5 Tips for Getting Ready for College Recruiting in 2011

Aug 12, 2010

It’s almost back-to-school time, and many of you are getting ready to hit the campus circuit (something I’ll talk much more about  at 4 p.m. on October 27, in Florida). If you are like most recruiters I know, you will be — unfortunately — falling into the routine of setting up and delivering information sessions and starting to gear up for on-campus interviews and follow-up interviews.

Why unfortunately? Because the world has changed. Economics and technology have made the traditional ways of recruiting obsolete.

And, contrary to popular belief, this recession has not made it easier for companies to recruit. Layoffs, uncertainly about benefits and medical care, long working hours, and grim corporate cultures are contributing to a decline in employee morale and engagement. In fact, at the end of June 2010, Hewitt Associates released the results of its annual engagement survey which shows that almost half of organizations around the world experienced “a significant drop in employee engagement levels at the end of the June 2010 quarter — the largest decline Hewitt has observed since it began conducting employee engagement research 15 years ago.”

This is causing students to think whether or not they want to enter the corporate world, or go to graduate school, or take a job in China or India or some other part of the world. Some are choosing to join volunteer organizations such as the Peace Corps and defer making any decisions about going to work. Many are starting their own business and learning to fit their lifestyle to their income.

The corporate world has lost its allure, and recruiting is going to be a tough business if you are committed to getting the best students.

Chances are high that very few qualified students will even show up for your information sessions. Students are getting information via social media and the Internet today. The savvy students will expect you to have a strong and interesting online presence. They will want to see your Facebook page and have an opportunity to engage in conversation with a few employees. They are going to check out your organization’s financial and sustainability practices using Google, and they will use the Internet to see what negative comments are out there about your organization.

Your focus needs to be on answering the question: Why should I come to work for your organization? What will keep me excited, engaged, and what will help propel my career?

Going to campus to hold information sessions is definitely 20th century, and should be phased out over the next few years.

It will be replaced with online networks, brand building, interactive and virtual information, and virtual mentoring programs.

Even interviewing is different: candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. They want to know more than candidates did a few years ago — and they have more options and choices. You have to use the interview as a marketing opportunity, and that’s very hard to do in a 20-minute campus session. Instead choose video interviews or online chats, and bring the students to you. Travel is cheap and easy compared to 5 or 10 years ago, and flying a candidate a few hundred miles for a day is a cheaper and a better marketing ploy than sending a bevy of interviewers to campus for a few days.

So how does a college recruiter adapt to these changes? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Focus on brand building and on getting your best employees to engage with students in discussions, webinars, and in ongoing interactive conversations. This builds trust and starts to develop a relationship that can lead to high interest in a job offer.
  2. Let managers do the recruiting. If HR is doing more than 50% of your college recruiting, you do not have an effective program. By using HR staff, you are adding expense and reducing the quality of the interaction that the candidate could have with a potential boss. Avoid the temptation of thinking that HR has some “magical” ability to psyche out candidates or do something a hiring manger couldn’t do. It isn’t true! No one knows the job better or can get a sense of whether a student might be a good candidate or not than a manager.
  3. Don’t focus your attention so much on the school itself. Developing a relationship with a particular school usually means getting known to the placement office. This may have some limited value, but it is far better to get students to join your Facebook fan club or your Twitter stream.
  4. Develop a longer-term approach to recruiting college students. Start your initial contact with a candidate when they are in their freshman year. Build an internship program and invite candidates in to work, even if only for short one- to two-week stints, so you can establish some face-to-face understanding. Follow up with email by offering them research help, mentoring via the Internet, or whatever makes sense and meets both of your needs and abilities. By the time they have entered their third or fourth year of school, both of you will know if there is any commitment in the relationship.

Use print, video, and even campus television to drive candidates to your social media and websites. Don’t waste time on campus-based job fairs. The best campus job fairs attract only a few candidates, most of whom have no interest in your firm at all. Create a virtual job fair that you advertise via the print media. Do this job fair every few weeks and keep up the advertising.

I am sure most of you are saying, “I don’t have any trouble getting all the college students I need.” Or “We still have more applicants than jobs.” I urge you to remember that similar thoughts were expressed by the carriage manufacturers when cars were introduced, by the ice man said when refrigerators were new, and by the telegraph operators when the phone company started.

The way we do college recruiting is changing, too. The questions is whether you are ready or not.

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