The Web of Influence: Building On-Campus Relationships

Last week we discussed how important it is to create a brand image for your organization on campus. Equally important, is building long-term relationships with campus staff and with students. Internships, summer co-op experiences, and part-time work during the school year are powerful relationship building tools. Well-crafted, these programs can supply almost all of your college hires. Students who go through these programs are experienced workers when they start, and they have built friendships in the organization that will help them as they transition to employee status. You get an opportunity to screen them, as well, and can let poor performers go back to school with little difficulty. Here are 6 other ways you can develop relationships that will pay you back in spades:

  1. Join professional associations that have campus branches. These provide wonderful opportunities to “sell” your company and its jobs and products. Get to know the presidents or other officers of these groups and offer them speakers for luncheons and dinners. Offer to help put together interesting events and tours. You can provide a tour of your company, support or sponsor a project, or simply send employees to act as tutors to club members. Whatever you do, you will be forging friendships and alliances that will serve you well when you begin to look for talent to recruit – talent that is aligned to your needs by their professional affiliation.
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  3. Use your alumni to make introductions and to gather information about needs and desires of the teaching staff. Alumni can gain access to professors and administrative staff more easily than non-alumni and in this role can find out what the school really thinks about the company. They can help to define what gifts or services make sense and would be most appreciated, and they can act as liaison to the administrators. They often have influence to get early access to students. Used wisely, the alumni are your most golden asset.
  4. Provide professors with products or services that your organization makes. Professors are always in need of “stuff” for experiments, for their laboratories and for projects and activities that enhance the learning experience. Whatever you can provide helps them, and they can then help you by recommending great students or by putting in a good word with a student who is wavering between offers. Taking time to build a friendship on campus can pay big dividends. Large corporations have been doing this for years, often stationing an employee on campus on a regular basis solely to make friends, build relationships, and find good candidates. DEC did this at MIT and Stanford throughout the 70s and 80s as did IBM and many other companies.
  5. Have an employee on campus most of the time as an ambassador. Send an employee back to school for a Master’s degree or for a Doctorate and make sure that he or she is also a trained scout and ambassador for your recruiting efforts. Help them learn what you are looking for and give them the power to make preliminary screening decisions about students. These employees can get to know a student far better than any recruiter could, and have an excellent sense of whether or not the candidate would make a good fit for your organization and it culture. This type of relationship is very effective at the graduate level. I even know of cases where an employee recruited a professor to a full time position in his company. If this is worked well, an employee can be both an employee and a professor and serve both roles effectively. If both, they are excellent recruiters.
  6. Have employees teach classes and offer to volunteers as guest speakers and laboratory assistants. Many schools can use an extra hard at running a lab or lecturing to a senior class. Many schools that I am affiliated with actively recruit employees of large companies to act as adjunct faculty or as guest lecturers.
  7. Develop campus scouts. Some companies hire and train students to be scouts to constantly look for fellow students that would make good employees. They get a small bonus for each student they recommend and who the company eventually hires. Some companies have developed a similar relationship with professors and ask them to recommend good students and help convince the students about the quality of the company.

The bottom line is the same as in image building; it takes a multifaceted, sustained effort over time to build good relationships. These relationships require nurturing and may take you and your company to places never dreamed of. IBM, General Motors, Proctor and Gamble and many others have long standing excellent relationships with colleges and professors worldwide. But, no one is preventing smaller companies from doing the same, particularly at local schools where it is relatively easy to get access and to have a long-term relationship. These don’t have to be at the Ivy League schools or at the most prestigious institutions. Obviously, at those schools you are competing with the heavy weights and, if you do that, you must be prepared financially and otherwise to compete head-to-head. I feel you are much better off courting relationships with the smaller local schools that turn out good students all the time – student you can more easily hire and keep. To find and attract and eventually hire the good students, you have to develop a marketing strategy that differentiates you from everyone else. You have to be creative, know your customers – the students – and develop programs that will interest and attract them. Going on campus once or twice a year for an info session and interviews is a costly and ineffective way to attract students who haven’t been taken already by organizations with good marketing programs.

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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