Bold Best Practices That You Should Add to Your University Recruiting Process

By Dr. John Sullivan and Kimberly N. Do

Corporate college recruiting budgets and processes have been mostly stagnant for years. But now the economy has turned around and the competition for grads is soaring. However, during this slack hiring period, many other important factors have been changing, including the expectations of graduating students and how they look for jobs.

University recruiting leaders should first “catch up” and modernize each of their existing recruiting process components. But simply catching up may not be enough. In order to guarantee that you can successfully hire the most-in-demand graduates, you must also add a handful of brand new bold best practices. These added bold and powerful practices that will not only re-energize your university recruiting program, but it will also make it stand out and be noticed by both graduating students and your corporate executives.

You can’t expect to see a dramatic improvement in your recruiting results unless you use bold new recruiting approaches that are also dramatically different.

Bold, Unique, And Powerful University Recruiting Practices to Consider Adopting

The following is a list of bold and high-impact recruiting practices to consider adding to your current process. These practices are certainly not in widespread use, but they are also not unproven because each one has been successfully implemented at least one major firm. The practices with the highest potential impact on a firm’s recruiting results are listed first.

The Top 12 Boldest High-Impact Practices in College Recruiting

Of all of the possible new practices to consider, these top ones stand out because they are bold and thus have the highest potential for generating a dramatic increase in recruiting results.

Shift to a data-driven college recruiting approach and add these metrics — the single added feature that is likely to have the highest business impact is shifting to a data-driven approach, where schools, tools, and students are selected using performance data. Every major business function long ago shifted to a model of decision making that relies on data and facts. But university recruiting has unfortunately acted like it was exempt from this widely accepted practice because it has skipped data and simply relied on established practices, even though they may no longer work. Key metrics that must be added include:

  • Quality of hire metrics — this critical measure covers the on-the-job performance, the retention rate, and the failure rate of new hires. Next, you must use this quality-of-hire metric as a basis for selecting the best schools, the credentials that predict success, who the best students are, the best assessment approaches, and the most effective recruiters.
  • A performance differential measure — if you need to justify spending the extra time and money in order to land top performers, measure the percentage improvement in the difference in the performance (the performance differential) between a top college hire and an average one.
  • Measure the success rate of each top-tier school — in order to determine if the extra time and money required are worth it, measure school effectiveness. Weak-performing schools should be dropped periodically.
  • Candidate experience metrics — add these to ensure that your candidates are treated well so that their negative social media comments don’t hurt your employer brand.
  • Forward-looking predictive metrics — rather than relying solely on historical metrics (i.e. we hired 22 students last year), predictive metrics also need to be added. Predictive metrics are extremely valuable because they alert you about upcoming recruiting problems and opportunities.
  • Cost per hire — we don’t normally recommend calculating the cost per hire in recruiting. However, it is necessary in the college recruiting case, because we have seen programs that cost more than $40,000 per hire.

Add a “refer-a-student” component to your college recruiting process — employee referral programs have proven to be the most effective of all recruiting programs in many important areas, including new hire quality, hiring volume, and speed of hire. Yet most college programs unexplainably have no referral component, even though students are well connected both on and between campuses.

Referrals are effective because so many students, professionals, and scholars in the college community already know of the superior students. Corporate-sponsored student referral programs should seek referrals from your firm’s newly hired students, your interns, your current recruiting targets, and your employees and their families. And from among the campus community, firms should solicit referrals from grad assistants, student organization leaders, on-campus ambassadors, and tutors. Firms that have operated effective college referral programs have only needed to offer small rewards or prizes in order to entice high quality referrals.

Add more scientific candidate screening and assessment approaches — research from Google has shown that interviews are frequently weak predictors of on-the-job success. Fortunately, as the Internet develops, there are an increasing number of new ways to assess students. Internet contests that include a real problem have proven to be quite effective in the tech world in finding top students and then accurately assessing their abilities. On-campus or virtual hackathons have also proven to be a great draw, as well as an effective assessment approach.

There are also many emerging skill-assessment sites which can accurately and remotely assess a variety of technical and soft skills. Some firms including KPMG have begun using simulations to assess student skills, and eventually firms will follow the Army’s lead in developing virtual reality simulations (similar to a video game format) for attraction and assessment.

Grad assistants may be the most accurate identifiers of student talent — many mistakenly think that professors would be the best source for identifying top students (because they see so many students). However, our research has found that it is the graduate or teaching assistants of the best professors who actually excel at identifying top talent. This is because they spend even more time than professors in direct coaching, advising, and tutoring students. And in addition, they see students in situations where leadership and team skills are exposed.

Grad assistants can be identified remotely, and firms like Valero have found that their referrals are both inexpensive and incredibly accurate. As an added benefit, grad assistants are also extremely effective at convincing the best students to apply for your internships and positions. Grad assistants should themselves be recruited because they have been handpicked by their professors.

Add an on-campus student ambassador program — any campus recruiting program would be dramatically strengthened if the firm could afford to place a full-time recruiter on the campus. Fortunately, there is an alternative way to create a full-time campus presence, and that is with a student ambassador program. This approach converts your summer interns into volunteer ambassadors for the firm during the semesters when they return to campus.

While they are on campus, ask them to spread your employer brand message continually during classroom discussions and at the meetings of student groups. Ambassadors can also work to get your firm’s managers and employees invited as speakers and classroom project evaluators. Firms like Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm have all found their ambassadors to be highly effective.

Also target students who are not actively looking for a job — don’t assume that all college students are actively looking for a job in their graduation year. We estimate that on average, about 25 percent of the students in a targeted major are not looking and are passive about immediately getting a job. They are not looking for variety of reasons, including grad school, creating a startup, or they are planning to return to the business that sponsored their education. Perhaps they simply wanted to devote themselves to their studies and thus they will postpone looking for a job until after graduation and perhaps after some time off.

You won’t be able to identify these non-lookers through the career center, and they will not look at job postings. So use referrals and social media pages to identify these individuals and then talk them out of their current plans and convince them to instead work at your firm.

Re-focus your recruiting messaging/communications on the mobile platform — use the channels that students prefer (and not your own preferences). During the last few years, the largest of all changes in university recruiting involves how students communicate. The mobile phone now dominates student communications. This domination occurs because students now carry their mobile phone with them 24/7 and they respond to messages on it faster than any other communications channel. If you want your recruiting message to be seen and a response, you must send it in such a way that it can be received and responded to over the mobile phone. The phone can be used for many types of recruiting communications and messages, including text messages, tweets, recruiting videos, social media messaging, virtual hangouts, pictures, email, and even voice messages.

Another serious upgrade is needed if you want college students to apply for your open jobs. You now have no choice: your corporate college careers website must be mobile-phone friendly. And students must also be able to 100 percent complete an intern/job application using only their mobile phone, like the benchmark firms Sodexo, AT&T, and McDonald’s.

Adopt an “extended recruiting” approach — even the best recruiting efforts will only hire a small percentage of the students on their target list. However, if you take a long-term view of recruiting, meaning “I’ll get them eventually,” it makes sense to extend the college recruiting process so you can have a second shot at the students you missed on graduation date. Under this extended recruiting approach, you still try your best to recruit your top targets as seniors. However, if you fail, you extend the recruiting process and keep in touch and build a relationship with these targets even though they now work for another firm. After waiting patiently for one or two years, you then ask them directly if they are ready for a change. You will often find that many of your targets are now disillusioned with their first-choice firm and that they are now anxious to try a different alternative (which may be your firm).

Delayed hiring has an added advantage in that you get the same student who you originally targeted, but they are now trained, more mature, and hopefully more focused.

Develop the capability of recruiting remotely (without visiting the campus) — if you look at pro sports, you will quickly recognize that many of the best athletes do not attend the top sports-oriented universities in the U.S. And firms like Cisco and Google have found that the top engineering students don’t always come from the top-tiered engineering schools. And even if you had unlimited recruiting budget, you could still only physically visit more than a dozen campuses.

Include in your recruiting plan the capability of identifying and hiring top students remotely from any college around the world. You can now cost-effectively spread your message, identify, video interview, and hire top talent from any campus without a visit. Your firm can easily become visible to students by spreading your employer brand message through blogs, being ranked as a top firm on lists / social media. You can find top students remotely by finding their work online, through Internet contests, during online meetings, online “office hours,” referrals, on LinkedIn, and offering virtual “mini-project” opportunities to individuals and student teams. Firms like Nestle Purina have found that shifting to a 100 percent remote recruiting model can result in both cost savings and in higher quality candidates.

Be willing to personalize recruiting messages and jobs — as the demand for top college candidates has increased, the number of recruiting messages that they receive have also grown dramatically. The net result is that many candidates have become oblivious to spamming with generic recruiting messages. And now the only ones that they even notice are messages that accidentally or purposely mention something that they are intensely interested in. So rather than sending one-size-fits-all generic messages, smart recruiters are learning to personalize their recruiting messages. That personalization might include a personalized video from the team, a handwritten note, or a message that specifically covers their background and that covers each of the factors that would likely interest them in a new job opportunity.

We call this personalized approach “artisanal recruiting.”And after the recruiting is done, don’t be surprised when top candidates expect that even “their job” will be customized for them. This might sound arrogant for college students to expect a customized job, but if you really want candidates with multiple offers, personalization is essential. And because limited resources mean that you can’t personalize every job or candidate experience, the prioritization of candidates and jobs to determine who gets a high level of personalization will become even more essential.

Convince your CEO to make calls to hot student prospects — perhaps the most powerful “convincing tool” in university recruiting is having a powerful and influential person call top students in order to influence them. A personalized call from the CEO would make any individual student feel important, but it might also send a message that they would have a friend in high places if they joined the firm. The most difficult part of this approach is convincing the senior executives of the ROI and the many business impacts resulting from their devoting even a few minutes of their time to college recruiting. These types of calls have had an extremely high success rate at firms like Microsoft, Whirlpool, Google, Ernst & Young, and Apple.

Add a buddy-hire program where you “hire them both” — friendship and an interest in working together is a powerful draw. So if you’re really feeling bold, consider this variation of the successful U.S. military recruitment programs. The “hire them both” approach is only used when you encounter a truly exceptional candidate who is difficult to convince. You simply ask them if they have a strong desire to work with a close friend or spouse. If so, you offer to hire them both at the same time.

Final Thoughts

One of our goals in writing this article was to expose the reader to numerous bold, innovative, and unique approaches to university recruiting. The hope was that the list would excite recruiting leaders enough so that they would eventually implement a few. Some of the recommended approaches like recruiting metrics and referrals are not new in recruiting, but for some reason they are inexplicably rare in university recruiting. The recruiting tools and approaches listed here can also be accurately classified as bold, and even aggressive.

Bold and aggressive approaches are required when you’re competing against powerhouse firms like Google for the top graduates. If, however, you decide that the listed approaches are simply “too bold and aggressive” for you, your unnecessarily low level of conservatism may be causing your corporation millions of dollars in lower quality hires and lost graduates. Next week’s companion article on 8/24/15 — “Moderate Practices That Can Improve University Recruiting” — provides a list of these more moderate tools.

Related reading: This is also a companion article to “What’s Wrong With College Recruiting? – Identifying The Out Of Date Program Features,” and covering how to update your current recruiting program features.

As seen on ERE Media on 8/17/2015.

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.

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