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May 06, 2021

HBCU Recruiting Best Practices

Diversity & Inclusion has historically been one of the largest areas of focus at Veris Insights. When Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) engagement emerged as one of the highest priorities for our members in 2020, our team began to study all aspects of HBCU recruiting, collecting data and insights from students, presidents, and college-career services leaders.

In the spring of 2021, we held a two-day HBCU Recruiting Strategy Summit and hosted 600+ early talent leaders for virtual workshops and panels focused on effectively recruiting and engaging HBCU students. A driving principle of our summit was the student voice. 

For months, our team delved into the student experience, surveying 350+ students from 32 HBCUs. The findings shed light on students’ recruiting challenges, decision drivers when deciding between employers, and preferences for effective engagement.

Experiencing Discrimination in Recruitment

More than half (55%) of Black/African American HBCU students reported feeling discriminated against in the recruitment process, citing microaggressions they commonly hear from interviewers.

“I applied to an internship that I received; the staff that hired me told me he had to fight to get me in because the managers did not want to hire someone from an HBCU,” one student said, acknowledging that even an anecdote from a helpful recruiter can shed light on an organization’s internal culture and inclusivity.

Feeling rejected or overlooked despite their qualifications was the most common sentiment students expressed regarding discrimination.

These findings necessitate serious, proactive change: training managers, recruiters, and interviewers in implicit/unconscious bias and educating them about microaggressions is critical to making the recruiting process more equitable for Black/African American students.

Candidate Decision Drivers

For HBCU students, this strong emphasis on D&I is very important. After compensation and benefits — which 51% of students rank in their top three priorities — D&I is the second-highest priority, with 39% ranking it in their top-three priorities. 

Career advancement is another leading job priority, with 37% of HBCU students ranking it in their top-three priorities. Our research finds that Black/African American HBCU students place a higher value on skills training and networking than students from PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions). For example, one HBCU student mentioned their interest in developmental programs to “fast track [job] placement” and provide hands-on experience.

Seeking Representation

Yet, the largest learning from our work is that representation matters — and the data reflect this, too. 82% of Black/African American HBCU students consider representation of diverse employees in leadership influential in shaping their perceptions of D&I, and 77% consider representation among recent hires influential.

Students want to see tangible examples of diversity, and 45% of HBCU students said that they sought out diversity data on potential employers.

In fact, three out of five Black/African American HBCU students have stopped engaging with potential employers due to a lack of diverse representation, underscoring how important it is for employers to have diverse representation in both their new hires and leaders.

These insights will prove critical for employers, not only as they navigate recruiting at HBCU campuses, but also as they work to create compelling and meaningful work experiences for students. Ultimately, effective HBCU recruitment cannot be captured by a statement or one-time event; students have shown that they value consistent, authentic engagement.

Download our HBCU Recruiting Guide