Virtual College Recruiting

We are living in a world where face-to-face interaction is less and less expected, or even required. Here are a few examples of the virtual world I have experienced recently. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to upgrade my cell phone and so dutifully went off to my local provider’s retail outlet. Within two minutes, the representative told me (1) he could not really offer upgrades, as that was handled separately from new accounts, and (2) I could learn whatever I wanted to learn about upgrading from the company’s website. After I returned to the office and logged on to the website, I was able to upgrade to a new plan and a new phone within a few minutes. My doctor and my dentist now use a virtual agent to schedule all appointments, to remind me of the appointment, and even to relay laboratory results to me. Airfares are all booked virtually; upgrades and schedules are confirmed the same way. Even the ticket agents have been replaced with kiosks and electronic tickets. It is evident wherever one looks that we are using technology more and more to provide a better and faster customer experience. No more waiting on hold indeterminably, standing in long and slow-moving lines, or getting the old runaround from poorly trained service reps. But the world of recruiting remains firmly planted in the mid-20th century. We actually take pride in our face-to-face interactions and our requirements to see people and talk to them personally before we make a hiring decision. Even though this means that many people never get to talk to a recruiter at all or experience very poor, slow service, we still cling tightly to our face-to-face paradigm. College recruiting, even more than professional recruiting, seems to find it hard to break out of the face-to-face recruiting world. There are a handful of benefits from going on campus to recruit. It is true that a good recruiter can address the individual concerns a candidate may have about the organization, and it is true that where professor’s recommendations are important, developing a relationship with students on campus can mean the difference between getting them to commit to you or not. It is also true that a presence on campus can help to build a recruiting brand and show your organization’s commitment to college hiring. But there are many more reasons not to have a college program built entirely on campus visitation. The biggest and most obvious negative is cost and time. To travel to even a few campuses is expensive and consumes days or weeks of travel and time from work ó for both recruiters and any accompanying hiring managers. The second negative is the limited reach these programs have. Even if your organization is willing to invest huge resources in a college program, you can only effectively go to a handful of campuses. This has led to the practice of defining “key” schools and limiting involvement to only those schools. This is a bad idea in itself, which I will discuss in an upcoming article, but it also greatly reduces the chance you have of finding the real gems. The third negative is that by confining your activities to a handful of schools, you significantly limit your access to minority students and diverse candidates, who are often only found in small and scattered numbers across a large number of schools. Finally, the fourth negative is that you can only reach a very small number of students, no matter how big or good your program is. I know of an organization that invested three or four days at a campus and involved three or four people from the organization in campus activities twice in a school year. For that investment of six to eight days and six to eight people, they were able to talk to 125 students at two information sessions and interview a total of 35 students for 20 minutes each. The cost per hire for that program was exceptionally high. And the payoff? They made 4 hires! I will just say straight out that there is no way to justify that kind of a program. So what do I have to offer that is better? What’s the “paradigm buster”? It is really very, very simple. It is almost entirely virtual. And it works. But I bet most of you will find all kinds of reasons not to do it. After all, going to colleges, being the “BMOC,” revisiting the old alma mater ó it’s fun, isn’t’ it? How to Start a Virtual College Program This week I will focus on the first step in the process. Next week I will talk about the additional steps required to create a powerful virtual college recruiting machine. This first step is to decide what types of college students you are most likely to need and be able to hire. Focus on a few majors or specific skills that your hiring managers have demonstrated interest in or that will provide hard-to-find skill sets. Using focus groups, surveys, interviews with newly hired employees in those areas (and with hiring managers), put together a profile of what this type of candidate likes, expects, and is looking for in a job. Are they after a career, excitement, the opportunity to contribute fast? Are they interested in your organization because it will look good on their resume? Is there high interest in your organization or not very much at all? Your goal is to define the job and the things that attract people to that job in your organization. You need to learn how to attract the right student to you instead of focusing on which school is the right one. One of the major problems with the key school concept is the focus on the school and not on the students. It is not necessarily true that all great students are at the schools with the best programs, the largest endowments, or the highest paid professors. There are great students at mediocre schools and vice versa. You should define the competencies and experiences that you are looking for and that correlate with success within your organization. Once you have this picture of what candidates are attracted to, what they want in the job itself, and what competencies they need to have to be successful, you can begin to create a brand and an image for attracting them. This starts with a good website that is dedicated to these kinds of people. The website should use language that attracts and interests these students, and it needs to be tested and edited until it works well. Once the website is in place, you should focus on e-marketing to students on campus and off. You can use all sorts of tools ó from Google ad words to referral tools to email ó to get the word out to students to visit your site and learn about your opportunities. The website needs to be built to sell, screen, assess, and even close candidates. Organizations that have done this well include Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Federated Department Stores. You should check out both of those companies’ websites and see how you can begin to focus on attracting the right students to you. Next week I will talk more about marketing methods, online promotion, and “selling,” and how to screen and assess candidates virtually. [Note: Please take my short survey on recruiting trends from last week’s article. The whole process will take you less than 10 minutes, and I will report on the results in future columns. If you have already completed the survey, thanks and please don’t take it again!]

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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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