Monday, September 17, 2012

Non-Academic Skills and Enterprise Rent-A-Car

One of my principal complaints about current educational policy debates and the educational blogosphere as a whole has been the myopic focus by many on academic skills when so many people (students, parents, employers, and society at large) care at least as much about a long list of other things (e.g. sports, drama, arts, critical thinking, physical health, social skills, sleep, commute distance, peers, and on and on).

So this one tiny example caught my eye last week.  This is from the textbook we're using in the Organizational Theory class I'm teaching (it's on the first page listed in this search):

A focus on customer service enabled Enterprise Rent-a-Car to overtake Hertz and become the biggest firm in its industry. Enterprise wooed its midmarket clientele by deliberately hiring "from the half of the class that makes the top half possible" -- college graduates more successful in sports and socializing than in class. Enterprise wanted people skills more than "book smarts" (Pfeffer, 1998, p. 71) 

I wasn't surprised to read that a firm considered more than academic record when hiring employees, but I was surprised to read that a firm deliberately hired large numbers of recent grads with less-than-stellar academic records specifically because they were heavily involved in their college's social scene.  So I did some more digging and found the source of that little blurb.

 This is from page 71 of Pfeffer's book:

Simply hiring the "best and the brightest" may not make sense in all circumstances. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is today the largest car rental company in the United States . . . In a low wage, often unionized, and seemingly low employee skill industry, virtually all of Enterprise's people are college graduates. But these people are hired primarily for their sales skills and personality and for their willingness to provide good service, not for their academic performance. Dennis Ross, the chief operating officer commented "We hire from the half of the college class that makes the upper half possible . . . We want athletes, fraternity types . . . people people." Brian O'Reilly interpolates Enterprise's reasoning:

The social directors make good sales people, able to chat up service managers and calm down someone who has just been in a car wreck.

Granted, this is almost 15 years old at this point, but I have no reason to suspect that this is no longer true (and anecdotal experience that indicates it is), but it would appear to be evidence that, popular to conventional wisdom, at least one firm does care about that blurb about your fraternity on your resume.

To be fair, O'Reilly goes on to assert that "The Enterprise employees hired from the caboose end of the class have something else going for them . . . a chilling realization of how unforgiving the job market can be".  So one could argue that this hiring practice is based on the desire for cost-savings as well.  But I'd argue that if that were truly the main motivation, then Enterprise wouldn't hire college grads.

Indeed, Pffefer then continues to assert that "organizations should screen primarily on important attributes that are difficult to change through training and should emphasize qualities that actually differentiate among those in the applicant pool." -- One could make a strong argument that the types of social skills referenced above fit those criteria.

In the end, I suspect we all know -- at some level -- that other factors matter more than academic skills (in choosing a school, in gauging a student's/school's success, and in life), but the education commentariat sure doesn't seem to like to act on that knowledge.


VisionaryMentors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VisionaryMentors said...

Hiring managers considering applicants applying for leadership roles: Managers may base their decisions on the applicant's networking skills and networking competence. For example, candidates who have not engaged in any peer scholarly research or held a seat on any board have limited awareness or knowledge to some degree about processes.

Dr. Brenda Nelson-Porter

Ryan Wuest said...

It shouldn't be surprising, in my opinion. What businesses usually want are people who know how to drive a good sale, and not always those who do their job by the book.