How GDPR Could Damage the Career Prospects of Business School Graduates

How GDPR Could Damage the Career Prospects of Business School Graduates

GDPR – like winter in ‘Game of Thrones’ – is coming. And, if it’s not carefully handled it could end up moving the careers of business graduates around the globe out of the ‘fast track’ and into the ‘slow lane’.

GDPR, or to use its full title, the General Data Protection Regulations, is a new data privacy law created by the European Union and designed to give individuals more effective control over the information about them that organisations of all sizes and shapes collect and store. Initially formulated to help control the industrial scale data-mining carried out by such corporate giants as Amazon, Google and Facebook, many commentators are now pointing out that the measures could also end up generating some distinctly unwelcome and unintended consequences, in particular for the career development of executives and professionals, not just in Europe, but around the world.

According to a new report based on a survey of over 350 executive search firms worldwide, Unintended Consequences – why GDPR could move executive careers into the slow lane around the globe – the professional recruitment sector, which plays such a major part in moving business school graduates up the careers ladder throughout their working lives, is confused and concerned about how they will keep in touch with talent after GDPR comes into force in May 2018. And they might be right to feel so, given that firms which break the regulations could find themselves facing eye-watering fines up to the value of €20 million (US$23,137,887).

The result of this confusion and consequent hesitancy is likely to be that search firms will find it harder to keep in touch with talent post-May 2018 and that many professionals and executives may effectively disappear from view. Which could be distinctly bad news for b-school graduates because, as Dr Bernd Prasuhn of the search firm, Ward Howell, which took part in the research says “If executives want to make it to C-suite then they have to be on the radar of executive search firms, otherwise it just won’t happen.”

Although some search firms and the internal recruitment teams of a number of major global companies seem to be planning to rely on a defence of ‘legitimate interest’ regarding the databases of talent that they have built up – namely that they require them to conduct their legitimate business – several leading data protection lawyers have pointed out that the robustness of this defence will only become apparent once it is tested. As a result, a lot of recruiters are of the view that ‘consent’ will be required to maintain details on potential candidates – and consent provided in the past is unlikely to be legally watertight under the new rules – meaning a huge data refresh will be required.  Some search firms are likely to delete large swathes of legacy data, while others will try to reconnect with potential candidates, requesting fresh consent.

As a result, individuals who have previously been on search firm radars can expect to receive consent requests over the coming months and would be well advised to act on them.  Alternatively, the more proactive may choose to go to the search firms directly, by registering via companies such as GatedTalent – a platform which executive search firms will use to manage consent.

So what are the careers departments of major business schools doing to help ensure the recruitment wheels keep turning?

So far it does seem that many are simply unaware of the potential seriousness of the problem or even that it might affect the career development of their students and alumni at all. Perhaps not surprisingly, this particularly seems to be the case outside Europe where both schools and recruiters often – erroneously – assume that this is purely a European Union problem that won’t affect them.

However, others are much more bullish about taking action to meet the challenge.

“I’m in the fortunate position that my sister is a data protection lawyer so I’m perhaps more aware of this than some of my peers,” says Marcel Kalis, head of careers – degree programs, at Germany’s European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in Berlin. “The whole thing does seem to have the potential to be a bit of a nightmare. For example, we produce CV books that we share with executive search firms who in turn will very likely share relevant information with their corporate clients. So we’re faced with having to know what is happening to information, both new and historic along a possibly very long pipeline. Obviously the best thing is very likely for us to encourage students and alumni to act to give consent to those recruiters, either intermediaries or end employers, who they want to engage with. We’ll need to be doing what we can to educate them about this.”

Willem van Donge, head of careers and personal development at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, takes a similar view. “I worked in the professional recruitment sector before coming here so I can absolutely see that anyone in a b-school careers department who takes the job seriously should be telling all their students and alumni if possible to go to the recruiters they want to be in touch with and give the necessary consent. We already have very tight privacy laws here in the Netherlands so recruiters find ways of seeking and securing consent re information on a regular basis. I think we may well see this spread to many other countries as the regulation takes hold.”

“I think this is a very important issue because the whole process of search helps to create true diversity in the professional and executive workspace,” says Wendy Person, MBA career consultant at Durham University Business School in the UK. “Both research and anecdotal evidence suggest that members of certain demographic groups are simply not as ready to put themselves forwards as others. Consequently if they are not identified and approached effectively because they have fallen off search firms’ radar then we risk disadvantaging and under-using some very high potential talent.”

Although GDPR does at this point seem to pose a potential threat to executive and professional career development, some do also think it could end up being beneficial to it. Oyku Isik, a specialist in information systems management at Belgium’s Vlerick Business School has suggested that it might help search firms to, “…pursue transparency and control over data that will help build a genuinely trustworthy organisation – one that an executive will be more likely to trust with their data throughout their career.” And if this does come about it could mean search firms becoming a business school graduate’s long-term partner in the same roster as their accountant, lawyer of financial advisor with obvious ongoing benefits for all concerned.

Jason Starr
Written by Jason Starr

Jason Starr is CEO of GatedTalent, a GDPR compliance specialist for the international search sector

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