STEM Recruiting: The Employer's View

By Sarah Raymond posted 10-31-2017 08:41

by Sarah Alspaw, Capitol Technology University, Dona Gaynor, Florida Institute of Technology, and Jolie Woodson, The Cooper Union. Edited by Sarah Raymond, Montana Tech

With many fall career fairs, or the “Super Bowls” of recruiting, behind us, we thought it would be useful to connect with employer representatives of our STEM-focused higher education institution cohort to explore their views on recruiting. This piece brings together perspectives from a range of employer partners in various sectors such as technology, manufacturing, aerospace, petroleum, government-funded research, and civil and environmental engineering.


Increasing Competition for STEM Talent 

The level of competition for STEM majors, particularly majors such as computer science, is intense and companies both large and small who lack brand recognition may struggle to find qualified candidates. Some companies, especially smaller ones, may not have the recruiting budgets to invest in university programs and are turning to tools like LinkedIn to find candidates. Even large organizations, such as Gerdau, a global steel-maker with more than 45,000 employees across 14 countries, note that there are more positions than suitable candidates, particularly with regard to skilled trades. HUSCO International, a mid-size company that specializes in manufacturing hydraulic controls is also feeling this competition for talent. Yext, a growing NYC-based tech company says that students are juggling many offers, often with very high compensation. In addition, the skills needed within the workforce are changing, and organizations may seek candidates with a blend of knowledge and skills, not just depth of knowledge in one particular area. 

Despite the sheer number of opportunities and the desire for broadly trained candidates, organizations still look for candidates with specific technical skills. For example, aerospace conglomerate Embraer seeks candidates with specific design software experience that is commonly used in aviation, but not normally taught in college. Organizations seeking candidates with computer science backgrounds note recruiting challenges due to increasing tech opportunities in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Northrop Grumman, a large defense and aerospace contractor, notes not only is there immense competition for computer science students, but the need for security clearance further shrinks their candidate pool. Langan Engineering, which focuses on civil, environmental, and geotechnical projects and seeks candidates with specialized degrees and experience, expressed that students’ lack of geographic mobility presents a recruiting challenge. 

Not surprisingly, organizations’ recruiting timelines are accelerating so they can compete with companies that have more resources for the talent acquisition process. Such organizations may have more established internship programs or may make offers on the spot to candidates at career fairs. As such, it is not uncommon for employers to extend offers six to 12 months prior to a candidate’s start date for internships and full-time roles. This coincides with recent NACE reporting showing a move away from spring recruiting to a greater emphasis on the fall. Some organizations desire to move the timelines earlier, however they must also contend with unforeseen staffing needs of client projects. On the other hand, Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) and Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), government-funded research programs that aim to inspire students to pursue STEM professions, often make offers that require a much quicker decision turnaround. 

Still, an undergraduate degree is the requirement for entry; employers note that advanced degrees or certifications are generally not needed for entry-level positions. Such degrees are of more value for higher-level positions, but many employers, particularly those that hire for specialized areas, will look to candidates with graduate degrees. YU & Associates, a small consulting engineering firm, values advanced degrees for entry-level hires, but still focuses on the candidate’s enthusiasm and interest when making hiring decisions. A number of organizations offer educational reimbursement programs for candidates to pursue advanced degrees and professional licensure, such as the P.E. 


Nurturing and Diversifying the STEM Talent Pool 

Employers note that they are continuing to struggle to recruit racially diverse hires, but some say they have improved on recruiting women due to an increase in female students pursuing STEM fields. The lack of candidates in certain STEM fields is a national problem and companies are now looking at programs in elementary and middle schools as well as high schools to encourage students, especially women and minorities to study science, technology, engineering, and math. Many employers, such as Marathon Petroleum, Gerdau, Langan Engineering, Google, Northrop Grumman, and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, work with pre-college students in various ways to encourage them to pursue academic study and careers in STEM fields. 

In addition to starting early, organizations also look to connect with groups like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). This may mean connecting with these groups on campuses and/or attending these organizations’ national and regional conferences and career fairs. Embraer notes taking the time to attend networking events to connect with students in these groups is a challenge, and they also make a point to visit minority-serving institutions. Employers also frequently cited participating in the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as a mechanism to improve gender diversity of recruits. While diversity-focused recruiting efforts are a major part of college recruiting programs, these efforts are more common at large organizations (more than 10,000 employees), NACE reports. In addition, many organizations are tackling the systemic lack of diversity in STEM fields internally. For example, Google has programs and resources to remove bias and has developed employee communities to support diversity, such as Women@Google and the Black Googlers Network. 

Recruiters also suggest college career services staff would be wise to encourage students not to get discouraged by job-search setbacks. Organizations that hire STEM students often have diverse work forces and may seek candidates with different kinds of backgrounds, and as such, just because a candidate isn’t a fit for a particular position doesn’t mean that they won’t be for others within the organization. Embraer urges candidates to follow up on a monthly basis to inquire about new positions, though they say, very few actually do.


Finding the Right Fit 

Employers noted that reneging on offers is still a relatively uncommon occurrence. They encourage candidates to make the right personal decision and generally will offer candidates extensions so that students can take more time to assess opportunities. Career services professionals should continue to counsel and offer guidance on negotiating offer deadlines. 

It is essential for career services and recruiting professionals to communicate with each other to ensure appropriate information is relayed to job-seekers. Consistent communication will allow for strong campus relations and realistic recruiting goals, which NACE echoes in a recent report. Although the recruiting trend is leaning toward the fall, there are still different approaches to recruiting activities, particularly for specialized roles, and candidates would be wise to do careful research on organizations and industries of interest. 

While there may be a great need for STEM talent, candidates should continue to be targeted in their job-seeking strategies and recognize that an application that may work for one opportunity and/or organization will not necessarily work as well for others. There is great employer focus on STEM recruiting and career services professionals must be careful to remember that organizations have specific needs and roles to fill.  Google notes that they often have issues with students being under prepared for technical interviews. They partner with schools to host workshops specifically on the recruiting and interview process for programming roles. As the number and variety of technical roles change, so should the ways that career services professionals prepare students, often in collaboration with industry partners. 


The STEM Collaboration blog is researched and written by

Julie Pittser – Missouri University of Science and Technology 
Judy Fisher – Harvey Mudd College
Sarah Alspaw – Capitol Technology University
Kelly Laraway – North Carolina State University
Deborah Liverman – Massachusettts Institute of Technology
Kevin Hewerdine – Rose Hulman Institute of Technology
Patricia Bazrod – Georgia Institute of Technology 
Jolie Woodson – The Cooper Union
Sarah Raymond – Montana Tech 
Maggie Becker – Worcester Polytechnic Institute 
Jean Manning-Clark – Colorado School of Mines
Raymond Mizgorski – Carnegie Mellon University 
Stacy Moore – Delaware Valley University
Steve Patchin – Michigan Technology University