Talent Unseen

September 14, 2018

Talent Scouting Outside of The Valley

For privacy reasons, I have changed the names of students featured in this article.


Before I departed Austin, I had my first opportunity as a CEO to sit with students from The University of Texas.  There are several reports that already exist telling the world what college students should have in order to be successful.  Peer-to-Peer mentoring, financial support and academic success are just a few of the boxes that almost everyone could check; but are there others?  Of course and that day, I saw how many.  These conversations were not only nostalgic- taking me back to my days sitting around Mirror Lake, walking up The Hill and navigating Rocky Top- but as a First-Generation minority STEM graduate, I left with a sense of accountability and drive to implement a change. That led me to ask if more-established companies are currently doing this type of ground work to better understand their future talent pools or if they are relying upon traditional methods of recruitment such as career fairs, alumni networking and internal referrals. I believe each method has its strengths; but when diversity and inclusion have been consistently identified as areas companies must do better, I’m wondering where the starting point is for them to truly “act”.  Where do these companies leave antiquated practices behind? When do they start looking where the diverse students are located instead of revisiting their same, over-recruited pipelines?

            While majors varied from STEM concentrations to Business School aspirations, one message was clear from this small but dynamic cohort: these students seek opportunities from

employers who let them positively impact their future company’s culture and actively engage in its

messaging when looking for new recruits to really add to their company’s value.  One of the students had a very poignant message for his future employer. When I asked Alex what the most important opportunities his future company could bring to the table, he raised the bar above a nice salary and paid vacation days:

“Give people who are like me the opportunity to have a voice. Give young adults a

chance to be heard and bring value to our employer.  Be an employer who allows

for their employees to impact the company’s culture early on and not years down the road.

Send the message [early on] that I would not to be a part of a faceless company."

That last part. Alex is a first-generation, African-American sophomore from Houston and is

currently pursuing his studies in government.  At the time, Alex had not completed an

internship, though he desired to have one in his field and was actively searching.  When asked If

he had a mentor, his response was no and he wasn’t completely sure how to go about that

process.  He also admitted to not really giving it much thought because his studies consumed

his time.  He wasn’t the only student I spoke with that day who had the desire to hit the ground once employed. Of the 30 students I interviewed, 29 of them indicated they wanted their future company to not only have culture, but to allow them to contribute to it.  Unlike Alex, Michael, who is also from Houston, is not first a first generation student, he identifies as being Caucasian, he’s currently mentored and while he does have thoughts on his future employer, company culture was not a priority.  Instead, he cited location, ability to advance and pay as his main concerns.  There is nothing wrong with his list-who’s not concerned about starting pay once they finish school?  However, I can’t help but remember the stark differences between the conversations.  Michael had a job lined up and attributed his mentor’s active role in being fundamental to his success.  Even though Alex was, at the time, “just a sophomore”, I still wondered if a time would come when it was too late for him to really have a leg up when it came time for his internship search or even more importantly, a job.  There is a need for guidance and just because these students make it to college doesn’t mean they know how to efficiently navigate those waters.  I refuse to believe that companies don’t care about the future of our workforce; but at the same time, what more can be done on their end to help students like Alex? 

            What I do know is that finding the perfect career and ideal employer is rarely done flawlessly the first time around. Furthermore, trying to land a job without being properly prepared is not for the faint at heart. The University of Texas does an impeccable job with not only retaining its most vulnerable students, but they are also graduating minority students at record-breaking numbers.  For instance, in a recent report, UT saw the graduation rate rise from 37% to 58% for its African-American students (The Texas Tribune, 2017).  While UT has much to be proud of, they also know they still have work to do.  What this says to me is that colleges and universities are an integral part in a students’ success story, but they can’t do everything and this is where I believe companies should step in to do more. College fair and recruitment booths are not enough. Students need intentional and meaningful connections with corporations before becoming their employee. This type of relationship is important because it not only gives students and companies an opportunity to “date”, but if the pipeline is done correctly, then an inexperienced intern can turn into a well-seasoned employee almost effortlessly over the course of a few semesters. This can significantly minimize guess work, recruitment costs and training time. Companies may also find that investing in these students early on will benefit their retention efforts greatly down the road. It’s human nature to desire to give back and students like Alex, who materialistically may not possess much, desire to give their all to influence change for the better.  

            If you are a company executive who has not yet thought to change your organization’s recruitment methods, but are wondering why your community is still lacking the diversity and inclusion you wish to see, I ask you this:  Why not invest in recruiting unseen but exceedingly talented current college students now so you can see an immeasurable return on your investment once they become employees later?  With the industry losing billions of dollars behind unfilled positions as well as voluntary attrition due to unwelcoming environments, there isn’t a better time to rethink age-old strategies.  Maybe it’s time for companies to see these too-commonly passed over candidates the way they want consumers to see them: for their potential.  Don’t judge them on a scale of success that’s suitable for a nominal, more fortunate portion of the country’s current college students.  And certainly do not limit their success based on the perimeters of where their story began.


Shambrekia Wise

CEO & Co-Founder, The Diversity Labs

The Diversity Labs is committed to helping companies and organizations enhance their diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives. 



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