Grow your incidence

Editor's note: Brooke Reavey is an assistant professor of marketing at Dominican University, River Forest, Ill. Jamie Shaw is the executive director of career programs and employer relations at Dominican University. 

Imagine the dedication needed to wake up before the sun rises so that you can take three trains and a bus to make it class by 8:00 a.m. Or think of the requisite grit needed to work two jobs, one of which might be full-time, while enrolled in six college-level courses in order to contribute to the family mortgage and pay this semester’s tuition, all while maintaining a high GPA so that precious scholarship funds are not eliminated. This is the type of determination, work ethic and perseverance employers say they want in employees and these are the students that we serve. Why, then, are companies still having a hard time recruiting entry-level talent with these characteristics?  

We work at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) that frequently recruits low-income, first-generation-to-college (first gen) students. Our university is dedicated to increasing social mobility – by breaking the cycle of poverty so that our students can thrive despite life circumstances. One of the easiest ways for us to help increase their social mobility is to assist students in finding high-paying internships and professional careers post-graduation in their major field of interest. As we have both discovered, though, that task is easier said than done.

Firms frequently issue statements regarding their commitment to a diverse workforce and we truly believe companies want to be inclusive but often fall short. If your organization is wholeheartedly interested in a diverse workforce, we have a few ideas for you to consider based on our experience of helping organizations recruit and retain our diverse students. Our employer partners (many national and international companies) engage in these tactics quite well and we want to share with you some of the tips that we’ve gathered over the years.  

Recruit from regional schools before you go national. You might be surprised how many regional schools in your “backyard” are preparing students for the marketing research industry. In our experience, these students are frequently passed over because they don’t come from elite universities. Keep in mind that most Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and first-gen students are more likely to attend a regional school because it’s not as intimidating and they feel like they fit in better.

One way to broaden your recruitment is to look for applicants from business schools with accreditations such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). AACSB accreditation ensures that the students are being taught current information regarding business and, in particular, marketing. Accredited schools have to jump through figurative hoops to maintain their accreditation. The school’s curriculum is audited every five years by a panel that ensures that it is modern and, as a measure of checks and balances, the school has to report the percentage of students who found full-time employment after graduation. Therefore, you can rest easy that these students are learning modern market research techniques. 

Ask for market research qualifications and experience early in the recruiting cycle. One way to ensure that you are objectively selecting qualified applicants is to ask internship and entry-level candidates to state their qualifications early – at the application stage. Many market research or marketing strategy instructors have their students work with clients (companies like yourself) on intense projects in class. Students likely have the practical experience that your firm seeks but they have no way of telling you this until the interview stage. Therefore, start the recruitment backwards. Ask them to state their MR experience first and let them know to share classroom or experiential learning experiences so that you can see who has the most qualifications without subjectively picking out applicants purely based on school name. 

Volunteer your time at a local university that has a diverse pool of students. Historically black colleges and universities and HSIs are great places to start. You can volunteer to serve as a guest speaker, run a workshop, work at a recruiting event or work with the career development office to participate in mock interviews or résumé reviews. This does not cost a penny, except time, and the more accessible your firm, the more likely your firm will spark the interest of a budding market research student and increase your talent pool. 

Help make the market research and analytics industry look and feel more accessible. As marketers, we know that ads must feature your intended target market (e.g., an ad featuring running shoes should include someone running). Despite this, based on years of teaching experience, we note that the vast majority of market research textbooks, accompanying videos and webinars mostly feature white people as the main focus. While the MR industry can’t control what textbook material looks like, firms can control their presence and reach in the market as a way to make the industry reachable for BIPOC and first-gen students. 

Put your money where your mouth is. Donating money to a smaller university isn’t as expensive as you would think. Funding an analytics workshop for $5,000 or a research center for $10,000 can help pique students’ interest in the MR field. 

Pay your interns a decent hourly wage. Speaking of money, pay your interns! Most first-gen students are working while in college because they have to help with essential needs at home (e.g., parents’ mortgage, rent, food, etc.). They simply cannot work for free. We also encourage transparency in the job description by stating your hourly internship wages. If it’s a possibility, let candidates know that the internship can be extended if the relationship works out. Would you be willing to give up your current permanent position right now for a temporary opportunity? This is a scary proposition and one that most first-gen students have to consider when thinking about internships. Make it less daunting by being upfront about the benefits. 

Partner with a small school and contribute to an MR class on a project. Interested in seeing more students have a specific skill set or wish MR candidates knew a specific program? Consider partnering with a regional institution that has small classroom sizes. Small = agile. Most regional schools are able to quickly add to the curriculum and have the nimbleness to modify course offerings. If you think that more students should know how to manipulate text analytics in R, for example, find a regional school and see what you can do to contribute to a classroom project that might incorporate R. Not only will you make an impact in students’ lives, you’ll also help develop your talent pipeline with the skill sets that you need.  

Make videos highlighting interesting techniques or case studies. Students love seeing day-in-the-life videos. They want to see what types of projects people are working on so that they can get an idea of what the job entails. Utilizing your firm’s social media channels for inexpensive videos like this is the perfect way to connect with curious undergrads. 

Just as important 

Retaining BIPOC applicants is just as important a step as recruitment. Here are some ways to keep your new hires happy.

Employee resource groups are crucial for retention. BIPOC and first-gen students are known victims of imposter syndrome – they often feel like frauds despite all of their accomplishments. Creating and maintaining employee resource groups (ERGs) is critical in BIPOC retention. Our former students frequently call us after they start working at leading firms and tell us: they don’t look like everyone else; they don’t talk like everyone else; and they don’t feel like they fit in, despite the fact that they are doing amazing work. They often feel like outsiders and aren’t sure how to gain confidence in their careers once they’re there. Ultimately, these feelings make them consider quitting. This is where ERGs are critical. Whether it’s a group of BIPOC employees, a hobby club or a continuing education group, ERGs help with engagement and a sense of belonging and this is an important step to retaining BIPOC and first-gen students. 

Assign each new employee three onboarding partners at different seniority levels. The saying “different strokes for different folks” also applies to mentors and onboarding partners. We all know the benefits of a mentor but what if that person is a partner at a large corporation and isn’t exactly accessible? Or what if you have a question that is not appropriate for a senior-level director? Knowing how to dress for the company gala, for example, is a legitimate concern, but definitely not a question for your senior director. Or what if you just aren’t connecting with your assigned mentor? By having three different mentors, the employee is more likely to find someone who clicks with their personality. Moreover, multiple layers of mentorship give entry-level talent, in particular first-gen students, the support necessary to successfully navigate the professional working world, allowing you to retain them. First-gen students typically do not have the coaching at home that one would expect. It is not unusual for a first-gen student to need extra coaching on how to handle conflict in the workplace, how to dress or how to ask for PTO. That’s where these mentors can help. 

Attracts and retains 

Diverse candidates for your marketing research jobs are out there! We see them in our classrooms every day. By following the above tips you’ll ensure that your company attracts and retains a hardworking generation of future insights professionals.