Small Companies Can Do College Recruiting Too

As we still shiver with the last gasps of winter, it is hard to think about September and the advent of the college recruiting season. But, now is the best time to decide whether college recruiting makes sense for your business, and if so, where and how you will find the right people.

College students are confused at the moment about their job prospects. They’ve been told the market is bad and jobs are few. And while it is true that large companies are planning on making fewer hires this year than in the recent past, they are still hiring. All in all, it bodes to be a fairly good year for college students.

So should small companies, those with 50-500 employees, get involved with college hiring?

CEOs, managing partners, and business leaders often ask me if they should even have a college recruiting program.

After all, they may compete with well-known firms, and they will have to work hard to explain who they are and what a career at their company would offer. They don’t have connections on campus and haven’t been involved in campus groups or sponsored activities.

And to top it off, costs can soar with the fees involved in promoting the company and sponsoring special activities and events to woo scarce finance, engineering, and technical majors.

Yet, organizations that do no college hiring often end up with a workforce that is older and less connected to emerging trends and technologies. I believe that every organization needs to do all that it can to increase the quality, breadth, and age range of the workforce.

Small firms often have to resort to suddenly hiring early career professionals to make up for retiring workers or to fill growth needs. They also tend to have worker populations with little diversity and often don’t realize that a college is the only really cost-effective place to get minority talent. There is evidence showing that a broad and diverse workforce leads to innovation and new thinking.

So, smaller firms should seriously consider developing a college recruiting strategy. To do so will take a commitment of time and money, but costs will be quickly recovered by reducing the need to pay agency fees and higher salaries for experienced professionals. Maintenance and incremental growth of a program can be cost reasonable by keeping college recruiting local and by using the Internet.

Here are a few ideas on how to get started. I’d love any of your comments, as well.

Idea #1: Focus locally and small

Find local colleges that have good programs in the areas of your interest. Leave the large research universities and Ivy League schools to the Fortune 500. Competition is heavy and the students from local schools are likely to be just as smart and more inclined to accept your offers and stay. If you are hiring just a few students — say 8-12 — probably two or three schools will be enough.

An internal person should be assigned to put the program together as a part-time effort. Keep it small and focus on getting some results to prove the value of the program and expand it later.

Idea #2: Develop a Longer-term Strategy

Think into the future and include high schools in your planning. Forward-thinking firms will invest in high school programs that encourage students to major in the fields that will lead to employment at their company. They work with colleges and universities to develop programs that make graduates employable immediately and they will keep in touch with students throughout their college studies via email and other Internet-based tools.

The person you assign internally, perhaps a recent graduate themselves, can communicate with selected students regularly, ask them for referrals to other students, and create an online community of students interested in the kind of work you offer.

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Idea #3: Use the Internet

Use the Internet to find and communicate with students on campus. Set up a Facebook page for your firm and make sure than you have someone internally manage the content, answer their questions, and stay in touch with the students frequently. Send them literature and promotional information about your company electronically, and start a chat room for college students to talk to employees.

Some firms may want to start an online mentoring or coaching program where volunteer employees offer students homework help, tutoring in math or science, or just provide advice.

Make it a goal to rarely go to campus physically. Develop online relationships with professors. Some firms present case studies to professors to use in their classes or offer to speak to the class using Skype or other video-based system.

Idea #4: Develop an Internship Program

Encourage a few students to apply for internships at your organization. These can be summer internships but there are other possibilities as well. Some internships might be virtual where a student works as part of team to accomplish a goal that can be done from their college computer. Or they might be able to join a team using Skype or WebEx or some other online collaboration tool.

Other internships could be short ones — just a week or two perhaps — during winter or spring breaks or between semesters.

Using imagination and experimenting can lead to many possible ways to develop relationships and also give students practice experience working for you. When it comes time for graduation, you will have candidates ready to go to work for you full time who understand your company, like its culture, and have some experience.

College recruiting virtually has many, many benefits and nicely aligns with the lifestyles and habits of this generation of students. They are all connected via the Internet, they all use Facebook, email, and participate in online life. It only makes sense to tap into the Internet and use it to attract people that have been hard and expensive to attract in past.

Small firms can be far more innovative and experimental than most larger ones as they have less invested. Large firms have developed large internal staffs and have created expectations in hiring managers, professors, and students that they will be on campus physically.

To change this is difficult and takes time. The great advantage smaller firms have is their nimbleness, ability to act immediately, and willingness to try new ways. Virtual college recruiting opens the doors for many small companies and for thousands of students.

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


8 Comments on “Small Companies Can Do College Recruiting Too

  1. Internship Program great way to test drive college students. Students want the experience and you can get good students on any budget…. Also try “job shadowing” see for ideas also search Yahoo/google for “job shadowing” or “job shadow.” I have some good info on job shadow programs too, send me an ERE email (or tweet @ErnsTweets) if you’d like….
    (editor’s note: 9/14/12 – I received an email that reads “ no longer exists. We’re carrying on the torch now” –Todd Raphael)

  2. Well said..

    Every company should have a talent strategy, and for college this is one of the easiest to accomplish, given colleges have made this easy. They are easy to find, tell you what they specialize in, provide interview logistics support (on-campus interviews), and the list goes on. That being said, there is competition for sure. But as Kevin points out, the key is to exploit your competitor’s weaknesses – which is often their size and bureaucracy.

    The key to winning in college is speed and excellent communication of your value add at all times – something which larger firms often struggle with. There is absolutely not a reason in the world why a firm can’t have a 14 day interview-to-offer cycle time which runs circles around most established recruiting programs. Once you have this down, then, communicate, communicate, communicate, ….and communicate some more. The #1 way to increase your brand is to personalize your communications and processes. (I have plenty of anecdotes around this so feel free to contact me). And the more you communicate to those students who are not yet ready to be hired, the better your pool will be when you are.

    There are technology solutions which will make the above much easier and an employer more competitive. But before I had access to technology, I did the old fashion way and had success as well.

    Good luck.

    Steve Tiufekchiev
    312.212.3590 x 950

  3. Nice write up, Kevin. Your stuff is always a pleasure to read – especially when it touches so closely to conversations recruiters are having offline.
    Thanks for sharing – couldn’t agree more.


  4. Kevin,

    I would add one more idea: Use the Career Center, which provides Customer Service to potential employers seeking to hire students.

    Last Fall the 23 campus California State University Career Centers conducted a statewide survey of top employers across California, and 38% of the employers responding had less than 500 employees.
    A Career Center can help a small employer target their efforts to a group of students who are most likely to be interested, and help an small employer take advantage of the best resources available in an efficient fashion. Here is a link to all the Career Centers in the Cal State System:

    Jim Case
    Director, Career Center
    California State University, Fullerton
    P.O. Box 6830, Fullerton, CA 92834-6830
    Phone: 657-278-2499
    Fax: 657-278-8212

  5. By far most of the organizations that I work with are smaller to mid-sized companies that are eager to establish a college recruitment program. Despite their size, one of the biggest advantages they see is a preference for smaller work environments where a more immediate impact and value can be made.

  6. I do agree that smaller firms should develop a college recruiting plan as part of their overall HR strategy. There is a new tool available that reduces the costs and minimizes the time needed for college recruiting while improving the success rate of college hires – To learn more go to

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