College Recruiting 2008

September marks the beginning of another year at colleges and universities across the United States. A few days ago, I was at Dartmouth University watching the frantic scramble of groundskeepers, maintenance staff, and academics as they prepare for their 239th school year!

What I also noticed is that free wireless Internet access was everywhere. I was sitting on a bench in the village where the college is located surfing the net with a strong signal. Early returnees were sitting in small groups on lawns and benches and almost every one had a laptop out. Many were wearing their iPod earphones, and I am sure each had a cell phone.

What brought a smile to my face was the young girl who walked by me wearing her iPod in one ear while talking on her cell phone and carrying her laptop slightly open, ready to get online at a moment’s notice.

The class entering this year is a deeply Generation Y group, always connected and expecting that connectivity in their classes, in their social life, and in how they get recruited.

Unfortunately, the way we recruit students would be more appropriate for the class of 1908 that that of 2008.

I have talked to scores of college recruiters who are, once again, gearing up for the traditional approach to recruiting. They are planning requisite, and increasingly non-productive, career fairs. They are updating the unattractive, non-interactive online “brochure” about their organization, and they are enlisting the usual Baby Boomer hiring managers to go on campus and talk to the students.

Through conversations with college students and professors, I recommend abolishing these activities if you seek a world class, effective college recruiting program.

What’s an Effective Program?

Very simply, it should be a program that enables you to hire as many college graduates as needed, at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time, who excel over time and become the stars of your firm.

To accomplish this on a regular, predictable basis, get in touch with what works and what doesn’t work on campus, on your website, in the interviewing process, in the offer process, and in the assimilation and development of the people you hire. Listen between the lines and make a distinction between what you are told and what you know in your gut is really being said.

I have seen a couple of surveys recently that purport to represent the opinions of college students on employers and employment. They indicate students still want career fairs, still want organizations to come to their campus, and they still want an on-campus interview. I say no way!

Students are saying these things for several reasons: they think we want to hear those answers or they don’t really know what the alternatives are. Some have heard from their parents that that’s how recruiting gets done on campus. A few have actually been to the career center on campus and have heard it from the authorities there.

In short, most of the college students I deal with on a frequent basis aren’t very informed about the recruiting process and don’t know a thing about it until they get very close to gradation.

Marketing folks learned a long time ago that people don’t have any idea what they really want or what they would really buy. All the focus groups that Chrysler asked about the minivan prior to its release said they would never buy one! None of us would have designed an iPhone or a Toyota Scion, but both are wildly successful.

Asking college student how they want to be recruited is the same: they have no idea what they want.

What we do know is what has worked for many progressive organizations. The basis of all the successful approaches are the Internet and a firm understanding of what Gen Y students expect.

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They expect at least four things from every positive experience: fun, a group experience, personalization, and immediacy. Let’s look at how these play out for college recruiting.

Develop an Interactive College Website

You need to have a unique college website that is written for college students and recent graduates and that offers them an experience. Feature case studies and day-in-the-life video interviews, along with solid content presented in a fun, interesting, and interactive way.

Some organizations that have good college websites include KPMG, Deloitte, and the Boston Consulting Group. Take a few minutes to check out the “Gen Y appeal” in their focus and presentation.

This generation also expects to get immediate feedback and quick answers. They are not tolerant of long waits and, if they are good students at good universities, someone else will grab them if you don’t. Progressive organizations will be setting up their own social networks for interested college students. These networks will allow the students to share experiences and get to know each other.

Build Awareness on Campus

Using local media, professors, YouTube videos, billboards, or whatever makes sense, create awareness of your organization on campus and get students to your website.

One large organization used professors, a scholarship challenge, and a media blitz to increase traffic to their website by an incredible amount. They made all college hires from people who came to their website and were screened there. They did not host campus interviews, career fairs, or info sessions. Enlist on-campus professional groups to help out or create a group that is sponsored by your organization and recruits its own members.

Do Not Use Career Fairs or Info Sessions

I can’t think of anything more expensive and less effective, as very few students attend and even fewer are qualified. Hiring managers love the chance to get back to their alma maters and get all excited about them, but the actual number of hires made from either of these has to be in the single digits.

Instead, offer online chat and develop an online virtual career fair. Offer students an instant messaging option. Your website should have all the information about the jobs and your organization that anyone would need. Present that information in a fun way with video, graphics, and music.

On-Campus Activities

Target students and professors you know and with whom you have a relationship, even if that is only over the Internet.

For example, key managers can go to schools and talk to students who have used your website. Schedule dinners or outdoor activities with a group of students who have indicated, again via the website, their interest in your organization. You can even interview students on campus, but only after they have found you.

In the end, success comes from leveraging the media this generation is used to (i.e., video, music, Internet), combined with face-to-face relationships that are fun, informal, and meaningful.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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