As we simmer in summer heat, it is awfully hard to think about the coming of September and the advent of the college recruiting season. Yet we must be fleet of foot, because things are changing. For the first time in a decade the job outlook for the class of 2002 is weak. Corporate demand is down for many majors, including marketing, business, management, and the arts in general. Actually, that’s the way it has always been, and the last few years have been an anomaly for these majors. Engineering graduates, science and computer majors and mathematicians are always needed and slow times haven’t changed things very much. But, with a marketplace temporarily awash in experienced talent, many corporations are asking why they should spend scarce dollars trying to attract arrogant and overconfident new grads. Having been on the short side of the talent war, organizations are now finding themselves in a position to reexamine all their recruiting practices and put college recruiting under a microscope. Contrary to popular thought, college recruiting is not cheaper than professional recruiting (although it probably could be) and, when the fees involved in promoting the company and sponsoring special activities and events to attract minorities and to woo the scarce engineering and technical majors, costs can soar. CEOs and staffing directors are asking why they should even have a college recruiting program. An experienced professional recruiter can most likely figure out how to contact and interview the soon-to-be graduated. Job boards and the Internet have opened all sorts of new channels to get in touch with students and to build an online relationship. Is anything gained by the campus face-to-face involvement? Do placement offices add any value? I have written extensively about the talent shortage that exists particularly for technical graduates. I believe that organizations need to do all that they can to increase the potential pool of technical talent. This means investing in high school programs that encourage students to major in these fields, it means working closely with colleges and universities to develop the programs that make their graduates employable, and it means hiring the fruits of that work. This is sometimes expensive, but always cheaper in the long run than the inflationary wage escalation that results from a short talent supply. We saw some of that escalation beginning a few months ago. The situation will get worse as we emerge from this slowdown and face the huge gaps that exist for computer scientists, programmers, almost all engineers and many of the hard sciences. College is the only really cost effective place to get minority talent. But because of less-than-needed funding for scholarships and high school programs, we still do not have enough blacks, Hispanics and women in technical majors. We seem to prefer very expensive competitive bidding wars for the tiny supplies that are being graduated. In the 1999-2000 school year, fewer than 800 blacks and fewer than 900 Hispanics received a Master’s degree in an engineering-related discipline. When you consider that many will go on for a Ph.D. and that others will never practice engineering at all, you have a very small pool to draw from. The only logical approach is to encourage more young people to study in these fields and reward them with jobs at the end of the long cycle of study. College hires also bring freshness to any organization, and can be effective transferees of academic theory and emerging research, and they bring networks and connections that can be tapped into for future recruiting. Yes, college recruiting is worth “it,” but we can certainly learn to do “it” better. Here are a few ideas, and I’d love any of your comments as well. 1. Focus. Stop the general recruiting programs that cover many disciplines and many schools. Choose two or three disciplines that are most needed by your company and then match that need to a few campuses as close to your physical location as possible. Start coupling recruiting with internship programs and get employees involved on campus in laboratories or in the classroom. 2. Use the Internet. Use the Internet to find and communicate with students on campus. Send them literature and promotional information about your company electronically, and start a chat room or listserv for college students to talk to employees. Start an online mentoring or coaching program where volunteer employees offer students homework help, tutoring in math or science or just provide advice. Develop and use online assessments as a step to reducing the amount of face time needed on campus. Every time you reduce the number of steps in the recruiting process or eliminate a trip to campus, you lower your overall costs. Use the Internet to lessen or even eliminate the need to involve the placement office. Most of them offer very little value to the hiring companies and are increasingly bypassed by savvy students who make direct contact with prospective employers through the web. 3. Hire for specific programs. Many of the best firms in the nation have been using cohort groups of new hires to enhance their experience and to quickly build a team with critical skills. For example, the financial community has been hiring and operating rotational programs of new MBA students for years. These programs have supplied a large portion of the entry-level managerial staff for many banks and brokerages. Similar programs have been used at Applied Material and at National Semiconductor for technical staff such as mechanical engineers and process engineers. The programs are competitive, selective and offer the new hire an educational opportunity. The firm gets enthusiasm, the best and the brightest and tremendous loyalty. These are hard things to get from experienced and often jaded employees. There is a recent excellent survey on college hiring that is available from Wetfeet. I urge you to get a copy and learn from it, develop a strong web presence, and focus on answering the questions executives may bring on the value of these programs.
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