College Recruiting on a Shoestring Budget – ERE Community Q&A

Feb 16, 2009
This article is part of a series called Webinars.

By Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett

This past week more than 400 community members tuned in for a webinar on college recruiting with a shoestring budget.

Despite sour economic conditions, many organizations are continuing to hire, albeit maybe not with the gusto or resources they used to muster. Those organizations that continue to augment organizational capability and capacity with new college grads are doing a very smart thing, as several organizations that stopped college hiring following the economic collapse in 2001 can attest.

Entry-level hires from colleges and universities play a vital yet often undervalued role in many organizations. Cutting college intake even for a short time can have disastrous unplanned impacts.

Recent college graduates bring with them new skills, the ability to question tired thinking by asking “why,” and remain malleable enough for organizations to mold into entry-level management and core-contributor roles vital to the organization’s succession chain.

Organizations can cut costs, but they can’t stop time, so choking off college recruiting can lead to:

  1. Acceleration of aging workforce issues. If you have an aging workforce now and you choke off hiring of younger talent, statistically speaking, the average age of employees in your organizations is going to grow at a significantly faster pace. While that may not seem like an issue in the short term, letting your workforce gray significantly may impact your ability to recruit college grads when your organization does restore its interest in college recruiting.
  2. An empty succession pool. Many organizations cut college recruiting budgets entirely following 9/11. Due to a slow economic recovery following that tragedy, college recruiting budgets didn’t recover quickly. The result today is a number of organizations that have no choice but to spend millions poaching talent with 5-7 years’ experience from other organizations or hiring talent with 2-3 years’ experience and investing in rapid development programs. For organizations in that boat, they are realizing that it would have been more economical in the long run to have maintained investments in college recruiting.
  3. Slowed innovation. Possibly the best thing about hiring recent college graduates is the fact that they don’t know anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. The truth is that they don’t know anything about why you do things the way you do, so they are more apt to ask why. When such discussions erupt, that’s often when new hires can introduce new thinking, new technology, and new approaches. Choking off the supply of individuals not subject to historical group think can stifle an organization’s ability to evolve and be innovative.

What follows below the webinar insert are the questions raised by those attending and our answers. If more elaboration is needed on any topic, use the commenting function below to not only engage us, but the entire ERE community!

College Recruiting on a Shoestring Budget

Questions & Answers

How do you make the business case to managers who believe now is not the time to be recruiting college grads/interns, etc.? What are the long-term consequences of stopping college recruiting?

Any time you make a business case you need to address the concerns of your audience and sell your solutions in terms they value. Most managers that offer up this roadblock are laser-fixated on cost containment, most likely because they realize their job relies on it. They are not a recruiting expert or thinking about the organization as a complex system, only the work they need to get done and the labor costs they control. Often educating managers on ways to continue college recruiting without incurring significant costs can counter their roadblock. Discuss increasing the volume of unpaid or small stipend internships, small project based temporary contracts, and remote recruiting options. This is a great time to leverage cheap labor to accomplish work that you would like to get done, but rarely does get done! If you have an opportunity to make a business case that exceeds the scope of a single manager, focus on the likely financial impact of the three issues brought up in the introduction to this Q&A.

Dr. Sullivan mentioned using “remote recruiting” due to a lack of travel budget. What are examples of remote recruiting?

If you have stepped foot on a college campus in the last few years (or seen college students amassing in public places), you have probably noticed that most students have a smartphone surgically affixed to their hand.

They live and breathe in a world of electronic communication and are often more comfortable engaging with people that way than in person. (You might have heard that a recent poll found that many Americans would rather go without sex for two weeks than lose their internet connection for two weeks!)

College students live online, so recruiting them online is a great low cost way to continue college recruiting when you have little money. While job boards pick up users in bad times, they are not going to net you the best.

Build up relationships with grad assistants remotely through social networks. Offer them value and they will offer you the best students! Also consider campus specific functional challenges with a cheap yet highly prized reward. A few LCD TVs and the right challenge could net you a contact list of the best students on every campus you recruit from.

Great idea to have employees add an employer endorsement on their social network profiles, but what about a concerted effort for a company to have a presence on the social networks?

Corporate pages on social networks can be a great resource. Unfortunately, too many organizations approach them from the same perspective they approach their corporate career site. If your corporate profile on a social network reads like a generic advertisement touting you as a great employer it is going to be about as successful as putting up a billboard in the middle of Antarctica.

For people to engage with your profile on a social network, there has to be something of value to warrant their engagement. Setting up eMentor groups connected to your profile where senior functional experts provide students with insight and guidance is only one example of a way to provide value through your profile.

Generic advertisements are a dime a dozen and most college students are immune to them, so if you can’t deliver interactivity don’t even try, it will just make your organization look lame.

Isn’t it duplicative to post videos both on your corporate website and YouTube?

Your corporate website can be a great tool (although few are), but the truth is the only people who see it are people who have already decided they have interest not only in your organization, but working for it.

Sites like YouTube on the other hand are rich communities packed with millions of users that may have never even heard of your organization despite the fact that they live in the city where you are located. Posting content to a number of venues statistically increases the chances of your message reaching the type of passive talent you desperately desire. Think like an advertiser with a new commercial. If they air that commercial on only one channel, what are the chances that a good cross section of society will see it? There is a reason advertisers broadcast commercials across multiple channels at various times throughout the day/week, it’s good business.

How much could a company expect to pay for a texting campaign?

A great texting campaign doesn’t have to cost you much. Texting campaigns that are overtly commercial are advertisements, and many college students are immune to generic messaging. Consider a viral texting campaign. Set up a website or social network profile with content of value, text it to a few people and ask that they share it with friends.

This pushes the cost off the organization and on to the general population. Because messages come from a friend, they are more apt to get read and forwarded!

Have you found that candidates find text messaging intrusive?

College students live and breathe text messages, so no. The volume of text messages sent in a single day around the world has been larger than the volume of e-mail sent in a day since July 2007. If you give a student an option to coordinate a meeting via e-mail or text message, chances are they are going to opt for text messaging.

While students don’t find texting intrusive, they do find generic messaging from unknown sources ANNOYING. If you are going to leverage texting, get permission to engage with them via text first or embrace a viral texting approach so the message reaches your target talent from a known source.

How do you get the phone numbers for students/target audience? I’m not sure how to get started, need some more direction…

Again, just sending a college student a text message out of the blue isn’t a great way to initiate a relationship. Start by building relationships with professional organizations, then propose sending a text message to the membership. Use traditional advertisements offering something of value for students that opt in to texting.

Add a field to any web-based forms you use asking if text is an OK form of contact and if so, what number to use.

How do you convince managers who believe using social networking sites or anything other than “in-person” is impersonal?

Managers who project their views on others can be a huge annoyance, but who is the expert here, you or them? If you are letting them dictate how to do your job, then the issue isn’t their views, but rather their lack of trust in you as the expert!

Be an expert. Know the statistics, arm yourself with the facts, best practices, and success stories. If all else fails, go “Art of War” on them! If the manager has children and grandchildren seek them out online and help the manager learn to engage with them. If you can help the manager overcome their personal objection the business objection will most likely go away.

How do you get around corporate policies that block use of social networking sites and the like for IT reasons?

Numerous organizations block access to social networks by employees, but the tide is changing. Many corporate policies surrounding social network access are based on misinformation and faulty assumptions. Many “out-of-touch” CIO’s think that social networks are nothing more than annoying toy sites that employees use to goof off, share inappropriate content for individuals at work, and expose the organization to an endless string of cybercrime. As social networks become more mainstream, organizations are starting to realize that the social networking approach can provide significant value not only with regards to recruiting, but also knowledge management/sharing, and learning & development.

The real issue here isn’t access to a specific social network, but rather the organizations resistance to embrace a new breed of collaboration tools that enable professionals to work anywhere using a variety of technology devices.

In making the business case to open up access to social networks, your logic simply cannot be that we need access because everyone we need to recruit uses them.

Instead, you must focus your business case on the business value that can be created by leveraging social networks. What will such technologies enable employees to do that they cannot do now? How will opening up access impact productivity? How much work time will employees spend doing not work related things? Make a list of all the benefits and all of the risks, then convert all of the risks into benefits and you will have a powerful business case.

How can we find some of those business cases?

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years that analyze the business value and risk of allowing employees to access social networks. A simple site search on sites like can reveal a wealth of articles packed with points to consider.

For example:

One study of Facebook users set out to identify what percentage of time users were logged in was spent doing what type of activities. The results revealed that nearly 41% of all activity was work- or profession-related. The same study further found that 67% of the “friends” users had connected to via facebook were work or profession related.

Another study in Australia found that if candidates had similar offers from two competing organizations, one of which restricted social network activity while the other did not, 68% of the candidates would opt to accept the offer from the company that allowed social networking.

How do you recommend companies address policies regarding employees participating on social networks and blogs?

The simple answer to this question is eliminate any policy that doesn’t encourage employees to drive visibility to your organization.

Granted, you don’t want employees sharing trade secrets online, but laws already protect against that. Most policies stem from an organization’s fear that employees might trash-talk the organization, and the truth is they might. The faulty assumption is that any candid discussion by employees is a negative thing.

Recent research reveals that candidates find online discussion more trustworthy, primarily because it doesn’t present everything as perfect. Tolerance of candid discussion demonstrates to everyone reading that the organization is real.

A great example is Microsoft’s View website. Microsoft has long been an organization known for demanding work schedules. Left untouched, the topic contributed negative connotations to the idea of working at Microsoft.

However, by allowing employees to address the issue candidly, Microsoft turned a topic that historically contributed negative connotations into one that was a selling point for people who get so consumed by the potential impact of their work that the ability to work hard then play hard was a positive feature.

Rather than being “impersonal,” might some students see social network recruiting as “too personal?” I know that many students might not want to “friend” a potential recruiter on Facebook…

You’re right, the average student probably wouldn’t want to “friend” an average recruiter, especially one that comes at them on facebook just as they would at a job fair. Social networks like facebook developed so that people would have a secure way to interact with a body of friends they value. Lots of our friends do things we don’t particular enjoy, just as we are sure some of your friends do things you don’t enjoy.

They key here is focusing on what is relevant, and demonstrating that you as a recruiter can do that and bring something to a network of friends besides a generic job description will go a long way towards helping you become someone’s “friend.”

Do you have any insight on how companies have used Twitter in a business aspect?

Micro-blogging sites like Twitter were developed to help individuals keep others informed about what they are up to. It’s a purpose that lends itself well to business.

Think of Twitter as a PA system that lets you make announcements to a crowd of people who have expressed interest in receiving your announcements or finding audiences you can announce to. Such sites can be used to support recruiting in a number of ways, many of which are still being vetted by early adopters.

The key issue with micro-blogging is frequency of messaging. A new message a month will render you invisible, too many in a single day will render you annoying!

As a result, it looks like the best use for micro-blogging to support the recruiting function deals with supporting groups during activities.

  • Organizations can broadcast special activities during special events i.e. announcing when and where your CEO will be speaking during the career fair.
  • They can draw attention to the availability of free content of value to the audience, for example if you have a new mentor program accepting registrations.
  • They can broadcast new openings in high volume roles to talent that have expressed interest in being notified.
  • They can be used to educate, i.e. share learning nuggets rapidly.

Micro-blogging sites can also let you stalk people that are active micro-bloggers to determine when might be the best time to approach them regarding employment.

For instance, if you build a database of talent that someday you would like to work for you, you can monitor their profiles to identify growing discontent at work, a major life change, etc.

This article is part of a series called Webinars.
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