So maybe a hiring freeze isn't such a bad idea...

To say that my recruiting team is stuck between good old Scylla and Charybdis is putting it nicely. For several years we've had strong relationships with colleges and universities to hire summer interns and entry-level talent each May/June. Unfortunately we've been on something of a hiring freeze for a few months now.

While we are still recruiting for key strategic positions bring a bunch of interns and entry-level employees has not exactly been deemed as business critical hiring activity by the big decision makers. From an immediate cash perspective I see the argument. New, inexperienced hires and interns are expensive. Even though they don't command a high rate of pay, they generally require a good deal of training to get going. This takes away from the otherwise productive time of the paid senior engineering staff and management. Unfortunately this argument has been a big stopper by itself, but combined with some other factors the task of convincing management to loosen the reigns has gotten more difficult.

In an effort to protect cash some new product releases have been delayed meaning there is slightly less work to be done. While this has reduced, if not eliminated, the need for overtime, it is beginning to toe the line of some folks not having enough work to do. The argument then is, what type of message does it send to add staff when those we have are asking for more work? The answer is - not a very good one. As it stands our management has been implementing some relatively unsurprising and minimally painful programs to avoid cutting heads. This is both good and bad, in that jobs are saved, but it makes justifying the expense of a hire that much harder.

Great - jobs are being protected, as is cash, to make sure we can keep the lights on and people working. This is nice for those of us currently here, but what does this do for our future employees?

The current dilemma enters, stage left.

Companies all over are reducing hiring activity and are cutting back (or just plain cutting) intern and entry-level programs at the moment. These cuts are frustrating career resource centers at the schools we have worked so hard to forge good relationships with. These are the people that internal recruiters and HR departments work closely with to identify and target talented students and we now appear to be turning our collective backs on them. Universities need to boast high placement statistics to attract more students, otherwise the huge expense of an education seems less worth the investment if gainful employment is not imminent. While many of these folks say they understand the circumstances, disappearing for too long may have employers finding themselves scratched off the list of companies the school refers students to.

However, a company that has the resources available to continue hiring interns and entry-levels right now will clearly stand to strengthen their position with these key schools. This kind of hiring activity in a faltering economy can move a company higher on the 'preferred employer' list of students and advisors alike. This positioning will attract more students, and more importantly, more top students.

It is a long-term investment strategy in human capital and not all companies have the free cash to pump into programs like this, but those who do will likely reap the rewards when others try to climb back into the game. As it stands my recruiting team is still pushing to maintain a presence, if only a small one, with they key schools whose students we tend to like hiring. Hopefully this will keep us from ending up out of sight, out of mind...

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