Corporate Cradle Robbers? It’s Just Another Name For College Recruiters

Working for a hedge fund today must be a lot like working for a tobacco company in the 1990’s.

Both political and popular scrutiny has made it difficult for employees to put on a public face for their company when so many see them partially to blame for the recession. You can double that pressure if you’re the face of the company in front of thousands of college students every year.

Even so, I imagine that when Bridgewater Associates decided to do some campus recruiting at Dartmouth, they didn’t expect this sort of backlash. A student by the name of Andrew Lohse decided to call out recruiters of the firm in the school newspaper for paying a friend $100 to tell them why the person didn’t participate in their campus recruiting program.

Outrage over recruiting

While campus recruiting has always been very competitive, it seems to (mostly) be a straightforward exercise. Students that are heavily recruited for certain disciplines get treated to corporate recruiting events, even as early as freshman year, in an attempt to try to get their minds on that particular company. The best campus recruiters I’ve known have texts coming in 24/7 from their recruits.

One of the ways that companies figure out if they are being effective with their program is by doing focus groups with students identified as “in discipline, not interested.” Sometimes, it is an informal dinner; other times it is a focus group, or on occasion, people are just asked to write what happened. And like many focus groups, there is often a payment if  you attend in order to entice people to show up and give honest feedback.

That’s what Bridgewater Associates did, and it’s what raised the ire of Lohse. He said in his op-ed piece:

At a party last week, a friend told me that Bridgewater Associates paid her $100 to write a statement explaining why she didn’t participate in Sophomore Summer corporate recruiting. The sheer arrogance and senselessness of this anecdote made me sick to my stomach, partly because, as planned, the exercise made her second guess her choice. But I had to admit there was a certain conceited logic to it — if this company can pay her $100 just to explain why she did not want to work for them, it’s easy to imagine how much cash she could rake in if she decided to pursue the job.”

While the rest of the article wanders a bit into a rant about corporate influence within the college and the minds of students (included the entertaining phrase “corporate cradle robbers”), the intent of the recruiter is what was initially called into question.

Honest feedback loops

Perhaps the goal of Bridgewater Associates was to throw money around and make the people who declined their recruiting process reconsider their offers. If that was the case, they could have made it a bit more obvious.

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For one, they could have paid her more (let’s say $500), take her out to eat, and perhaps give her a little backdoor pitch about working at Bridgewater Associates based on her feedback.

Having the student write down why they didn’t want to participate in the corporate recruiting event seems pretty reasonable. And it is something that college recruiters get asked all of the time (i.e. “Why aren’t we doing better at ABC University?“). And if I was a recruiter there, I would want to know, even if the feedback was that we were an evil corporation and manipulating our financial system.

More importantly, paying $100 a head for this information is not out of line. I just did a quick peek at Craigslist here in Seattle for focus groups and saw amounts ranging from from $25-$300. If Bridgewater Associates was throwing around money to make people reconsider their open positions, they picked a very conservative amount.

If there is one lesson we can learn from this though, it is that people’s perceptions of the recruiting process are all going to be different. Lohse was offended that they were trying to do another recruiting pitch while others would likely see the interaction as harmless feedback gathering.

Making your intentions clear from the start (and making sure your actions follow) can ensure that your feedback gathering from candidates who are not interested in your company is ultimately a useful one.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.