Über College Recruiting: How Advanced College Recruiting Differs From Your Current Approach

Sep 29, 2008

There is a next-generation college recruiting strategy that is gradually making the traditional approach seem as outdated as phones with wires.

I call this new approach über college recruiting (über is German for superior) because it is so aggressive. This advanced approach began emerging in the late 1990s and was most often associated with high technology firms like Trilogy and Cisco.

The practices were so successful, so exciting, and so out-of-the box that urban legends still abound about what these true innovators were doing over a decade ago. Recently, über recruiting has been re-energized by the antics and the advanced methods of the Google recruiting machine.

Google has adopted the über approach in part because of its use of metrics. Most firms stick with mainstream college recruiting efforts because breaking free of the status quo isn’t easy, as few in the HR world seem willing to take on the challenge and make the business case for something different.

Google, being an organization full of advanced mathematicians, scientists, and engineers took the time to calculate that a top technologist from a graduating class is worth 300 times more than an average grad. When they talk about top technologists, they are not talking about the best who approach their college recruiting booth during a career fair, but rather that one truly unique innovator who may someday change the world. Having calculated the value of such exceptional talent, Google is willing to shift its approach and spend whatever resources are needed to become the #1 college brand. They have championed the über approach because the old traditional approach just can’t guarantee extraordinary hires.

Most Firms Utilize the Traditional Approach

I estimate that 95% of corporate college recruiting programs follow the traditional model because everyone is familiar with it and they are simply comfortable using it. I sometimes call the traditional model the “career center focus” model because it relies so heavily on services offered by the career center, and very little on actual scouting for talent.

The primary steps in the traditional model are simple and straightforward:

  1. Pick your top schools in the U.S. and the majors to target.
  2. Arrange with the career center dates for information sessions and interviews.
  3. Place ads announcing the info session.
  4. Develop brochures and recruiting collateral.
  5. Offer food that is good enough to attract, and give a compelling talk.
  6. Hold on-campus interviews.
  7. Make your offers.

It’s straightforward, relatively inexpensive, and it produces enough hires to make everyone happy. Unfortunately, most executives, hiring managers, and recruiters are satisfied with it in part because they are unaware that there are other more advanced options that yield a clear competitive advantage. The advanced college recruiting model contains more sophisticated elements designed to ensure extraordinary results.

A Checklist of the Major Elements of Über College Recruiting

The advanced or über approach contains many elements that are either under-emphasized or completely absent from the traditional approach. The primary distinction between the traditional and über models is the reduced emphasis on campus information sessions and increased focus on branding, technology, relationship building, aggressive marketing, and fact-based decision-making.

If you want to be part of the “elite” 5% that use the advanced approach, here are 9 key elements that make the advanced college recruiting model so powerful:

  1. Data-driven decisions. Under the advanced recruiting model, decisions are made based on data and facts rather than emotion or past practice. Which schools to target and what majors you focus on changes each year based on previous year performance measures. Recruiting tools and approaches like sourcing and advertising are selected based on the superior numbers they produce. Metrics also tell you in which jobs and with what individual managers new hires should be placed in order to produce the highest overall ROI.
  2. A written strategy and plan. It’s difficult to have a strategic impact using a haphazard approach. Unlike the traditional model, the advanced approach requires that you have a written strategic plan to focus and direct your recruiting effort. Rather than using the campus career center focused approach, the über approach uses one or more of five possible approaches including:
    • Relationship recruiting. This strategy focuses on building relationships with “insiders” including faculty, students, alumni and staff. The strategy works because when you build long-term relationships with individuals that the students know and trust, these individuals will help you in identifying and selling top students on your firm.
    • Remote recruiting. This strategy is designed to allow a firm to “cherry pick” the very best students from a number of universities without having to actually physically visit each one. The remote recruiting approach emphasizes the use of technology, the Internet and social networks to identify and assess college talent remotely.
    • Continuous graduate recruiting. This strategy is a long-term approach that focuses on “continuous recruiting” long after the top students have graduated. One element of this strategy is the “delayed recruiting approach” where you identify the best while they’re in college but you “wait” until your targeted college grads “stabilize” and are trained by another organization for two years prior to recruiting them. Other firms utilize this continuous recruiting approach because they are unattractive to college grads and can’t successfully compete on campus. However as grads mature, they might learn to consider the firm for their 2nd or 3rd job. Working closely with alumni associations is another key element in this approach.
    • Off-cycle recruiting. This strategy emphasizes the “over-hiring” of top college grads during slack periods when there is little competition. This is an excellent approach for firms that can’t successfully compete for the high quality grads during most years but can “clean up” when there is little or no competition in down years.
    • Global impact strategy. This approach emphasizes developing the capability to recruit the very best 1-3 students from every top school located around the world. The strategy uses a combination of remote Internet recruiting methods and traditional approaches using corporate staff located in key countries to identify and assess the best in every country that produces top students. Each of the available approaches must “flex” to meet the changing supply and demand of college hires. As competition for grads increases, it is essential that your strategy “scale up” to meet the increased aggressiveness and competition. When no one is recruiting, the strategy should scale back to save resources.
  3. Clear and measurable goals. Goals help everyone understand what they are working toward. Most traditional college efforts have simplistic goals like hire five interns and six EE majors. However, the goals of an advanced college recruiting program might include dominating the college market and getting a disproportionate number of exceptional students; building and maintaining a measurable competitive advantage in recruiting; building an employment brand that makes every targeted college student aware of your firm; the global capability to attract the best from every country around the world; and to win every “head to head” fight with our talent competitors over top targets.
  4. Employment brand. In advanced recruiting, your external image as a “great place to work” is the cornerstone of the approach. Executing a formal plan to become an “employer of choice,” so that every college kid has heard of you and wants to know more about you, is the most critical element of advanced college recruiting. Google is the model to follow when it comes to employment branding. Key elements of college branding include winning “best place to work” awards, placing on the “best place to start a career” list, being written up for your best practices in media that your targeted students read, having executives speak on campus, and scoring high on the Universum employer brand ranking when compared to others in your industry.
  5. Identifying top students to target. Advanced recruiting dramatically expands the number of available approaches for identifying top students by adding a comprehensive Internet component. Traditionally, students were identified through scholarships, and assessment of those who attended your information sessions. Advanced identification tools include the use of student and grad assistant referrals, online and on-campus contests, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and online forums. Other advanced sourcing approaches include using campus professional clubs and honor society meetings to identify talent and having interns act as on-campus recruiting ambassadors.
  6. Convincing top students to apply. Advanced recruiting puts a lot of emphasis on having multiple “selling” approaches. These selling approaches are designed to get students to take the specific action of formally applying for a position on your website or signing up for campus interviews. Some of the advanced approaches that firms can use to get their message out to college students include blogs written by recruiters and employees, podcasts that highlight best points, and providing information to parents so they also encourage their child to apply. Other advanced ideas: compelling videos on your website or YouTube, texting recruiting messages, video games, encouragement from other students making referrals, and a separate corporate careers page that is designed specifically to WOW college students.
  7. Assessing their capabilities. The most traditional aspect of the “traditional approach” to recruiting are the face-to-face interviews that are scheduled through the Career Center. The advanced approach varies in that it also develops a process that allows you to interview students off campus. Additional features might include computerized online assessment, online Internet interviews, and using contests to assess. The most effective assessment process, on-the-job assessment, can occur during internships and by offering students short-term projects that they can complete remotely during college breaks.
  8. Making compelling offers. You can’t classify your approach to college recruiting as advanced unless you use some aggressive approaches. The foundation of the advanced approach is identifying each target’s “job acceptance criteria” and then tailoring the job offer so that best meets each of the criteria. Another approach on an advanced level are offers and direct calls from senior executives and recent hires at your firm to encourage them to accept.
  9. Metrics for improvement. Most traditional and knowledge recruiting systems are “dumb” because they don’t learn from bad hires and immediate turnover. Key college recruiting metrics should include candidate and hiring manager satisfaction, the overall quality of the candidates, the percentage of diversity hires, new hire performance on the job, and 1-, 2- and 5-year retention rates.

Final Thoughts

There is a growing chasm between the corporate Directors of College Recruiting who live in an “unchanging world” and those who realize there are now many more exciting approaches and strategies available to them.

Shifting your approach is even more necessary because the way that college students communicate with each other and outsiders is changing rapidly. The growth of the Internet and new technologies now allow college recruiting to do things that just weren’t possible before. I hope this “checklist” has helped you assess your current program and understand what you need to do to transition into über college recruiting.

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