December 16 , 2017

The Future of College Recruiting Will Be Dominated by Market Research (Part 2 of 2)

In part one of this two part series I indicated that now is an opportune time to evaluate new strategies and tools with regard to college recruiting.  Leading talent functions in corporations around the globe are migrating their approach to college recruiting away from being a game of chance to a more serious function that embraces cutting-edge marketing and sales tactics designed to deliver highly targeted students.

Establishing a science-based college recruiting program requires using market research to more thoroughly understand your recruiting target and to test time-honored assumptions that have guided efforts in years past.

This was the topic tackled in part one of this series.  Here, I’d like to explore using market research to empower direct sourcing (researching labor pools to identify target talent and reaching out to said talent prior to them submitting an application).

Steps of the Market Research Model Applied to Direct Sourcing

Use referrals to identify the very best — Referrals routinely produce the highest quality candidates and hires. For college recruiting, special programs can be established to reach out to faculty, staff, students, teaching assistants, alumni, and the references of previous top hires. When hires are made, be sure to personally thank those who made the referral. Over time, narrow down the list of possible program participants to focus on those who have a successful track record of identifying the top students.

Identify where you can view their qualifications — Direct sourcing requires that you not only be able to identify potential members of a labor pool, but also establish some knowledge of their qualifications.  Great universities (and even mediocre ones) often require students to collaborate on projects and in some disciplines publish their work.  Use your market research efforts to identify where students share, collaborate, and publish their work so that you can mine such sites to evaluate talent prior to making contact. Typical channels include social networking profiles, status updates, student websites, and university library archives. To find work published on publicly accessible servers, use Boolean searches that include target universities and knowledge domain-specific language.  Google Scholar indexes a number of information sources including student theses, online project repositories, and professional society publications.

Search “lists” that are likely to include the only the names of likely top prospects — Not all students will have work published in such a way that it can be discovered, so you will also have to rely on information that is indicative of someone being a top student.  Lists that identify honor society members, grant project members, faculty sponsored association leaders, case competition winners, etc., are a great place to start.  While some lists will be available for all schools, consider using your market research process to identify local lists that may not be available online.  Garnering access to some lists may require that you court friendly staff members, grad assistants, faculty, or former interns.

Tap the networks of identified students — No matter how exhaustive your research efforts, it is still highly probable that a number of exceptional students would go undiscovered.  For instance, relying solely on research that looks at academic results may overlook the student who is a workhorse on team projects but struggles with individual assignments.  When initial contact of directly sourced students proceeds, ask prospects:

  • Who else is very good in your class that often gets overlooked?
  • Which students look good on paper, but don’t fare well on projects?
  • If you were assembling a dream team comprised of your fellow students to accomplish _______, who would you want on the project and what role(s) would each person play.

Learn alternative approaches to name identification — Every day the world of social media introduces a new way to find and assess exceptional talent.  Many social networking tools establish a regional following long before they go national/international.  When conducting market research, be sure to identify the latest tools and online communities that target students are using.  Each recruiting season, revisit your list of sources, dropping those that are declining in value and adding others to evaluate.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Effort

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so every year you need to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts and look at the landscape of known talent competitors to see how you align.  While MGM Mirage and Colgate may not compete directly as businesses, when it comes to courting top students, they are certainly competitors, so toss your narrowly defined scope of competitors out the window.  Things to look at include:

  • The competitive landscape — Recruiting, like marketing, is not executed in isolation. You need to look at what other organizations are courting students from the same pools you are, and how their approach aligns with yours.  Whose process is more responsive not just to students’ needs, but also their wants?
  • Identify dropout factors — When students you court opt out of your process, find out why.  Is it something specific about the organization, the job, the individuals involved, etc? If the issue is something that can’t be resolved without significant organizational change, don’t lie and say that it can, but keep in mind that to prevent future failure the issue may need to be addressed.
  • Identify what worked — No organization can do everything possible well.  Ask students that advance the furthest (including those hired) what elements of your approach were the most influential, and invest more in those elements next term.  Also ask what didn’t influence them or did so negatively and drop those elements.

Final Thoughts

You cannot be a great angler without fully understanding the interests and the feeding habits of fish. Intuition or luck can result in occasional success, but predictable performance requires scientific approaches.

Rapid change is everywhere, and universities are not exempt. As business processes become more refined and effective, recruiting practitioners and leaders must be willing to adopt their successful tools and methods to what they do, CRM being just one of many business processes relevant in recruiting. The alternatives to changing are well understood and include declinging performance, declining budgets, declining perception of value/relevance, and ultimately becoming obsolete.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.