Q&A: William Wright-Swadel on the Shifting Nature of New Graduates' Job Searches, Recruiting

Aggressive recruiting timeline means students must make internship choices earlier in college careers

Bill Wright-Swadel
Bill Wright-Swadel: "The reality is that this is a confusing process and making a decision to go somewhere before you’re ready is not always a good idea."

With commencement approaching, some graduating Duke seniors are still searching for their first jobs, while others have work lined up – likely thanks to connections they made earlier in their college careers.

William Wright-Swadel, the Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Duke Career Center, spoke to Duke Today about tips his office gives to students as they consider their futures. Here are excerpts:

How is the job search for Duke seniors different this year than in recent years?

The recruiting process has moved all the way down to the sophomore year. Organizations ask universities like ours – particularly from Wall Street and consulting – for students to make commitments a full year ahead of arrival – in the fall of the year prior for the following summer.

The problem with that is that the student will have a quarter of their education in between and the company may get cranky if the student changes his or her mind. The reality is, we’re in the business of helping students understand the consequences of agreeing to something. If you renege and then go back later, they’re not interested anymore.

But the problem is that often students aren’t able to predict their circumstances that far ahead of time. When do you do DukeEngage or a special project with a faculty member?

“The reality is, we’re in the business of helping students understand the consequences of agreeing to something.”
- Bill Wright-Swadel
 

So what do you tell students?

The reality is that this is a confusing process and making a decision to go somewhere before you’re ready is not always a good idea. It feels good because you’re desired, but in the end are you totally confident that’s where you want to go?

 

Are some companies or industries better at narrowing that gap and making it easier on students?

I would suggest the opposite. Some companies are better at extending the process because they’re competing with each other so they want to get the best students as quick as they can.

 

And students are flattered by the attention and the offers?

Our students are incredibly competitive. So they would often take a job they don’t want rather than not have one, and some can’t afford not to have one.

 

What role do the traditional entry programs offered by large companies play?

The notion that big recruiting programs are the way is overstated. Even the ones who come and recruit rarely hire more than 10 or 12, mostly interns, and only offering something like eight of them full- time jobs. So the whole process is earlier, and it’s spread out. We teach our students to flip the process -- identify 10 organizations in the world who are best at what you want to do. Develop your search that way. You can easily take any organization and identify its primary competitors. Those are also prospects for a student looking for a job. It’s what we call intentional professional development.

So yes, things are changing. Education of different forms – online education, different forms of teaching. Most of us think students will be students for the rest of their lives. There’s work in those fields.

There are industries in enormous flux. The retail industry is a mess right now. Is it online? Is it brick and mortar? There’s a high number of stores that close. What’s happening with all that real estate? That means commercial real estate, which hasn’t been a particularly fast-moving industry, will be hot. Difficult, but hot. There will be shifts in the industry.

 

So is that an opportunity for a new college graduate?

Well, almost everything now is both a challenge and opportunity. If you’re in an industry in flux and you’re already in it, it’s a real challenge because you need to decide whether to stay. Nobody is going to be with Toys R Us soon, for example. That’s the challenge part. But the fact of the matter is there’s all this retail space. It wasn’t long ago we were trying to figure out what to do with old tobacco warehouses. That’s the opportunity side. As fields close, others open.