Building Relationships With Professors to Gain a Recruiting Edge (Part 2 of 2)

Sep 8, 2008

Part one of this series dealt with the business case of implementing a new college recruiting program aimed at moving the activity out of antiquated gallows of campus career fairs, campus career centers and the like, and into the modern era. This direct approach is aimed at reaching those who know and can influence the truly valuable students who wouldn’t be caught dead in a career resource center.

The proposed approach is one that all but the very best talent acquisition functions scoff at, not because it isn’t possible, but rather because it isn’t easy. Beyond the business case, part one outlined the major players corporate recruiters can leverage on college campuses to reach top talent and detailed the benefits of the approach.

Now, in part two, the attention turns to the steps and activities needed to implement such an approach.

Developing a Formal Relationship-Building Process

Today, if you want to identify top students, build your brand, and “sell” the best students, you need to go beyond the career center and build relationships with the faculty who know and have the ability to influence the decisions of these students. Once your firm makes the decision to build long-term relationships with faculty, the next logical step is to develop a formal process that you can use to build these relationships in many diverse academic programs.

Who Should Have The Relationship?

Although recruiting managers can help develop and manage the overall process, recruiters are not the best ones to build relationships with faculty. Instead, the best people to build the relationship with faculty are your program directors and your hiring managers.

Directors are the first choice because not all individual managers hire graduates every year; however, directors and GMs will likely have some hiring in their organization each year.

Because senior managers are often domain subject experts, they have a better chance of having advanced education in the subject and being considered as “equals” by faculty. They also know the latest jargon, tools, problems, and opportunities. In addition, because senior managers control significant financial resources, faculty often look upon them more favorably because they could potentially offer research support and funding.

Create a Relationship-Building Template

This roadmap can guide the relationship-building process for all managers across the firm. Include the steps to take, the best practices, common errors, and the metrics for assessing the strength and the success of their relationship. The recruiting department should also provide training, advice, and guidance so that individual managers can minimize the time they spend on these recruiting relationships.

The “relationship building map” should support localization, so that the final approach best fits the type of university that you’re targeting (i.e., top-10 schools, other research institutions or teaching institutions, as well as public vs. private schools). Differences should also be allowed for international universities.

Process steps should cover identifying the faculty to target, how to communicate with faculty, and what are the current best practices for getting faculty to play nice. The key here is to utilize multiple approaches and reach school employees and staff who recruit the most influential individuals within their academic program.

Also, develop a macro-level communications process that minimizes the chances of duplicate efforts on individual faculty members and best practice/problem sharing processes among those building relationships. Add metrics in order to demonstrate the success of the process and its ROI.

Finally, put together a “toolkit” of approaches that allows an individual hiring manager to pick and choose from among the many available approaches and techniques. Rather than putting together a strict “program,” offer choices and the opportunity to learn from their successes and mistakes. This allows managers to “own” the relationship-building process, which is the No. 1 critical success factor for relationship-building programs.

Rule #1: Don’t Embarrass the Faculty Member

There is a lot of “emotional baggage” associated with building relationships with faculty. It’s also true that some practices that are fine at some institutions are frowned upon or even banned at others.

In case of doubt, don’t assume; instead, find out. If you try something that creates waves, be prepared to modify your approach so you don’t embarrass the faculty member. In most cases, they can’t be fired but they can catch flak from other jealous or politically opposed faculty members.

Some of the approaches, tools, and techniques that I recommend for consideration in your “relationship building” toolkit are listed below broken into two categories: approaches that require no money and approaches that require a budget.

20 Relationship-Building Approaches That Don’t Require Money

  1. Comment on their articles. Everyone likes praise, so commenting on a faculty member’s latest work, presentation, or article will get you bonus points. Utilize the Google “alert” process and Google “scholar” to identify when they have received exposure.
  2. Read their blog. Some faculty members have blogs, personal webpages, or electronic newsletters. Subscribe to their RSS feeds and comment on their work.
  3. Utilize social networks. Some faculty have profiles on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. Encourage your employees to visit their profiles and periodically communicate with them.
  4. Co-author with them. Almost any faculty member needs help in publishing, so offering to provide a co-author on a paper or a presentation can help build the technical relationship.
  5. Offer to speak in their classes. Many professors want to expose their students to the “real world,” so offering to speak in their classes is a great way to start the relationship. As you build a relationship, offer to provide their students with a “real” problem and then agree to come in as an evaluator. Eventually, offer to “co-teach” a class with them.
  6. Attend academic meetings. Not many professionals attend academic meetings but it’s an excellent place to identify top researchers and to build relationships. Consider speaking at these events. Sponsoring academic meetings and events at those meetings can increase your exposure.
  7. Attend alumni events. Attend alumni social events in which faculty frequently attend.
  8. Mentors. Offer new faculty the opportunity to have one of your staff mentor them in their research and consulting. This mentorship can be particularly powerful if the faculty member is diverse or is from another country. Also offer to “connect them” with other important people in the industry.
  9. Access to data. Give them access to corporate data that can be directly used in their research. If they don’t have to collect huge amounts of “new” data, they will get more articles published and they will learn to appreciate you.
  10. Corporate intranet access. Where corporate policies allow, provide them access to parts of your corporate intranet so they can learn more about you. The more they know about your firm and its best practices, the more likely that they will use your firm as an in-class example or assign your company to students as a case to study for its best practices.
  11. Feedback. One of the best ways to involve people is to ask them for feedback on the technical education and training that you provide your employees. In addition, offer to provide faculty members with your guidance on what you believe should be covered in their curriculum.
  12. Be active on Internet forums. Some academic disciplines have online forums or listservers that connect distant academics. Having your employees post questions and answers on these forums can help you begin individual relationships.
  13. Not-for-profit organizations. Many faculty members are active in their community. So encouraging employees from your “local” office or facility to serve on some of the same community groups can help you begin the relationship.
  14. Offer access to technical training. Provide them with the opportunity to attend your corporate technical training classes or the opportunity to utilize your technical library. This provides you with opportunities to interact with them and to help them in their career.
  15. Utilize their former students. If you hire one of the faculty member’s previous students or grad assistants, let them know it. Over time, use these new hires that might enjoy keeping in touch with their “old prof” to help build the firm’s relationship with them.
  16. Testers. Provide them with samples of your prototypes or new products and ask them to evaluate them for you.
  17. Advisory board. Put them on your product advisory board to build a relationship. Or, put them on your college recruiting advisory board and use those interactions to build a relationship and to understand them better.
  18. Show them you trust them. Few things build confidence faster than informally “guaranteeing” that you will at least interview their top five students. Some faculty want to showcase their talented students, while others like to “reward” their top students with exposure to the best job opportunities. Don’t promise jobs, just interview opportunities.
  19. Invite them to sports events. Don’t do anything extravagant, but occasionally offering to share seats with them (using corporate tickets) can provide time for lengthy discussions.
  20. Access to software. Often, corporate-wide licenses for business and technical software allow firms to provide copies (or access to software) to selected faculty members at little or no out-of-pocket cost.

18 Approaches That Require Budget Dollars

Most faculty face tight academic budgets and in addition, they often survive on low salaries, so providing them with resources or extra pay is often welcomed. In the cases where you provide direct economic value to the faculty member, check with the faculty member or their dean to ensure that what you offer is acceptable:

  1. Summer faculty internships. The best way to get to know them and vice versa is to hire them during the summer as a faculty intern. Funding summer projects through the University is another possibility.
  2. Fund assistants. Rather than offering direct payment, consider funding a graduate assistant for the best professors.
  3. Hire interns. Regularly hiring their best not graduating students as interns will certainly get their attention. You will get increased exposure as the interns “talk up” your firm after they return the next academic year.
  4. Offer to teach. A “can’t miss” approach to building relationships with the entire faculty is to offer some of your staff to teach technical classes (pro bono). Having your employees teach provides numerous opportunities to get known and to understand faculty needs and interests.
  5. Off-time hires. Hire them or offer research support for regular faculty and lecturers during semester breaks, summers or when allowable, while they are on sabbatical. Also consider hiring recently retired faculty and use them to build relationships. You can also involve them in the design of your college recruiting program and in the selection of “target” faculty and universities.
  6. Research grants. Offer them small research or equipment grants through the university to help fund their work.
  7. Participate in a case study. Some faculty receive recognition for publishing academic cases. If your firm has some best practices, offer to be the subject of a case study that they write up and publish. Case studies take some time and in-depth research, so the process almost assures a long-term relationship.
  8. Trips. Offer to fund a trip or conference during the summer or during the academic year when their rules allow it.
  9. Sponsor student groups. Sponsor or fund student groups that they are involved in and speak at their meetings to get exposure. Don’t forget honor societies and any organization that they serve as a faculty advisor.
  10. Field trips. Offer to fund field trips to your facility for their class, student group, or their best students.
  11. Discounts. Give them and/or their students product discounts on your products or provide product samples.
  12. Invite them to conferences. Invite them to attend your firm’s conferences or industry conferences and trade shows. This allows them to “stay current” and it gives you an opportunity to interact with them and to show them around.
  13. Hire them as consultants. Many faculty are allowed to work one day each week as consultants.
  14. Hire their grad assistants. Faculty can get very close to the grad assistants, so hiring them when they graduate is a not-so-subtle way to continue that relationship.
  15. Buy their book. If they have published technical or professional books, buy multiple copies of their book through them.
  16. Products in the bookstore. Faculty members frequently spend a lot of time in the campus bookstore. Increase the chances that they will be familiar with your products by displaying them in the campus bookstore.
  17. Write articles for journals that they edit. If a faculty member is on the editorial board of the journal, writing an article for the journal can be a first step in building a relationship.
  18. Hire a family member. By offering to hire the spouse of new faculty members, you give yourself an inside track on building the relationship, while simultaneously providing much-needed financial support to new faculty. Provide them with meaningful work, and be assured that your firm will be discussed at the dinner table. Another option is to hire their kids for part-time or summer jobs.

Common Errors

Typical mistakes that college recruiting managers make when they design a relationship-building program include:

  • Infrequent contacts. Avoid contacting the faculty member only when you need something or right before you begin hiring each semester.
  • Selecting the wrong faculty. Do your research to avoid a relationship with a faculty member who doesn’t know the types of students you are looking for.
  • Failing to use metrics. Because college recruiting is often cut back during lean times (which can kill your relationships), college recruiting needs to develop metrics and a convincing business case to show the significant economic value added by recruiting higher-quality students.
  • A lack of continuity. Because college recruiting managers tend to have a very short tenure, it is critical to develop written plans and guides to ensure a smooth transition between administrations.
  • Risk-averse. Any time you go around the career center, you risk the wrath of their staff (some can be whiny people). Dealing directly with faculty will also draw many “that’s not ethical” accusations. As a result, be willing to take some bold risks and some heat, if you expect bold results.
  • Not competitive. You must enter into the relationship-building process realizing up front that college recruiting is incredibly competitive. As a result, if you try something new and it works, expect everyone to copy it almost immediately. This means that if you want to be the best over the long haul, you must continually build obsolescence and change into your relationship building process.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a universal rule, but generally, the best and brightest minds and those seeking to learn technology go to college. If over the long-term, you need a significant number of top innovators and technologists, you simply can’t ignore college recruiting.

Because every other firm knows this, if you’re going to attract the best and brightest from competitive schools, you need to have an approach that provides you with a distinct competitive advantage.

There are other competitive advantages to consider including excelling at “remote” college recruiting, starting recruiting early in their academic careers, and utilizing contests to recruit, but the most effective long-term strategy is building faculty relationships. You already do it with your best potential customers and your best potential experienced hires, so now is the time to do it also with the key faculty that know and can help influence the top college talent that you are targeting.

Finally, it takes courage to ignore the naysayers. Ignore them, because most come from the “old school” approach to college recruiting, which is rapidly dying in this Internet age.

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