Darden is in the thick of the recruiting cycle for first year students. Second year students are weighing offers and/or are in the late stage of discussions. This is a very good recruiting year at Darden. In a typical year, virtually all our students who want job offers get them. And the compensation levels for our graduates are in the top echelon of MBA programs.

Of course, what is good for the students is probably tough for the recruiters. The current market conditions for MBA talent make it harder to return to the office with the new hires their companies need. Recruiters grumble about trekking to a smaller b-school in a lovely rural setting like Charlottesville. Yet the characteristics of our school are precisely why a recruiter should want to make the trip. The best explanation is given in no HR manual I’ve seen, but rather in the book, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis—I commend this to all recruiters (and students).

Lewis describes the talent recruiting approach of the Oakland Athletics, a team with scant resources (compared to the New York Yankees), but with an enviable record of wins. Using careful analysis and a very disciplined negotiation approach, Oakland hires targeted talent on advantageous terms. The secret is that Oakland goes out of the way to find inefficiencies in the market for talent. In contrast, other teams are driven by gut-feel, not analysis, and a tendency to run after “stars” who have had a good year. Lewis writes, “They will make fun of what the A’s are about to do and there will be a lesson in that. The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you’ve never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It’s a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.” ((Page 118.)) Later, he notes, “The way to win games cheaply is to buy the qualities in a baseball player that the market undervalues, and sell the ones that the market overvalues.” ((Page 292.))

The ability to find inefficiencies in markets is a source of superior performance—this is a lesson of universal relevance in business and is the career-making fact in fields as disparate as investment management and consumer packaged goods marketing. Lewis argues that most baseball recruiters and investment managers are motivated to do the safe thing because if it works out badly, they won’t be blamed for following standard practice in the field. But the discovery and harvesting of market inefficiencies necessarily requires departing from the crowd. In short, good recruiting takes courage, foresight, diligence, and extra effort.

A school like Darden offers unusual opportunities for the canny recruiter. Inefficiencies are usually found where the competition isn’t. A distant location may discourage some firms and thus create advantages for others. A diverse student body may not fit the safe template in your industry, but it probably contains some gems you had not imagined. Career-switchers are a gold-mine of talent waiting to be discovered—but you need to be both a buyer and a seller.

There is no easy path to finding great talent. I welcome all our recruiters and sympathize with their challenges. And I urge them to remember the lesson of the Oakland A’s: discipline and outreach pay.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 01/26/2007 05:35:14 AM