Recruit Like the Elite: Lessons from EY’s Director of Recruiting

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Looking to learn from a university recruiting superstar? It doesn’t get much better than EY. For the past two years, EY has won the ERE Recruiting Excellence Award for Best Employer Brand.

You don’t hire thousands of new graduates and interns every year? No problem. There’s still a lot to learn from this industry leader. We caught up with Dan Black, Americas Director of Recruiting at EY, to discuss recruiting schedules, school selection, and the importance of getting top leadership involved in your recruiting activities so you, too, can recruit like the elite.

Who are you responsible for recruiting? Are you in charge of a geographical area or particular type of position within your company?

I’m responsible for all talent acquisition at all levels in North America, South America, and Israel. I’ve been at EY for 20 years, in recruiting for 16 of those years, and until last year I focused specifically on campus recruiting.

We recruit for all groups within the firm. There are five primary services that we offer, and four of them are client facing:

  • Assurance
  • Tax
  • Advisory (consulting)
  • Transaction Advisory Services (mergers and acquisitions)

The fifth group is called “Core Business Services” and that includes departments like HR, training, and finance. About 95% of campus recruiting is within the client-serving groups.

How big is your team?

We try to have a ratio where each recruiter is responsible for 45 to 70 hires per year. That’s a recommendation I have for others—that particular ratio is not a magic number, but we find it best to think in terms of roughly how many hires each recruiter is responsible for managing. You’d want to make adjustments to the ratio depending on things like how homogeneous your hires are, since that can make things a bit easier.

How many graduates do you tend to hire in a typical year?

We recruit professionals globally, but for the purposes of this interview we’ll focus on the US. In the 2013-2014 school year, our US member firm Ernst & Young LLP will have recruited roughly 4,000 full-time staff and 3,200 interns.

What is your recruiting schedule like?

It’s busy!

Eighty percent of campus recruiting is done in the fall semester (between August and December). Basically it’s broken down like this: in August, September, and October, we’re on campus, and in November and December we’re in the office, taking care of things like second-round interviews and offer letters.

Campus recruiting really is dependent on a number of different things—what you recruit for, which schools you visit, etc.

In our case, we really focus on business schools, and we’re looking primarily for accounting, finance, IT, and MIS majors.

The activity varies depending on the campus. Since we’re hiring so many people, we focus on a large number of schools, and we tend to spend the most time on what we call our “priority schools.”

How do you determine which campuses you visit each year?

We recruit at over 200 US campuses that we formally visit—which largely includes every major city. This is nice because that means we have openings around the country and the world.

There are some campuses that we call “national sources” where we find students who work anywhere, and others that are local and regional sources where students will work nearby. Both are important as sources of talent—we’re always looking to get referrals from outside, but also to balance that with filling positions from local sources.

Then, about 10% of our hires come from schools where we recruit professionals without visiting the campuses. Instead, we connect with these candidates through employee referrals, website referrals, social media, or relationships we have with schools. There are some smaller schools that we don’t visit, but we maintain a relationship with their career services offices and they’ll occasionally refer students who they think would be a good fit.

What types of recruiting activities does EY do in a typical year?

We divide our activities into three categories:

1. Informing and Attracting

This involves giving presentations, speaking to student groups, talking in classrooms, and attending career fairs. And depending on the size of the school, we could make one visit, or we could make 10 or more visits.

2. Recruiting

This is when we actually conduct interviews, which involves a reception or group activity the night before the interviews, and then the actual interviews. We work closely with career services centers to get résumés, send out invitations, etc. We’ve found that working with career services is the best way to ensure it’s a fair process for all students.

3. Second Round Interviews/Office Visits

After the first round of interviews, we have super days: visits at the candidate’s location of choice, which include a second round of interviews. Offer decisions are typically made after that stage.

What are some of the challenges associated with university recruiting? How do you address them?

Some common challenges include:

  • Making sure you have the right people involved, and not just the right recruiters. You need the right people to manage marketing and branding and you need people working in the types of jobs you’re trying to fill to visit  campus. Students don’t just want to talk to recruiters—they also want to hear from people doing the actual job they want.
  • Consistently spending time with firm leadership to communicate the investment required to be a top employer and win the top candidates. Luckily this is something EY values a great deal. If fact, our Global Chairman and CEO has been on campus a few times in the past year (and every year) because it’s just that important.
  • Getting in front of candidates early enough. I can remember 20 years ago when I was a student, most people started their job search at the tail end of their academic career, and that has completely changed. Now top students are engaging with employers at the beginning of their academic career—sometimes even before they start college. So it’s very important to start to build preference and build your employment brand early. That takes up the most time out of anything we do. Actually, the recruiting process itself is very quick; it’s pretty much over in three months, but building preference and getting students excited—that happens over the course of years and takes a lot of time and effort.
  • Making sure we’re hiring a diverse workforce. We’re not looking for 7,200 cookie-cutter professionals. And we don’t limit diversity to gender and ethnicity—we also consider background, thought process, opinions, skills, and much more. Most colleges do a great job of educating students, but finding diverse candidates takes a lot more planning and effort.

What are some of the advantages or benefits to university recruiting?

Connecting with future employees on campus encourages them to embrace your culture and values early on in their careers. When you’re able to have someone “grow up” in the organization and be mentored, you have the opportunity to build allegiance to the firm and teams. It’s one of the many reasons we recruit so many college vs. experienced hires (it’s usually a ratio of about 60 to 40 percent).

Through campus recruiting, you are also attracting people who are continually learning and knowledgeable in the very latest pronouncements, guidance, regulations, and developments in their respective fields. This cutting-edge, “latest and greatest” information helps to reinvigorate the firm.

This generation brings so many great things to the table—cultural awareness, global savvy, technological ability—and these skills can greatly enhance your client offerings. Their skill sets and preferences are in direct alignment with the needs of the environment we’re in today. This is why I’m bullish about this generation and hiring them.

What do you wish you’d known about university recruiting when you’d started?

I wish I had known it would be so personal. When I meet a student I like and they don’t get an offer, I take it very personally because you get really invested. It’s a connection you make, and to be a good recruiter, you NEED to make that connection. As a businessman, I wasn’t used to that. I made a lot of great personal connections, but it can take its toll when things don’t go the way you hoped.

There are also a lot of intricacies. Many people think that it’s just about being a people person. Being a people person is great, but there’s so much more to it: being organized, able to multitask, and administratively on top of your game. You need to manage multiple schools, deadlines, and relationships—and that’s every bit as critical as your people skills. In fact, it takes up more of your time as a recruiter. And having the time management skills gives you the time and wherewithal to excel at managing relationships.

The next step: Dan talks about the importance of getting in front of students early enough since today’s job search process takes place much earlier in their academic careers. What changes can you make to your recruiting program in order to make that happen? Offering scholarships, internships, and talent networks are all great places to start.

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