Extreme College Recruiting: Six Bold Ideas to Make You a Winner

The students you will be trying to recruit this coming year will be your toughest recruits ever. They will have the most job options, the most personal and family wealth, and the least concern over their economic future of perhaps any group of students ever. They have never known a war, an economic downturn, or much in the way of struggle or fear. Being confident, well educated and knowing that they have options, they are extremely cocky and increasingly not interested in traditional work in traditional organizations. We all know that there are far more jobs than students?especially students who are actively looking for a job. To just go after students on campus in their senior year is a trivial activity. Even to focus much recruiting effort on seniors is probably a poor use of time and resources. Any student who knows that your firm is on campus, signs up for an interview, or attends an info session is already half recruited. All you really need to do is make contact and extend an offer based on the tips I offer below. The best recruiters will understand that only a certain small percentage of students will actually accept because of the competition. Without some overwhelming advantage over all your competitors, you will get some small percentage of the total. Even if you are willing to pay more than the competition, you will never get all the active candidates you want. The secret is to go after the students who aren?t looking. Probably half the students on any given campus won?t know who your organization is and won?t attend any recruiting event. These are the PASSIVE students. They aren?t sure what they want to do. Even engineering and IT majors are often uncertain of whether they want to work for a big company or a start-up, or even if they want to go to work right away and avoid the on-campus activities. As I talk to my students on campus, I am amazed at how little they know or care about the work world. Many want to travel or take a year off. Some are thinking about grad school. A handful plan to start their own company and they may already have some investors lined up. The issue for a recruiter is that these students have many choices, and unfortunately the corporate choice is often the least understood. Here are a six ideas on getting to these passive students.

  1. I will repeat my mantra about getting to the freshman and sophomores. These students, who are just getting started, are more likely to listen to you than a senior. They can still change their major, take the needed classes, and get the skills they need to be hired. Senior can?t. Juniors will find it tough. Organizations need to sponsor classroom activities, support professors, send employees to campus as professors and have a strategy to get their name and what they do clearly established in the minds of as many students as they can. Motorola, Intel, Cisco and Hewlett Packard have all done outstanding jobs at this.
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  3. Go for building awareness about the kinds of jobs you have and who you hire. A large number of my students have no idea what kinds of majors you are looking for or whether you hire their particular major at all. Of course, almost all of them know that electrical engineers and computer scientists will get job offers. But what about the marketing major or the telecommunications student? Do you hire these people? What do they do in your company? Many students are passive because they have no knowledge of what goes on inside a company. There is a tendency to believe that most organizations only want the students from one or two majors and that the rest are useless to them. A smart organization will make it crystal clear who they want and what they will do. They will offer counseling and career guidance on their web site. They will establish email contact between students and employees so that the work can be described by those who do it and not by the recruiters.
  4. Just as in the ’60s, there are many students who are not excited by the idea of working for a large company. They have seen their parents laid off and frequently unhappy in their jobs, so they ask (and wisely) why they should go to work for your company or any other. You should have a well thought out answer?a candid one?that will ring true. Remember that these students have been raised on media hype and television advertising and are experts at detecting falsehood. They want to know about ethical practices and where you manufacture your products.
  5. Offer them short-term work opportunities that are 2 to 6 weeks long. These give the student an opportunity to experience corporate life without committing a lot of time. They can get a job preview and feel somewhat connected to your company. These short stays can be crafted around a vacation or school break and should include transportation and lodging. These mini-work assignments are an effective way of letting students know what they might do if they decided to work for you. You can bring in groups of freshman or sophomores?students with undeclared majors or majors that you might not really be interested in?and try to convince them to study something useful to your organization.
  6. When it gets to be offer time, make simple ones with flexibility and choices. A good offer might contain a salary offer and some choices about benefits, time off and education. I have rarely seen an offer that gives the candidate a chance to trade off, say dental benefits for education, or a portion of salary for time off to travel. These graduates are looking for flexibility and, if they don?t get it, they quit because they know they can always find another job.
  7. Give the graduate a guarantee: if the job they end up in does not live up to their expectations, they will be given a choice of other opportunities?these could be a new job within the firm, a chance to go back to school, or a way to leave with some pay. Tough to make work, but easier than competing with so many others who are unable or unwilling to make such a guarantee.

The keys to Extreme College Recruiting are to go after the passive student, convince them your organization offers the career choices and development opportunities they want, and make a flexible offer with some guarantees. Do these things and you?ll be light years ahead of the competition.

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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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