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College Recruiting Essentials

Kevin Wheeler

The level of college recruiting is starting to increase. More
organizations are on campus this year than last year. This trend
will accelerate as the economy picks up and experienced labor
becomes scarcer and more expensive. Engineering, medical, and
computer science remain very competitive, and college graduate
unemployment has hovered around 3.0% throughout this
recession. I believe we will see unemployment for college grads
dropping to 1-2% within the next year.

Yet college recruiting remains a very traditional practice. The
methods that most firms employ are exactly
the same as those used 5, 10, or even 20
years ago. Most organizations have a list of
key schools (almost all with the same schools
on their lists), send managers (often alumni)
back to campus to conduct information
sessions (for a handful of semi-interested
students who are only slightly knowledgeable
about the organization presenting), and then
conduct short interviews with an even smaller
handful of students chosen mostly because of
interest and GPA (which does not correlate
with job success).

The Internet and other related technologies,
including video, the mobile phone, instant
messaging, and blogs to name just a few, have
the capability of changing this process
entirely. In fact, I think there are eight
elements that need to be the core around
which you build your college recruiting
program. Take a look and see how many of
these your organization has adopted.

You have the beginnings of a 21st-century college recruiting
strategy if...

1. Your college recruiting strategy clearly defines the key
reasons why you do college recruiting and how your
organization expects to benefit from it.

Most organizations do college recruiting for obscure reasons —
often because they have always done it, and not because they
have a specific need or appropriate jobs for this level of employee.
I have worked with clients who have abandoned their college
recruiting efforts because, after careful thought, other levels of
candidates were more suited to their needs and they did not have
the capacity to nurture and develop new graduates.

Be sure your organization can use college students well and has
the infrastructure, promotional opportunities, and management
skills to develop and utilize the students well over time.

2. Your organization has developed a clear brand at the
college level that differentiates you from other

Brand — i.e., the perception about what your company does and
what happens to the college grads who get hired — is a
significant factor in your success or failure in college recruiting.
You need to work with your public relations people and your
recruiting advertising agency to develop and communicate a clear
brand. You need clarity around who you are looking for and the
benefits of working for your organization. You need to identify and
promote the benefits of a career with your firm.

Developing a unique recruiting brand is important for all
organizations, but especially so for those without strong product

3. You educate students about your organization and market
jobs and positions using the Internet, email, and your

This is the Internet generation that you are now recruiting. They
have always had the Internet, and they turn to it and their email
for almost all information about the world. The Internet has high
credibility. You have to use it heavily and in place of traditional
media such as newspapers, brochures, posters, and on-campus
signage. These all have a small impact compared to the Internet.

You will have to get email addresses and learn how to create
short, interesting messages about your organization. Think about
buying Google ads to promote jobs and your recruiting website
when terms related to your industry are being searched.

4. You have built (or are building) talent pools of interested
students at all levels — from high school through graduate
school, and even beyond.

The number of students studying engineering, math, and related
technology subjects has been declining for several years. To
attract the best students you cannot wait until the junior or
senior years of school. You need to be building your brand and
loyalty to your organization as early as high school. The more you
communicate with students, screen them for cultural fit and skills,
and let them know about positions that might fit those skills, the
more effective your recruiting will be.

Even if you are not successful at recruiting a desired candidate at
the undergraduate level, keep in touch and seek them out later —
even after two or three years. They will be impressed with your
ability to do that, and you will gain an employee who knows your
organization to some degree and is clearly motivated.

5. You have a dedicated, interactive college recruiting
website that is prominently advertised to students.

The key to any modern college recruiting program is a website
that educates, informs, explains, and demonstrates what your
organization and the people in it do. You need to develop a site
that does all this and that also screens students and lets them
know if they have what it takes to work for you.

6. Your recruiting processes find, qualify, and communicate
with students using Internet-based technology.

The way you recruit sends a message to candidates. If you do
things the traditional way, you signal that you are a traditional
(i.e., not exciting, innovative, or fun) company.

Your website needs to match your corporate philosophy and
culture. You need to streamline procedures and make getting a
job with your organization as simple and fun as you can. Get rid
of, automate, or hide bureaucracy. Focus on selling the benefits
of employment at your firm — not on the administrative process to
get hired.

7. You communicate with and solicit students from hundreds
of schools, not just a handful of key schools that everyone
else is also using.

The concept of key schools emerged when it was physically
necessary to go to every campus. If you had more than a handful
of these schools, time and cost became too high to make the
program effective. But with the Internet, we have been released
from the need for key schools. You can extend your reach to
hundreds of schools — in fact, you can forget about schools and
focus on people with the skills you need.

The flaw with the key school concept is its assumption that the
best students are always found at those schools. In reality,
almost all schools have some great students and a whole lot of
mediocre or bad ones. Your job ought to be to find the best ones
no matter where they are. By extending your reach, you can also
access many more minority students and improve your diversity

8. You have put in place an aggressive and comprehensive
set of measures to educate hiring managers about the
college labor market, changing expectations of college
students, and the need to move away from traditional
college recruiting methods.

The largest and most important barrier to making the changes I
suggest is the hiring manager who wants everything to be the
same as when he or she was recruited. You need to use your
powers of persuasion and educate them.

Use this article, as well as facts and data from your own research,
to show them why these new approaches are better. Get market
information, ask the schools for the number of people majoring in
the subjects you are interested in and build a portrait of the labor
market you face. Present the information to the hiring authorities
and get them to help you architect a new approach. Offer to do a
trial of these methods for a few schools and see how successful
you are, or send people to some schools and use the Internet at
others and get student feedback.

My point in this article is that the world has moved on from where
we have been in college recruiting. The concepts of key schools,
campus information sessions, close interface with college
placement offices, and short on-campus interviews with
graduating seniors are nostalgic remnants of the 20th century.

The 21st century requires new methods and techniques, some of
which I have outlined above, and others that will emerge over the
next few years. I urge you to try doing things differently — it will
pay off in a big way by bringing great students to your
organization at less cost and in less time.


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