Freshmen Are New Quarry as Tech Companies Hunt Talent

Sep 14, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Just as Saturday football and Greek rush weeks signal the start of another college year, so does the start of campus visits by recruiters seeking the best prospects among another senior class.

If that’s you, don’t bother, unless you’re hot on the trail of sociology or poli sci majors. The engineering students, the techies, and many of the scientists have long been spoken for.

In a world getting more competitive all the time for top, even average, engineers and computer professionals, it’s probably no surprise that the biggest and most competitive companies begin forging relationships with prospects when they’re freshmen. If that seems early, you’re already behind; many of the most aggressive companies are offering internships to high schoolers.

Building a pipeline of future prospects by establishing a relationship with students at the outset of their education gives these companies the edge when it comes to recruiting them into full-time jobs at graduation. The internships they offer is a benefit to both the company, as it gets to test the prospect, and the student who gets real work experience.

Reaching out to underclassmen is nothing unusual, according to experts and vendors in college recruiting. ‘We do see that as a trend for anything tech,” says Ashley Hoffman, VP of marketing and strategic partnerships for the millennial-focused career site Brazen Careerist. “It’s been going on for a while. Now we’re seeing more companies offering internships to high school students.”

As long ago as 2008 Dr. John Sullivan wrote about Google’s recruiting programs, including one involving high school students. Harvard Medical School has a program to recruit high schoolers into the medical profession. Last fall, in Western Pennsylvania, the state held a workshop in conjunction with the petroleum industry for high school counselors to convince them to sell students on careers in the fields. No less than the NSA — yes, the high tech spy agency — is offering high school students internships.

And the students are eager for them, says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch. “You’d be surprised,” he reports. “We get a fair number of high school students asking about internships … They’re interested in getting jobs that can open doors to future opportunities later.”

By the time they enter college, more students than you might suspect already have a career sophistication far beyond their counterparts of a generation ago, he says. Since middle school, they’ve been exposed to a drumbeat of news about the economy, unemployment, and jobs. Career information surrounds this generation of always on students. Business networking sites like LinkedIn give them access to professionals in any field they want, while social media offers remarkably candid views of working life.

“It’s not just social media,” says Parcells. “It’s tech generally that makes this generation of students so career savvy.” About 35 percent of the visitors to InternMatch are underclassmen.

It’s tech skills that mostly drives the early stage recruiting. Hoffman, of Brazen Careerist, says the interest is almost entirely in the technical areas. “There’s not as much interest in other programs,” she says. “Anything with math” is in demand by employers who want to begin building relationships as soon as possible.

Parcells says some of the major consulting firms and the bigger finance firms, as well as some larger companies, will recruit underclassmen, offering internships even at the freshmen level. But, he says, “The skew is toward the technical.”

With the growing interest in reaching underclassmen, InternMatch launched Campus Hub with a channel specifically to reach them. Campus Hub has a lot in common with  company profile pages, but its aesthetic and its content elements are clearly geared toward college students.

Next Tuesday, Google, Facebook, and Twitter will participate in an InternMatch hosted online conference for freshmen and sophomores. Dubbed, “The Early Bird Gets the Internship,” the video session on Google Hangouts is a chance for students to learn about the classes and skills the companies want, the kinds of internships they offer, how to apply, and what it will take to get hired.

Jessica Einfield, Google’s engineering intern program manager who is one of the participants in the Hangout, notes, “At Google we have established full internship programs for freshman and sophomores, as underclassmen have very different career needs and goals than upperclassmen.  This event helps us share this message at scale to students across the country.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!