I’ve worked the aisles of college career fairs dozens of times. In my 14 years with Allegis Group, hiring new grads was always a key to building our company. We trained these young men and women to be the next generation of leaders in our company.
As a Director, my role was to make sure our campus recruiting program was attractive and competitive with our target audience at select schools. While it was typically a fun and creative effort, it also required a tremendous amount of time and focus.
No detail was spared when it came to our campus recruiting program. Take the campus career fair. From the start, I was trained never to sit behind the table. I always stood in front of the table to greet prospects. There was a lot of palm pressing, superficial chatter, and every once in a while…a prospect I’d be excited about. If our table wasn’t busy, I’d take a walk around to invite students back to our table.
It was hard work being on your feet all day, and the results were typically mixed. In truth, I didn’t really enjoy most of the actual career fairs. But we had to have a presence in the late ’90’s and early ’00’s to compete for top grads.
The landscape for attracting new grads has changed dramatically since then. You don’t need to have the coolest giveaway at the career fair to attract the attention of top grads. In fact, you may not need to attend the campus career fair at all.
The culture on campus has evolved, as has the technology to connect with students. There are many “old school” strategies I embraced outside of career fairs back in the day, that can now be amplified through the use of technology. And there are a few other “old school” strategies I used that are remain analog, but remain timelessly effective.
You don’t have to be a sexy brand to win on campus
Punch the phrase “University Recruiter” into a LinkedIn search, and you’ll see top companies with teams dedicated to hiring new college grads. The list includes Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Square, Twitter, Yelp and the list goes on. Hiring new college grads is a clear strategy for these companies, and that’s a big reason why they crush campus recruiting.
These brands may grab the headlines, but you don’t need to be a sexy technology company to crush campus recruiting. You simply need to have a good plan, and commit the time and resources to execute. Take companies like ADP, Allegis Group, Cbeyond, Deloitte, Edward Jones, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Ernst & Young, Paychex, and Yellow Pages. They’re companies who have built their future through campus recruiting. They are dedicated to the model, commit the resources, and hold themselves accountable to executing.
Here’s 5 ways that I’ve learned to crush campus recruiting. I’ve worked every angle personally, and hope a few of these methods will resonate with you.
1. Define your target schools (you may be surprised)
If you ever talk to a university recruiter in the Bay Area, you’d think that only two colleges exist…Cal-Berkeley and Stanford. Those are two excellent schools, but there’s more talent out there if you dig a little deeper. One example that stands out is Twitch. Yes, the same Twitch recently acquired by Amazon for $1 billion.
It wasn’t always that way for Twitch though. Three years ago Twitch was a fledgling company trying to compete with the big brands of the Bay Area in attracting top Computer Science (CS) grads. The key to Twitch’s success is that they hit a vein and kept mining it. The University of Washington turned out to be a school that produced CS grads that were a really good fit for Twitch. Thus, they allocated more resources into building a pipeline with UW. This is not something that is always easy to see on the surface.
The message here is to understand where your best employees came from. Don’t just go to the big name schools everyone else does because that’s the thing to do. Look at the top performers in your organization, and figure out where they came from. Especially the ones that joined your organization straight out of college.
Make a list of all of the schools your employees came from, and start ranking the top performing sources. Take the top 5-10 universities that stand out amongst your top sources as a starting point. If you’re a bigger enterprise with more resources, you may have the capacity to select more schools.
Now make the effort to understand the focus and culture of each school. What is it that makes each school unique, and how can you define your messaging toward those themes? It’s important to know what is important to the target audience once they are defined. Your message to new college grads should not be “one-size fits all”.
2. Make friends with advisors, coaches and professors
Your current employees from your target schools likely had Advisors, Coaches, and Professors who they hold in high regard. Those are the folks you want to start making friends with. Make sure to get an introduction to those people from your employees. And if you have the chance, try to meet with them in-person.
Students place a great deal of trust in their campus leadership, and those same leaders want to see their students wind up in a good job after college. Making an effort to get to know these folks can make all the difference. In fact, the campus leaders can become some of your best recruiters.
A great example of this was when I was a Director of our recruiting team in Portland, Oregon. I found that some of my best team members had attended Oregon State University. As I dug deeper, I also learned that several top performers attended the school of business at the university. Thus, I made sure to find out who the top business school professors and advisors were for these employees. I then reached out to make sure I had a great relationship with these people.
When you get the opportunity to talk with these leaders, make sure to update them on how their students (your employees) are doing. And let them know exactly why that person has been a great fit for your company. This allows the campus leader to build a profile in their mind of what type of person fits well in your company. Then provide them with a roadmap of where your company is going, and how new hires are going to thrive in your environment.
Look to these campus leaders for coaching on the landscape of their university. And do this in balance with educating them on how your company is going to help their graduates grow as people and professionals. Once you do this, these campus leaders will be the ones identifying students for you. Which is infinitely helpful in hitting your campus hiring goals.
3. Hold open-houses & competitions
College graduates these days are savvy: they know that there’s more to your company than they may see in a booth at the college career fair. Today’s grads place value in the people they would work with and the environment in which the work is done. They also want to know how what they will be doing will make our world a better place. There’s no other way to show them than by opening your doors to them.
One obvious way to bring students in your doors is to have an open house. An event should be fairly easy to organize, and you can make it effective by having key people on your team present to meet with the students. These events can be most effective when held by a particular department.
The more granular the better. For instance, if you are targeting CS grads it would be advantageous to have the Engineering team host a “day in the life of a Developer” session. These events don’t need to be large in scale. In fact, the more personal it is the more impact it can have.
Another innovative way to attract new grads is through competitions. I’ve worked closely with BMC Software’s Post-Graduate Sales Program based in London over the last two years. They are targeting specific schools in London such as Imperial College and the London School of Economics.
BMC Software puts a nice twist on their recruiting process with a competition evaluating a candidate’s business sense. They bring top MBA candidates from the target schools into the office for a business plan competition. It’s engaging for the graduates, and they get to meet key leaders in BMC Software through a useful competition. It also helps BMC Software compete with the likes of Microsoft and Oracle for the same candidates.
Be as creative as you can to welcome candidates into your office and remember to have your top employees present. This is not a step to be conducted by recruiting alone. You must have the participation of the people new grads would work for and work with to be successful. Make sure your best employees are connected directly with new grads anytime you’re hosting an event.
4. Build a campus ambassador program
Relying on campus career fairs just isn’t enough when trying to compete for top grads. You’ve got to have social proof on-campus. Meaning, you’re brand needs to be visible on-campus and your story needs to be heard through current students. This one can be harder to get off the ground, but when you do it’s impact can be substantial.
An example of a campus ambassador program comes from Zaarly. In 2012, the San Francisco startup used campus ambassadors to grow their company across the United States. They devised a position called the “Campus CEO” and helped teach the student to run their own business on-campus.
The Campus CEO was responsible for recruiting additional students as ambassadors, and also to attract students to use the Zaarly app on their mobile device. The company has since shifted their business model, but the campus ambassador program was a success. They had Campus CEOs from USC to Duke, and solid brand recognition on campuses across the country. It also provided a solid talent pool of candidates to hire full-time at the end of their ambassadorship.
A campus ambassador program isn’t the easiest thing to set up. You’ll need to start with the very top schools before scaling the program. I’d recommend working with just 2-3 schools on a program to learn what’s going to work. You’ve got to select the right student(s), set goals for what you want to accomplish, plan events that keep you on track, and evaluate how the program is working. It’s more than throwing a few hoodies on the backs of students on-campus.
The bottom line is that students are savvy when it comes to a company’s brand. They are wary of a commercial, and place value on people they know that are representing a specific brand.
5. Follow-up with everyone, and add value
It’s true. If you’re working hard on your campus recruiting efforts, you’re going to wind up with lots of candidates who aren’t a fit. I think back to my days at the career fairs, and this was one of the hardest parts. I’d have a stack of resumes up to the ceiling, but only a handful that we wanted to move forward with. I’d have multiple conversations with students I knew would not get far into our interview process. But I felt a need to give them the appropriate time, and provide some level of value to these students. After all, I’ve been in their shoes once upon a time.
You’ve got to know that word travels fast on-campus, good or bad. Whether it’s through social media, at a party, the pizza shop or walking to class students have lots of opportunities to hear about you. Take the opportunity to stand out with candidates, whether in-person or across social media channels by providing them with feedback.
For me, this meant following up with every person who was in my stack of resumes from the career fair. Yes, it was very tedious. And many times it took an actual phone call in those days. With email and social media you can likely remove that step now. But the majority of my phone calls were to let the student know we appreciated them coming by to see us, and that we were not moving forward with them as a candidate.
I would also use this as an opportunity to give them at least one nugget for their job search. Everything from resume tips to steps they could take toward their desired job were discussed. It was typically a full day of phone work, but these days you could reduce that to a half-day of emails.
Follow-up with every person, and provide value when you do. This will manifest itself into a great brand on-campus, and a partnership with your target universities.
The best segment for innovation
Perhaps the best part of campus recruiting is that it provides an opportunity to try new things in your recruiting practice. While you may try a few things that fail, you’re bound to find a few that you can apply to other segments like diversity and veteran hiring. Campus hiring is the perfect test bed for innovation since you’ve got a much more flexible audience. You can pick out best practices to apply to your overall enterprise recruiting practice.
To that end, I know I’ve missed some great methods that companies are utilizing with campus hiring. I’d love to hear from you, and learn more about your ideas. I’m always looking for new trends, and we like to share best practices whenever we can.
If you’re curious to learn more about my experience in campus recruiting, or the work we’re doing at Ongig, let me know. I’d be happy to chat about your campus recruiting program, and answer any questions you may have. There may be opportunities to connect you with peers in the campus recruiting space that we frequently work with.
Ongig is the first ever Employer Branding SaaS — it allows enterprises to create, distribute and measure interactive job descriptions at scale. American Express, Autodesk, Intel and Yelp are among the early users of the Ongig SaaS.