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How the OWS Crowd Could Change Recruiting Forever

How the OWS Crowd Could Change Recruiting Forever

There is plenty to say about the Occupy Wall Street movement – most of which is uncharitable.  But out of the noise, confusion and general sense of being appalled, one point has emerged to knock, knock, knock me on the head to say, “Something worth considering.”  The broadening gap between the rising cost of higher education (which is outpacing every other economic trend, including healthcare) and its ROI in terms of releasing employable new grads into the economic bloodstream.

Don’t get me wrong, as a middling brainiac myself, sprung from a family of massive minds for whom college is a forgone conclusion, I’m a big fan of book learning.  And you won’t get any argument from me if you want to talk about the importance of learning about critical thinking, the discipline of forcing new thoughts and formulae into one’s cranial cavity in such a way that they stay there, and even the value of lifelong relationships started on campus. (Although, truth be told, my only lasting friend from those days is my junior year roommate, with whom I bonded over giggle-infused attempts to teach ourselves yoga from the pictures in a paperback book. And trying to say long words through artificially induced belches. This is where my tuition money went, if you really want to know the truth.)

I know that many people got much more value from the hours they clocked on the quad than I did.  But I’m also very confident that most people did not.  And that’s becoming more and more the case, as tuition becomes increasingly expensive. As the economy continues to tank, we’re graduating scads of grads who are lucky if they can get paid saying, “room for cream?”   While the unemployment rate for college grads is a little friendlier than it is for high school grads, to my mind the differential is not so great that it’s worth throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at the bet that the degree(s) will keep the individual employed.  It's not. Never was.

The au currant argument right now is that colleges aren’t doing more than churning out worker bees for the Knowledge/Service age. And, yes, you need worker bees.  But who wants to spend hundreds of thousands to be a worker bee? Not me. Not you, either, I’d bet.

In this economy especially, a college degree won’t guarantee you nuthin’ but crushing debt and some kind of sense of having been ripped off and that you deserve better because, after all, you’re a college grad. Because we're all consumers, we’re finally coming to grips with that fact on the street. Main Street and Wall Street.  And that weird Middle Earth called Occupy Wall Street.

In the meantime, Steve Jobs dies.  And the fact that he was a college drop-out becomes common knowledge.  And then the list of the educationally disaffected begins to grow: Michael Dell. Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. (Not a single woman appears on this list, but that’s the subject of an entirely different frustrated rant.)

It's entirely likely that many really great people -- talented, creative, innovative, self-motivated -- are going to decide to think for themselves and skip formal higher education altogether. These are the people you're going to want in your organization. So here’s the question I have for you: Based on your pro formas, minimum qualifications, and the way your applicant tracking system is programmed, any chance in this galaxy that you would have hired these guys?   Or men and women like them?

As a recruiter, you know you need a certain number of worker bees – thoroughly qualified to independently use their brains to reliably get a thoroughly codified job done.  But if you’re a recruiter with an understanding of the direction your organization needs to go, you also know you need iconoclasts; people who are impatient with the status quo; people who were unimpressed by the puny egos found in academia and who had to leave school before they told their professors what they really think. Or decided to leave school because their business acumen told them that their money was going down a rat hole.

You need mavericks. And you need executives whose own egos are such that they won't feel threatened by mavericks. You want leaders who can appreciate and harness the inventive energies of the visionary weirdos who will see your business into the future.  These people are going to be increasingly hard to find.  For one, they’ve seen corporate America through the eyes of their laid-off parents. And they’re wise to the lie of job security.  They’re not exactly joiners, a lot of these folks. So you won’t find them at local chapter meetings. You won’t find them in the alumni news bulletins because, well, they’re not alumni. They'll see you coming long before you spot them. And they'll be gone, leaving only a slowly cooling empty seat by the time you arrive with a conversation opener on your lips.

You’re going to have to find new ways to locate, attract and appeal to the mavericks who eschewed school but who could make your company a legend – or at least solvent.  You’re going to have to put on your thinking cap; tap into your own maverick, entrepreneurial spirit to find the few who will allow themselves to become employed, even if only for a little while.

And you're going to have to make sure their kindred spirits are already within your organization and tasked with the job of helping you bring these folks on board. When I think of one of these people being brought before a typical peer interview panel, I can only think of what Davey Crockett said in his farewell speech to Congress:  “You can all go to hell; I will go to Texas.”

As for your applicant tracking system…I’m afraid you’re going to have to have that thing reprogrammed.  And I’m confident that there’s a genius out there who can do it just right.  A freelancer. Working cheaply out of a garage, or apartment, or coffee shop staffed by college grads…while his/her peers are beavering away expensively in some classroom somewhere.

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Martha I. Finney is the author of The Truth About Getting the Best From People, and a consultant specializing in employee engagement. For a free consultation on how you can build a vacation-friendly workplace culture, email Martha at

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  1. “…before they told their professors what they really think.” I actually had the audacity to tell a professor what I really thought while sitting in his class. His reaction wasn’t so much an, “let’s examine and see what we can learn” so much as trying to demonstrate the why what was really happening wasn’t as important as what he was teaching. An interesting approach given that the class was on business communications.

    I simply pointed out that what he was advocating and teaching wasn’t what was happening in the real world (I was working while going to school). After trying to convince me I was wrong, he then sat back and harumphed that he “was teaching how it should be”. Um, yeah, OK. I look at my career and it certainly hasn’t followed the “how it should be” track. And I am the better for it.

  2. We’re all just now coming to grips with how having activist judges on the bench has major unforeseen, and unwelcome, consequences. Maybe before long, we as a society, and employers specifically, will fully understand how damaging activist teachers can be to a nation whose economic philosophy has been primarily a capitalist one…until recently.

  3. I have often times said,”college does not make the person,” and it has always bothered me when I see job postings that list a college degree as a must criteria. Having spent a 25 year career with Honda I would argue that it is a very successful and respected global company. I say this because the founder, Mr. Honda, never finished high school. Yet he was a brilliant engineer with a passion for learning. By example when he struggled manufacturing piston rings, he took a metallurgical engineering course at one of Japan’s top universities to simply learn how to make a better piston ring. He never passed the course, probably since he never took any of the tests, because that was not his purpose, but he certainly made world class piston rings for his world class engines.

    I am a strong believer in higher education, but not a believer that everyone should go to college.

  4. I see this as a needed call to arms for HR professionals. There’s a lot of myopia arround Talent Acquisition and those who adhere to outdated playbooks had better take heed. I called into a radio program recently to participate in a conversation about some of the shortsightedness around sourcing and selection – there was resounding agreement that some HR pros need a paradigm shift. How are we defining talent and is the assessment too limiting, i.e. prescriptive and tending to breed homogeneity? Thought-provoking as ever, Martha – a great tangent!


  1. Employee Theft: The Books Won’t Lie | HR C-Suite - [...] a success and that requires your understanding the business’s financial reality. If Sharon protests, immediately bring the auditor in.…

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