College Recruiting — Capturing ‘Passive’ Students Who Don’t Visit the Career Center

How Your Current College Approach Misses Top Talent 

Unlike modern “experienced hire” recruiting, most college recruiting is neither scientific nor data-driven. A majority of college programs run on tradition, which means that they rely almost exclusively on students attending information sessions and then interviewing students through the campus career center.

Unfortunately, relying primarily on the career center will cause you to miss out on as much as 50 percent of the undergraduate campus population.

The reason that the traditional approach now misses so many students is because the nature of college students and the college experience have changed dramatically over the last few years. Students are no longer a homogenous group where everyone is actively seeking a job. What is needed instead is a modern “segmented recruiting approach” that is designed to capture the many students who the career center model will miss. This ignored group includes “passive” non-job seeking students, those going to grad school, entrepreneurs, students getting online degrees, older students who feel out of place in the career center, night students, students at campuses you can’t afford to visit, and fresh/sophomores who are not yet eligible for CCC interviews.

This article describes how you can dramatically improve your college recruiting results by also targeting these “passive students” who, because they are not actively seeking an immediate job, cannot be identified or recruited through the campus career center.

In a follow-up companion article next week, I will cover “Remote College Recruiting — Capturing Top Students From Schools You Don’t Visit.”

Recruiting “Passive Students” Who Are Less Likely to Use the Career Center

The large segment of the student population who are often missed by the traditional career center model includes six groups of highly desirable students. Those groups include:

Highly desirable “going-to-grad-school” students who are not active job seekers

When recruiting experienced talent, everyone knows that there are two categories of prospects: “active” and “passives,” with the latter group requiring a completely different approach in order to attract them. Many college recruiting leaders fail to recognize that a significant percentage of college students must be classified as passive.

After 35 years on college campuses, I have found that as much as 30 percent of the “soon-to-graduate” student population are not actively looking for a job. Rather than calling them passives, a more accurate description of this segment is “not actively looking” or “not currently seeking a job.” This segment may in fact contain the highest percentage of top students because many in this group are not actively looking because they have decided to go on to grad school. This grad school segment is highly desirable because in many cases faculty members have assessed their potential and then actively encouraged them to go to grad school. This group is highly qualified because they couldn’t get into grad school without great grades, solid coursework, great recommendations, and high test scores.

With their focus on grad school, most of these students would not even consider enduring the career center routine, so they could not be recruited using traditional “active” approaches.

In addition to those going to grad school, entrepreneurs, night students, international students, and online students are likely to be missed because they are not active job seekers. I will cover each of these groups in subsequent sections.

Entrepreneurs would likely avoid the career center 

Another segment of this “not-actively-looking” graduating population includes the extremely desirable entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own firm. A related group includes “startup mentality” grads who are focused at least initially on joining a startup (startup firms often do not qualify for interviews at the career center). This segment of students would likely include a high percentage of innovators and outside-the-box thinkers, traits that are desperately needed in the corporate world. Obviously convincing entrepreneurs, innovators, and “startup types” to take a job in the corporate world will take some effort and a recruiting approach that is targeted to this segment. Incidentally, I have found that these innovators and outside-the-box thinkers expect any corporate recruiting approach that they encounter to be full of innovation and outside-the-box approaches.

Night students with experience may also be “non-active job seekers” 

Many night students already have a full-time job, and as many as half of them have their tuition paid by their current employer. As a result, rather than looking for a new job at the career center, they are instead more likely to be looking for a promotion at their current firm. This segment of the student population is highly desirable because they have that magic combination of successful work experience and a current college degree. Once again, it takes a targeted recruiting approach to identify and convince these currently employed students to consider a job at another firm.

International students are less likely to be active job seekers

Some of the top universities have as many as 10 percent of their student population made up of visiting international students. International students are extremely valuable as recruits because they are diverse, they probably know several languages, and they obviously have international experience. Although some of them will try to get a job through the career center, most will not because they fully intend to return to their home country and often to their family business.

Others will not try to get a job through the USA-oriented career center because they assume that the “need-a-visa” issue will make it unlikely that many majors will ultimately succeed. Because they are not actively looking for a job, once again it will take a targeted effort to identify the top international students and a powerful selling approach to convince them to consider working for a U.S. corporation, whether here or at an international location.

Online and remote students are unlikely to sign up for interviews at the career center

The student population has changed dramatically over the last few years to the point where as many as 25 percent of graduating students at major universities may not physically be located on the same campus as the career center. The largest number of students in this segment are probably online students who are unlikely to be able to afford to physically visit campus for interviews. This online group would also include highly desirable military personnel who, because they are still in service, simply can’t interview at the career center. These online students are highly desirable because they have proven that they can comfortably learn and communicate using the Internet and social media.

Also included in this group of students are those attending school at the increasingly common “satellite campuses” of a major university. The students may be equally as good as the students studying on the main campus, but once again, they are less likely to be able to physically attend information sessions or two visit the career center.

Underclass students are not “active” nor are they eligible for career-center interviews

The traditional undergraduate college recruiting approach focuses on graduating seniors, but that approach is problematic in today’s extremely aggressive world of college recruiting. While most firms still focus on graduating seniors, the more aggressive firms have found that the best students are long gone before their senior year. As a result, the elite firms like Google, Deloitte, and EY have already shifted to a model that subtly recruits underclass students (freshmen and sophomores). Some of these underclass students will be hired immediately because an increasing number of firms (including Google and Facebook) now actively hire people who have not finished their college degrees. Obviously this early capture approach bypasses the career center, and attempts to build relationships and their employer brand with these underclassmen long before the students can be classified as active job seekers.

Lessons to be learned about relying exclusively on the career center

Whether you recruit through the career center or not, there are a large number of top-quality students who simply can’t be reached through information sessions and career-center scheduled interviews. And once you understand that there is little competition for this group of high-quality students, most leaders quickly realize that they need a recruiting plan that is designed specifically to identify, assess, and sell this segment of the college population. And eventually, most will also learn that you can recruit this segment remotely, without visiting campus.

Final Thoughts

It only takes a small amount of marketing research to demonstrate that the college population is no longer homogeneous, and as a result, a significant portion of the college population cannot be recruited using the traditional career center approach. Because this group of “passives” includes “the best of the best” (adults with experience and those going on to grad school), it is a group that simply can’t be passed up.

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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