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Charging Fees For Job Postings Could Backfire

What sets Harvard, MIT and the University of Washington apart from other schools?

I imagine most people would be stumped. These are three excellent schools, but they don’t share an obvious link that wouldn’t apply to many other colleges and universities. The feature is not something they are likely to advertise to students or brag about to parents.

However, all three are in the small minority of schools that charge a fee for employers like us to post jobs on their career center’s online job board.

Palisades Hudson is a firm that spends a lot of its recruiting efforts pursuing talented graduates of top colleges and business schools. For the past several years, that has largely meant posting our openings to college and university career centers’ websites. Generally, this involves registering, and then filling out a web form that formats the posting properly for the job board.

When I first started posting positions to schools online, all such postings were free, apart from the time and effort involved in entering the data. As such postings became more standardized, through services like Experience or NACElink’s OneStop, employers could pay a fee for the ability to post to many schools at once. This makes sense to me, since it could save a recruiter a great deal of time. In our case, we decided to keep posting jobs manually, which allows me to customize listings for our four offices in various parts of the country. But these multi-school sites may be helpful for a lot of smaller businesses.

For most of our openings these days, we post to an average of 150 schools. Some run small career centers, where staff members do the posting and employers like us just submit write-ups of the position. The vast majority use an automated system like NACElink. Of all the schools we look at when recruiting, Harvard and MIT, for a long time, were the two that charged for posting full-time jobs. Harvard charges $30 for a 60-day posting; this fee is waived for nonprofit and government employers. MIT also charges $30. Both schools allow you to post paid internships for free. Since they are two of the most highly selective institutes of higher learning in the country, we accepted the fees as a quirk of these institutions and focused our recruiting efforts on other schools, many of equal caliber.

It was only recently, however, that I noticed the University of Washington had joined this very selective club. To post either a job or an internship, for-profit employers are now charged $25 per posting ($10 for non-profits, and a discount if you post more than 9 jobs). The paid postings are not added to the job board by the career center’s staff, nor does the staff provide non-automated sorting services for the resumes we receive. These positions, like the many others we post at schools across the country for free, would be entered by our staff into a computerized system and retrieved automatically.

Given the tiny number of career centers that charge versus the large numbers that don’t, I contacted Alyce Mallett at the University of Washington’s career center to ask about the rationale behind charging for the posts. She wrote back to me, explaining that they had faced substantial budget cuts from the university, and that the decision to charge for job postings had not been an easy one.

Colleges and universities may see career centers as a money sink, an easy place to cut costs when times are hard. For the 2011-2012 academic year, career centers reported an average operating budget of $63,086, but the median budget was much lower: $31,000. Nearly half of all responding offices said they received all of their operating budgets from their institutions. When budget cuts come through, the career office may seem an easy place to trim fat for administrators.

This point of view is shortsighted. Career offices are not about helping employers find the best talent; for-profit businesses like ours can (and should) bear their own human resource costs, including the costs of evaluating the piles of inquiries that come from posting jobs at many schools. Nor are university career centers solely intended to help current students find jobs, though of course they are a great resource for students. From the school’s perspective, career centers are recruiting tools. High alumni employment rates, along with high starting salaries and exciting entry-level positions, are a selling point to prospective students, who may face the prospect of hefty student loans to pay back, or who may be trying to narrow the field between a few schools of relatively equal merit.

If three schools out of 150 charge for job postings, it is unlikely students or parents will notice the difference. After all, most students will not see other colleges’ job boards and have no way to know which employers passed their school by. If the trend continues, however, suddenly businesses will have to seriously consider which schools are worth the cost of a job listing. Harvard and MIT will probably stay at the top of many lists, but a school more like the University of Washington may find itself screened out by small to mid-size businesses, especially those not located nearby. Students who might prefer not to work for a mega-company, but who want or need to leave the immediate area, will be likely to have a tougher time finding suitable opportunities.

This may be an isolated decision. After all, there are other places career centers can, and perhaps should, charge fees, such as for participation in a career fair. College and university career centers provide valuable services that are not free. But attempting to subsidize budget cuts by passing the costs on to potential employers is unlikely to make you a standout school on their recruiting list, which ultimately does a disservice to students and, eventually, the school itself.

For now, we will focus on the 147 other excellent schools that have made it a little easier to reach out to their students and alumni.


Editor’s Note: Melissa DiNapoli is the recruiting coordinator for Palisades Hudson Financial Group. Effective Jan. 1, she will be the firm’s administrative manager for human resources and marketing.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Palisades Hudson’s books, The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth and Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. Both are available in paperback and as e-books.

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