Student Program Helps Discover Retain Top Talent

The challenges associated with recruiting, hiring and retaining top talent are seemingly constant for in-house agency leaders. That’s why I was delighted to learn about a program that our friends at Discover, an IHAF member company, developed to pipeline top talent.

Discover’s Marketing Leadership Program was introduced to IHAF by Dave Moll, Senior Manager of Business Operations and former Group Creative Manager with Discover’s Corporate Branding and Creative Services department. I had the pleasure of connecting with Dave and his colleague Jese Caple, Senior Manager of Marketing, Planning and Strategy who leads the program to hear more how it works.

Discover’s Riverwoods Center created the Marketing Leadership Program (MLP) which was designed to address unwanted attrition by attracting, developing and retaining high-performing, cross-functional talent. It starts with Discover recruiting undergraduate and MBA students from a range of local colleges and Midwestern universities. Selected candidates then participate in an 18-month rotation where they spend six months in three different areas of Marketing. The program is designed to be a win-win for students and Marketing leaders at Discover.

Hiring managers apply to receive an MLP candidate by providing a job description outlining the needs and justification for the position. Students benefit by being given fulfilling responsibilities, seeing different aspects of the business, and getting exposure to the goals and company culture. Once MLP students complete their 18-month rotation, hiring managers and students “cross bid” to retain their positions and talent.

The summer internship program at Discover has become a terrific feeder for the MLP. Many interns who spend their summers with Marketing apply and get hired through the program. Does it work? Jese Caple told me that Discover’s retention rate is significantly higher than average at both the two and five-year marks. “The program has established a strong performance record, resulting in continued progression once participants have gone through it,” said Jese.

Students consistently say that being accountable for real job responsibilities and having the opportunity to work across multiple teams makes all the difference. At the end of their rotation, they have a much better understanding of the company’s business goals and how they can make an impact. The outcome has been so successful for Marketing that other departments within Discover have adopted their own version of a leadership program.

Jese went on to say that she has learned a lot about how to make the program successful. First, the program needs to meet the needs of the students and the hiring managers, which mean Jese takes the matching process very seriously. “The key to success is matching the right participant with the right role.” Though she warns, “If we get a mismatch, it can be bad for both sides and may result in loss of the talent.”

Jese also spends a lot of time training the hiring managers and students throughout the 18-month cycle. And while the program has become highly competitive, with more applications from students and managers than they can fill, Jese has found that class size impacts the experience. There’s a fine line between too many and too few, which varies based on what the business model can support in any given program cycle.

Over the past several years, Dave Moll has worked with several MLP students in Corporate Branding and Creative Services. He values the program saying, “MLP students bring energy and a fresh perspective to the group. Their passion rubs off on others as they see that what they are doing is helping us achieve bigger business goals.”

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