Inside the Recruiter’s Mind…5 Need-to-Knows for Students

Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Alumni, Campus Life, Outreach & Service, Students, World Class Engineering | 0 comments

Inside the Recruiter’s Mind…5 Need-to-Knows for Students

by Jonathan U. Dougherty, PhD (’99 AE, ‘06g)

Dr. Jonathan DoughertyFor students, career fairs represent dichotomy in action – intimidating and exhilarating – as you try to navigate the maze of company booths, make a good first impression, land that interview, and hope your efforts result in an internship or full-time job. I can tell you from over a decade of firsthand experience, those same feelings of intimidation and exhilaration are felt by recruiters. Now, don’t get me wrong, recruiters have the peace of mind knowing that they already have a job – something you, as students, are urgently searching for…mostly to please your Mom and Dad. Take it from the guy who spent 12 years at Penn State, college is probably the greatest time of your life so you are probably not in a rush to leave Happy Valley! But I digress…

Let’s take a journey inside the mind of the recruiter (with the caveat that not all recruiters are created equal and the reflections in this blog are not necessarily representative of all recruiters’ perspectives). For as much as you may think that finding an internship or permanent placement is a chore, I can tell you recruiting is a tough job also. Think about it, these folks, who are not always HR professionals, are coming to college campuses to find their future colleagues and company leaders, all while considering the perceptions and expectations of current company management, culture, and most importantly, their personal reputation. Companies spend, on average, one to one-and-a-half times a person’s annual salary to replace an exiting entry-level employee. That means that if those new hires don’t work out and leave the firm, management sees dollar signs walking out the door, and the recruiter may see their reputation depreciate at the company.

Because company culture is such a prevalent issue, whenever I am recruiting I’m looking for the intangible quality that cannot be defined in a rubric or on a sliding scale: Fit. For me and many others, fit trumps GPA and is held in the same regard with relevant work experience and leadership/community involvement.

Here are a few questions related to fit that may be going through the recruiter’s mind:

  • Would I want to have this person in my home for dinner?
  • Would I want to sit next to this person for six hours of business travel?
  • Would I want to work for/with this person?

I want to stress here that academics are very important, but most good recruiters have done their homework on universities and specifically programs and departments where they actively recruit. They know the caliber of students who graduate from the rigorous Penn State engineering program, and that is why our University is consistently ranked so highly by recruiters – Penn State graduates are in demand! I mention this because in many instances academics are not the key differentiator; you need to find meaningful differentiators through work experiences, leadership roles, community service and outreach, and thoughtful relationships with the recruiter and company.

While the job of the recruiter is not easy, it can be very rewarding and fulfilling. Being able to interact with, mentor, and positively influence the future leaders of our industries and society is an awesome responsibility and one that good recruiters enjoy – and it is honestly one of the best parts of my job.

So, what are the 5 Need-to-Knows about networking with recruiters?

  1. How you are perceived to fit into the organization may very well trump all your other amazing traits, including high GPAs.
  2. Recruiters know the territory and they know the caliber of the candidate they are looking for to fill the role.
  3. Be authentic in your approach. This will go a long way in developing a relationship with a recruiter, and when you have developed a good rapport with a recruiter, it is a lot harder for them to turn you down!
  4. Recruiters love the Penn State College of Engineering and hiring its graduates. Your Nittany Lion pedigree will likely cut through the clutter of other candidates but it’s up to you to show that you live up to that reputation.
  5. Recruiters have a tremendous task of finding future leaders for their organization, but at the end of the day they are real people and are usually pretty interesting if you get to know them.

Good luck in your career search!

We Are…Penn State!


Dr. Dougherty is director, corporate knowledge center for James G. Davis Construction Corporation, Rockville, MD. In this role, he leads the corporate education and knowledge management initiatives of the corporation. An award-winning teacher, Dr. Dougherty served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Building Construction at Virginia Tech and is an invited guest lecturer at several universities.

Dr. Dougherty received his B.A.E. from Penn State and continued his academic career at Penn State and earned his Ph.D. in architectural engineering. Prior to joining Davis, Dr. Dougherty taught for six years in the architectural engineering department at Penn State.

He currently serves on the advisory board at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, is president of the Penn State Alumni Society of Architectural Engineers, is a trustee for the Francis L. Greenfield Laborers’ Joint Training Fund, Washington, DC, and is a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association

Dr. Dougherty was honored as an Architectural Engineering Centennial Fellow by Penn State in 2010 and received the PSEAS Distinguished Service Award in 2013.  Most recently, Dr. Dougherty was named to Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) 2013 Top 20 Under 40 in the Mid-Atlantic and served as the 2013 Commencement Speaker at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

You can connect with Dr. Dougherty on twitter @JUDougherty.

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