Five Tips for Starting Off the College Recruiting Season

It’s back to school time, and back to campus recruiting. The routine of information sessions, on-campus interviews, follow-up interviews, and cross-your-fingers-and-hope- they-accept offers cycles on. Yet, the world has changed drastically since these techniques were developed. Information sessions started because it was difficult for a college junior or senior to learn much about most companies. On-campus interviews started because they were the most efficient and cheapest way to get a sampling of the students. And, all of these techniques were built on a simple premise: there were far more candidates than available jobs. Today, information about most companies is abundant and easy to find on the Internet, in magazines and on television. Almost every major company, and many smaller ones, is well known and easy to learn about. Information isn’t the problem, interpreting and understanding the information has become the bigger issue. When a candidate reads about a new Internet start up, for example, what runs through her mind? Will it still be around when I graduate? What kind of options does it give? What would I do? My major is (fill-in the blank); how does that fit into this company? Information sessions are way to general to answer these questions for most people. Even interviewing is different: candidates are interviewing YOU as much as you are interviewing them. They want to know more that candidates did a few years ago – and they have more options and choices. You have to use the interview as a marketing opportunity, and that’s very hard to do in a 20-minute campus session. You also have better technology today. Companies can choose video interviews or on-line chats, and travel is cheap and easy compared to 5 or 10 years ago. Flying a candidate a few hundred miles for a day is common and may be cheaper and a better marketing ploy than sending a bevy of interviewers to campus for a few days. And the basic premise, too, has completely reversed itself. There are far more jobs than candidates these days in most areas. So how does a college recruiter adapt to these changes? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Make absolutely sure your firm has a good to great web site that focuses on marketing your company and the positions you have. Take a look at Microsoft, Texas Instruments, or Sun Microsystems for examples of companies that have created good, marketing-oriented, value-added recruiting sites.
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  3. Let managers do the recruiting. If HR is doing over 50% of your college recruiting, you do not have an effective program. By using HR staff you are adding expense and reducing the quality of the interaction that the candidate could have with a potential boss. Avoid the temptation of thinking that HR has some “magical” ability to psyche out candidates or do something a hiring manger couldn’t do. It isn’t true! No one knows the job better or can get a sense of whether a student might be a good candidate or not than a manager.
  4. Use the power of the Internet to develop one-on-one relationships with candidates. Don’t focus your attention so much on the school itself. Developing a relationship with a particular school usually means getting known to the placement office. This may have some limited value, but it is far better to get the email address of students (perhaps by running advertisements to attract them to your web site) and then starting an email-based relationship. This opens you up to more schools and candidates than does the placements office. “Times they are a-changing,” as Bob Dylan sang, and you must absolutely begin to move over to email and the Internet if you hope to be successful.
  5. Develop a longer-term approach to recruiting college students. Start your initial contact with a candidate when they are in their freshman year. Build an internship program and invite candidates in to work, even if only for short one to two week stints, so you can establish some face-to-face understanding. Follow up with email by offering them research help, mentoring via the Internet, or whatever makes sense and meets both of your needs and abilities. By the time they have entered their third or fourth year of school, both of you will know if there is any commitment in the relationship.
  6. Use print to drive candidates to your web site. Don’t waste time on campus-based job fairs. The best campus job fairs attract only a few candidates, most of whom have no interest in your firm at all. The big companies that attract more people don’t need the candidate flow anyway. If you are a fairly small or unknown company, create a virtual job fair that you advertise via the print media. Do this job fair every few weeks and keep up the advertising. Try out a service such as Cool Works. You have to create a brand for your company and its employment style.

It may seem like there is no need for change. I am sure most of you are saying, “I don’t have any trouble getting all the college students I need.” Or “We still have more applicants than jobs.” I urge you to remember that similar thoughts were expressed by the carriage manufacturers when cars were introduced, by the ice man said when refrigerators were new, and by the telegraph operators when the phone company started. The lesson is that change is inevitable and, although perhaps slow and hard to see at first, the way we do college recruiting is changing, too. The questions is whether you are ready or not.

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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