Get The Best By Growing The Best: Summer Employment as a Recruiting Strategy

Summer is here, and students everywhere are looking for a summer job. Many will flip hamburgers or work as camp counselors, when they could be working for you. What a shame! Every corporate recruiter should be looking for students to come in for a few months and get to know the corporate life. Each one of them is a potential hire and a member of your talent pool. There is really no cheaper way to find, screen, and eventually hire great people. But we have work to do to convince everyone of the value of these programs. Months ago I spoke at a conference of state directors of vocational education in Washington, D.C. The topic was how companies are providing high school and college students job opportunities and learning experiences while they are in school. I am sure that many of the firms you work for offer students full-time summer and part-time school year jobs. The jobs are–I hope–meaningful, educational, and focused as much as possible around the students? interests. Yet some of the state directors were questioning the program and questioning the motives firms have for doing it. Their argument goes like this: ?You just want cheap labor,? or ?You don?t really care about the kids, you just want to get menial work done and not have to pay a temporary employee a higher wage.? While many of these directors are strong supporters of internships, I think we recruiters have a need to explain to the doubters why the jobs we provide are useful both to our firms and to the students. Several research reports have shown that many college seniors are at a loss as to which company they should work for, and even in that last year of college still do not really know what they want to do. Living an academic and largely social life–even if it has been interspersed with a few part-time jobs as a waitress or a summer lifeguard–does not prepare a student for a corporate work life. Part of this uncertainty comes from youth and the almost limitless number of possibilities that lie in front of them. But, one of the major issues is that they don?t have any experience to guide them. Most have never worked in a corporate environment. Many have negative views about corporate work from seeing their parents struggle in jobs that are neither challenging nor exciting. And many will have been influenced by the media in their views of what the corporate world is like. These are real hurdles that recruiters have to deal with on campus all the time. But no amount of reassurance or number of positive statements from recent grads is as effective as having had a good experience working in a company while a student. This is why I am such a strong believer in co-op and internship programs. They are the best way to expose students to what it?s really like to work and, at the same time, they help students develop the skills and habits that will make them successful when they move to regular employment. The opportunity to work in a company is also the best way for students to learn whether or not they like working in corporations. I know many of the interns I have employed and work with have decided that they would much rather work for small companies or non-profits. I think it is much better to have discovered this early in your career than years later. Here are a few tips on how you can inexpensively build a talent pool of potential hires, and at the same time help the candidates learn new skills, decide if they like what they are doing or studying, get some real experience, AND earn some money. I don?t see how anyone can go wrong with this win-win scenario:

  1. Start an internship program in your company by working with local colleges and high schools. Many communities offer a program for high school students called School-to-Work or School-to-Career. These programs provide part-time work opportunities to students; focus their electives in a specific profession such as law, accounting, business, or something similar; and encourage companies to mentor and guide the students. Companies like Charles Schwab hire hundreds of these students, many eventually as regular employees. Almost every college has some sort of internship program, but even if they don?t, many professors can recommend students. As a professor myself, I frequently send students to recruiters and hiring managers for part-time work. I try to convince all my students to have had one job experience in a mid- to large-sized company before they graduate, as there is nothing more useful to them in calibrating their academic life and eventual career choice.
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  3. Provide meaningful jobs, and make sure managers are acting as mentors and tutors to the students. Putting them into project teams with experienced people is a good way to give them exposure and not overburden them with responsibility. Have someone monitor the program and the students. Get regular feedback on issues and take an active role in defining the job they are doing and in assisting them to negotiate when things go wrong.
  4. Track each one of them until they are either working for you or someone else. Keep in touch on a regular basis and provide them with information and updates on the company. By building an ongoing relationship you will build loyalty.
  5. Think about providing scholarship assistance or other financial aid to those who have need for it. This will help out a deserving student and build their loyalty to your company. Even if they eventually decide to go elsewhere or do something different, you have spent a very small amount of money. You have probably spent less than the fee for one executive search.

Good people are easier to develop than find. By taking this approach to recruiting, you can save hours of time, not to mention thousands of dollars. Ask companies like Procter and Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM: they built their companies by proving great internships, good internal development, and clear career paths. You can too.

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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