Getting the Most From College Recruiting: College Ambassador Programs

Feb 24, 2003

College recruiting has long been a staple recruitment tool for entry-level hiring. Each semester, companies make the annual pilgrimage to recruit the top talent from their local colleges and universities. But while most companies are reliant on college-sponsored activities such as job fairs or postings within career services to uncover quality applicants, you might be surprised to find out that most collegiate job seekers find their first career opportunity elsewhere! While most companies spend 70-80% (or more) of their time, effort, and budget dollars on these traditional college recruiting activities, a recent college study found that only about 27% of all college graduates found employment through career services or related activities. Probably not the best use of an organization’s college recruitment budget! In working with recruiters who are responsible for college recruiting, I have found that they most frequently struggle with:

  • Finding cost-effective ways to tap into the 70% of the candidates who do not find jobs via career services and job fairs.
  • Utilizing colleges to tap into experienced, exempt-level professional talent.

In this two-part series, I want to share a couple of tactical, practical ideas that have helped us become better at both. The first one we will tackle is called the college ambassador program. College Ambassador Program So how do you tap into the 70% of the graduates you won’t find at the next collegiate job fair? Some good ideas include:

  • Contacting social/professional associations on campus
  • Contacting professors and speaking in their classes
  • Holding events at social gatherings and or hangouts such as sporting events, local taverns, etc.

While I am a supporter of these ideas, and have been successful using them, I’m finding that a typical corporate recruiter does not have the time, resources, or support necessary to execute them. Yes, you could argue that if hiring quality talent from the campus was a priority then you can (and should) find the time and resources necessary to do all these laborious activities. But when a recruiter has over 30 open requisitions, is handling employee relations issues, trying to set up new hire orientation for their last 10 hires and is responsible for college recruiting ó you could also argue that they really don’t have the time to do it! Regardless of your point of view, the fact of the matter is that while most recruiters know about these tactics to uncover “passive” candidates on campus (these ideas are not new), very few are actually doing them. Here’s an interesting observation. The same organizations that claim they do not have the resources to develop a robust, campus-wide recruitment program are usually the same folks that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on job fair “giveaways” (i.e. trinkets and trash). While these toys might divert more attention to your booth, I have never heard of someone taking a job because a company had great squeeze balls. Twisted logic for another story for another day! So, more importantly, how can you tap into 100% of the quality candidates on campus with limited time, money, and resources? Deploy a college ambassador program! While working with a company stuck with the same constraints everyone complains about ó too few resources ó we came up with the college ambassador program. The concept is actually pretty simple, economical, and easy to implement. While conducting a brainstorming session to improve the effectiveness of this company’s college recruitment program, many questions were raised:

  • “Even if we had time, where should we roam? What are the hot spots we should canvas for the types of graduates we hire for? What social organizations must we tap into to find the folks we are looking for?”
  • “Sounds great. But who has time to do all these things?”
  • “Who would be the best person to roam the campus and spread the word about our company and the opportunities we have to offer?”

With some common sense and some creative thinking, the solution started to take shape. The person most capable of “recruiting” on the college campus was a current college student! What if we hired a college student (at minimal cost) to do this work for us? A current student will know where to roam, what social organizations to tap into, where the hot spots are, and what events will get us the best bang for our buck. They are a low-cost, on-campus solution for getting all of these laborious, time-consuming recruiting/networking/PR activities accomplished! To provide structure to the “ambassador” position, we developed a job description including responsibilities of the role. They included the following:

  • Identify each social organization related to the type of hires we are seeking. Contact the chapter presidents and present information on our organization and services. If beneficial, organize an onsite visit to speak to their organization (preferably, we can get a current employee that is an alumni of that school to go back and speak).
  • Identify all recruiting events on campus and do a cost/benefit analysis on which ones you think would be most beneficial to attend.
  • Identify the places we should post information and local hot spots where we might want to sponsor an event. Make sure that our postings are visible all over campus. Make sure we keep “reposting” in spots that either get ripped down or covered with new postings.
  • Identify the most popular professors on campus and set up a meeting to discuss our company, career opportunities, opportunities to speak in their class, etc.

These activities would take a remote recruiter who does not know the campus countless hours (and cost) to get done. For someone on campus, we figured it would be about a 15-25 hour a week (per college) part-time job to accomplish all the things we wanted. Outside of the obvious, the benefits we gained from using a college student to do this type of recruiting activity included:

  • Tapping into the 70% of the candidates traditional tools don’t reach
  • Developing a proactive awareness/PR campaign on campus
  • Developing awareness about our organization and opportunities with the influential professors on campus
  • Tapping into the power of the social/professional organizational network

We found it to be very economical compared to traditional recruitment expenditures. To maximize productivity of the program, we structured an incentive-based compensation plan that rewarded our ambassadors for performance. We paid an hourly rate of $7 to $9 per hour, plus a commission plan as follows:

  • The ambassador received a commission for each applicant that they referred with a complete “set” of paperwork (which included an application, resume, and successfully passing a set of basic screening questions).
  • The ambassador also received another commission for every graduate hired by the company (and who made it through the probationary period, usually 90 days).

The commission plan was a huge success. It compensated our ambassadors for producing results rather then just “going through the motions.” A good ambassador could double or triple their income if they provided prescreened, quality applicants that we ended up hiring. The fixed labor cost per school ended up being usually less than $1,000 a month. Commissions and bonuses were easily cost-justified based on results. Can you afford this extra cost? Think “instead of” versus “in addition too.” Instead of spending another $10,000 to upgrade your trinkets and trash each semester, you might consider diverting about $5,000 dollars to a college ambassador program (that is, take the money out of a budget that already exists). Getting Started While this program might sound like a huge undertaking, it really isn’t. The basic elements are as follows:

  1. Find ambassadors. The best ambassadors would be interns that return to the college campus. They are walking testimonials (if they like you, of course), and they are known commodities. If you don’t have an intern crop to choose from, start recruiting! Talk to employees who went to that school or run an ad online or in the school newspaper.
  2. Develop a job description. Develop a job description (including a compensation plan) with a list of responsibilities for the ambassador. The more detailed, the better. Provide them with a checklist of things to get done. Have regular review sessions to monitor their progress.
  3. Provide some basic training on your company and your hiring process. To keep the lawyers off this program, I would recommend that you do not use the ambassadors to do pre-screen interviews. Just have the candidates they find fill out an application, give them a resume, and fill out a pre-screen form. You can make the assessment yourself and avoid legal issues that might arise with using inexperienced personnel in this fashion. Consider them as marketing people!

Advanced-Level College Ambassador Programs Once you’re able to get this program off the ground and firmly rooted at a few college campuses, you might want to try a number of innovative ideas to make this recruiting solution even more effective. Consider, for example, holding ambassador incentive contests. When you have more than one ambassador, create incentive-based contests to encourage and reward productivity. The costs are nominal compared to the results. Some programs might include:

  • Most applicants collected in a month wins a mountain bike
  • Most hires for the quarter wins a trip for two for spring break
  • Highest percentage of applicants that turn into hires wins a gift certificate to the bookstore

The creative ideas are endless. You might also try turning the ambassador program into an internship program! One of our clients approached a school of business and was successful in turning this program into an approved internship program. The business skills gained on the job as an ambassador (sales, project planning, recruiting, etc.) are invaluable, and they are ideally suited for an internship program. Are you looking to develop a “world-class” college recruiting program that taps into 100% of the quality applicant pool? Do you have limited resources and a small budget to accomplish this task? If so, I would highly encourage you to investigate developing a college ambassador program like the one I’ve described above!

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