheels turning how universities make more money when they provide these kinds of positions how they pay for studies that back it and pay off corporations to implement it. Meanwhile the more companies that do it the less they have to pay more experienced workers because there are less jobs and more experienced people out of work and not making money so they can use supply and demand to exploit them more and contract us for cheap to do the work they don’t want to burden their interns with. Unions do it corps are in on it just looking for my own best way to navigate my way through this political mind field and find a company that appreciates me doesn’t treat me as a subordinate or enslaved by all the corporate corruption and I can gladly give all my dedication and hard work innovation and kum Laude Brain over to for a fair return. Personally I came from another industry that is just as bad I made some mistakes unfortunately in my past and spent a bit of time in prison but am doing all I can to change my life and make it as an honest and rehabilitated man. I can see bad things coming out of this if we don’t wake up. We should have lists of these companies so we know where and how this is going too far and a contractor shouldn’t have to spend 6 months here to find out they can’t get into a perminant position that pays anything very easily through this route.

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