College Professors are the New Headhunters

From conversations with clients, at networking events, and with friends, I keep hearing the same business problem showing up again and again:

We can’t find good talent!

Ask a college professor!

In fact, with the rising tide of contingent faculty, we see many college professors spanning the professional and academic worlds. As such, they can comment not only on academic prowess, but also on whether students have the requisite job readiness and professionalism to succeed in the business world. This is especially true for entry-level positions, internships, and even positions that require a bit of experience (any student with whom a professor would keep in touch over the years is almost always worth interviewing!).

The caveat that is probably running through most heads right about now is that college professors are pretty hard to find unless they are adjuncts and/or clinical professors with business contacts. Thankfully, there are plenty of the latter, but even then the overwhelming majority of faculty do not want to answer emails from recruiters. That’s to your advantage! Since college professors are not required to link students to jobs or write letters of recommendation, they are going to volunteer this effort only for first-rate students that they believe are worth their very-limited time.

I offer myself as an example. An email from a recruiter is going to be deleted, and the sender’s future email routed to spam. I work 60–80 hours per week, and I have no time for recruiters. Because of conflict of interest, not only will I refuse any money for recommendations, I will be forced to report anyone who offers, so recruiters can’t even pay me as an incentive. But, if a friend or a business contact asks me if I know of a good student for a job, odds are very good that, since I teach a number of general courses that have a wide range of majors (Intro Psych, Statistics, Research Methods, and Intro Management), I know some pretty talented folks. Even in the semesters where I teach more specialized classes, I am likely to remember the better students, and might even be in touch with some of them. Though hundreds of students crossed my desk, I have made fewer than 30 recommendations to jobs. But, every last one of them was considered worthwhile for both the student and the company (in some cases, the fit between the student and company did not lead to a hire, but both parties felt that it was a good connection that was worth exploring!).

How do I connect with faculty?

1. Invite them to speak on their work. Your employees can learn a lot from an expert, so paying a college professor to report on cutting-edge knowledge in the field is a worthwhile investment.

2. Ask them to conduct an in-house training session to enable your employees to develop new knowledge, skills, and attitudes based on the latest information in the field.

3. Ask them to consult on a project. Whatever the topic, these experts are likely to know far more than a generic management consulting firm, and they are likely to cost less because they don’t have the overhead of branding, advertising, and business development. (Warning: some universities do not allow full-time professors to consult, and others ask for a cut of the consulting fees as overhead. But, adjunct faculty are ripe for the asking, so start with them!)

4. Offer them a funded research opportunity. Research funding is scarce, and so are participants that aren’t college students forced to participate for course credit. If you can find a reason to let these faculty do research on your company (be it for a case study or an experiment), you will be able to learn a lot about your company for a reasonable cost. As a bonus, if they aren’t the right people to run the study, they may know who to ask, and you still get the contact.

5. Ask the career center to connect you. Some people in the career center are likely to have a pulse on which members of the faculty would be open to making recommendations, and they can intercede. (NB: This one doesn’t always work.)

6. Keep in touch with your professors. Build a strong relationship with them, get to know them, and learn from them. This is exceptionally hard to do, but is almost always worth the effort (keep in mind that this also requires you to work hard in the course and put in a lot of extra time.

Given the small conversion rate, is this worth it?


Remember that faculty are at least as busy as CEOs (anyone without tenure works at least 60 hours per week; many work upwards of 100) — respect them accordingly!

You can’t pay them to recruit, but you can pay them to give lectures/trainings, consult, or do research.

Good students are always in high demand, so be prepared to roll out a red carpet if you get a recommendation.

The author thanks John Skylar for feedback on an earlier version of this article.

Originally posted on FutureIdeas (Part 1; Part 2)



Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab ( Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.

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Orin Davis

Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab ( Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.