The Entrepreneurial College Student

Recently I had an interesting conversation with David Morris of The Seedling Group about college students who espouse the entrepreneurial spirit. The Seedling Group identifies these candidates for their clients and provides the candidates with lifelong support in finding opportunities which match their abilities and goals. Mr. Morris and I both agreed on one thing: these candidates are hard to find, important to recruit, and can be a huge asset to companies of all sizes. Who Are These People? Let’s take a look at the type of student who fits our description. Mr. Morris describes them as self-starters who are resourceful, driven, and energetic. He goes on to talk about the most important characteristic they possess: passion. These are students who focus their energy like a laser and accomplish incredible goals. They are able to translate that passion into other endeavors, and are often involved in much more than academic activities and the traditional extracurriculars. Ask the entrepreneurial-type student to describe something he or she is passionate about, and you’ll find that student has not only an answer but a great deal more to tell you. You’ll see their excitement rise as they answer that question. From an employer’s point of view, these students translate into star employees. They take their passion and put it to work for you. As Mr. Morris points out, their passion often means steeper learning curves. Their energy and resourcefulness can be infectious in a team setting, bringing up the achievement of the entire group. Individually, they will be creative problem solvers, innovators, and high achievers. So Where Do You Find These Great Candidates? I agree with Mr. Morris when he says these candidates are a little more work to identify. You’ll find them, however, if you spend some time on campus. Talk to the professors, the student organizations, and career services. Find out who wins the awards or gets written up in the school paper. Pretty soon, you’ll notice the same set of names coming up over and over again. This is your short list of candidates. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> You’ll want to be aggressive in getting to know these candidates and finding out what their goals are relative to the goals of your company. These are the type of people who want to tie their own goals to the larger goals of the organization. They will identify with, and therefore work long-term for, organizations who share their goals and value. Spend some time getting to know these candidates. In addition to the traditional interview, invite them to social events with your key staff members. This will serve two goals. First of all, it sends a clear message to the candidates that you are serious enough about recruiting them to take time out of the schedule of your key players. Second, star employees are the best at identifying star candidates. Put them together and then listen to what your employees have to say about these students. Mr. Morris also suggests bringing them to the workplace. He encourages more than just an on-site interview or job shadow day. Bring these students into meetings and encourage them to participate. Of course, you’ll want to alert your staff that the student is coming and choose the meetings carefully. While confidentiality issues are paramount, make sure the meetings are interactive enough to give the candidate the opportunity to speak. This is an excellent way to see what they have to offer and their ability to overcome a stressful setting and share their ideas. But Don’t They Want To Work For Start-Ups? Now, when we talk about entrepreneurial types, most people think of students who want to either start their own companies or work for small start-ups. While this is partially true, it is because those types of opportunities describe the work environment which tap into what motivates these candidates and gives them increasingly responsibility quickly. An established firm can offer these candidates the same type of opportunity, if the job is designed well. As established firms are creating divisions to address Internet ventures, this type of candidates are ideal for positions in such departments. When you are creating jobs for these students, you will focus on both short-term tasks and long-term career potential. You want to retain these candidates; creating interesting work and increasing responsibility is the path to retention success. Providing them with interesting work doesn’t necessarily mean the top high-profile projects. These employees want to learn; they want to apply new skills; and they want to be challenged constantly to reach for new goals. They want to see the results of their labor. Invite them to meetings with high-level staff, even if they are only observers. It is exposure and learning they are interested in gaining. If you provide them with those opportunities and the ability to work as autonomously as is reasonable, these candidates will be easy to retain. Be clear and aggressive with their long-term career opportunities. From the recruiting process through employment, these candidates want to know where they can go and what will be required of them to reach the top. Many firms focus a great deal on “paying your dues” and not enough on what you’ll get if you do. Be up-front about what types of career paths lie ahead and the time frames to achieve them. As an organization, consider shortening those time frames for your truly stellar people. You need to be structured enough to prepare employees for the next level of responsibility but flexible enough not to be tied to a system that holds people back. They’ll Be Your Leaders Tomorrow Organizations of every size and industry express concerns over developing a pool of potential leaders. Recruiting, training, and retaining these entrepreneurial candidates is a key step in achieving that goal. If you look back on how we defined this type of candidate and what they bring to the organization, it fits many of the needs for an organizational leader. These candidates may be a little more difficult and expensive to recruit today. However, the long-term benefit of having these employees will most certainly filter down into bottom-line success.

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Maggie Ruvoldt ( runs, a website devoted to helping students and employers find each other and to maximizing the internship and entry-level job experience for both. Ms. Ruvoldt also consults for organizations developing college recruiting and internship programs. Ms. Ruvoldt is also working towards completing the Masters Program in Human Resource Management at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. More information about her work, consulting services, and job listings can be found at