In 1973, Sam Houston alumnus Don Cole began offering to local Houston businesses a service that provides pre-employment screening of job applicants. Now, 40 years later, his company has expanded to provide such services all across the country.
Cole, President and Founder of The Cole Group, continues to reach back to his alma mater to give Criminal Justice majors a leg-up in the business world through internships at his Houston based company. He has provided dozens of paid internships to Sam Houston State University students over the years, and many wind up working for him after graduation.
“I’m surrounded by Bearkats!” said his son, Donald Cole II, who now handles day-to-day operations as CFO.
Erica Johnson served as an intern with The Cole Group. This summer, CJ major Erica Johnson interned at The Cole Group, which she hopes will help enhance her chances of getting a job in private security when she graduates in May 2014.
“It has taught me to be assertive and to get down to business,” said Johnson. “I am hoping to go into the private security field of criminal justice. I feel it would be more beneficial to me knowing I've done something to prevent crime before it can actually happen.”
Don Cole graduated from Sam Houston State University in 1967 and received a Master’s degree in 1969. He knows the value of internships from his own experience having participated both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. During his time with what was then the Texas Department of Corrections, he interviewed incoming inmates for classification and placement and served as an employment counselor on several prison units.
After college, Don Cole took a job with a large industrial security firm, where he honed his skills by providing pre- employment and investigative polygraph examinations. As a young student at Sam Houston he had dreamed of one day opening his own firm and after five years of working in the private sector, he opened what is today, The Cole Group.
Over the years, his company grew by word-of-mouth, until Congress banned the use of polygraph testing as a pre-employment tool in 1989. Despite the ban, many firms still turned to Don Cole to help find the best candidates for the job, and he evolved his practice into screening applicants through personal interviews and follow-up services such as drug testing and checking public records for criminal history.
The company now serves more than 2,000 clients coast-to-coast with a staff and team of 43 employees. “What the public refers to as background check companies are a dime-a-dozen,” said Donald Cole. “What sets us apart is that we actually interview the job applicant and ask them direct questions about the information that demonstrates their skills and suitability for a job.”
This thorough interview is designed to find out where an applicant really worked and why they left previous jobs – rather than falsifications and omissions of fact so often shown by an applicant on applications. The interview is about obtaining information from people by “reading between the lines” to get to the truth. The interviews typically last up to 30 minutes.
"We ask them for the basic information: name, date of birth, social security number, etc., employment, attorney, and drug use history dating back 10 years and traffic violations dating back only three,” said intern Johnson. ““Anything that you’ve done before, we want to know about, especially criminally. That history has no cap. We want to see if the applicants are being honest about what they're telling us, the main purpose of the interview."
Having a Criminal Justice education and background, and knowing the right lingo, helps. “We really love to have CJ folks working here,” said Donald Cole II. “They help us learn information that assists our clients in evaluating potential employees. We do the interviews and then follow up with a public records search for criminal history. Those with Criminal Justice backgrounds are a perfect fit for both aspects. Our employees need to know the differences between a misdemeanor and a felony and all about the criminal justice system.”
For Don Cole, he and Sam Houston State University have formed a good partnership.
“I personally learned a lot from my internships,” said Don Cole, “and I will always appreciate that I had that opportunity. Sam Houston has offered internship opportunities for many years, and now that I am in business it has proven to be a great source of recruitment for The Cole Group.”
“We are a good example of the broad career opportunities available in criminal justice if you go into something besides law enforcement or corrections,” added Donald Cole II. “There are a lot more options to be found in private business, within criminal justice, than just being a security guard.”