This post is about making cars, but it's more about how the recruiting process works.

In a former life, I was a matchmaker for the automotive industry: I spent time with students who made cars and worked hard to woo employers to recruit them. I learned what a dynamometer does (measuring force or power), observed the power of reverse engineering (always good to start with the end in mind), and why the economic hardships of the "big three" are huge news (there are hundreds of other supplier companies, known as OEMs--or original equipment manufacturers who the trickle down cripples as well). It was a great experience.Dfr

Several years ago, I accompanied a team of these students to the annual Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Formula Racing Competition in Michigan where they subjected their pride and joy--a car designed and constructed in less than six months--to rigorous review and testing. They had reason to be proud, as they came from a small school with less than 400 students, had no automotive engineering department, and were competing with over 120 entrants, many of whom hailed from engineering meccas such as Georgia Tech, Texas A & M, and Cornell.

To our collective delight, they were one of a handful of teams picked for the design finals--over five hours of exhaustive interviewing by a team of judges (as I recall, it did not end until midnight).

Success came with a price tag: Participating in the design finals meant that they couldn't attend a Big Three recruiting reception. So I struck out on my own to meet the recruiting team and to market my champions. I brought resumes and information on their accomplishments. But the recruiter couldn't have been less interested:

"We have core schools for recruiting, and we only recruit actively at those core schools. For each school, we have a set number of offers that we make based on interviews. On average, we make 10 offers from each school. We also review other applications received online, and we do hire from this pool as well--but generally those decisions are made after we interview on campus."

Translation: Your students don't have much of a chance. (Unless they know someone.)

I worked in Career Services for eight years, and this response was not unusual. But I did find it to be particularly disturbing, especially given at least one of their "core schools" was not participating in the automotive competition, was based in a major metropolitan area, and had very few students interested in moving to Michigan. But, there it was...nonetheless. The impetus was on my students to take creative steps to attract employer attention, otherwise, employment prospects with this employer was unlikely at best. My students finished in the top 20 for the competition.

Today, I'm watching the school I once worked at become a national leader as the "Big Three" company emerges from bankruptcy. I'm proud of the continued strength of Formula Racing on my old campus: Three years ago, the school founded their own hybrid Formula Racing competition. It's been so successful, that Texas A & M no longer competes at the SAE Formula Racing competition--they only participate in the hybrid challenge.

I visited the school recently and saw most recent hybrid car showcased in the lobby. Less than ten miles away, the former showroom for the local dealer of the "Big Three" company is actively enjoying a second life--as a dance studio. "Big Three" dealer didn't even take the logos off the building.

I see a moral for the future of recruiting and automotive innovation here, do you?