Moderate Practices That Can Improve Your University Recruiting

By Dr. John Sullivan and Kimberly N. Do

As college recruiting heats up, it’s an ideal time to re-examine your strategy, processes, and recruiting methods. First update all of your existing approaches. But when you’re ready, add some brand-new tools to your mix. If your firm is not ready for bold and aggressive university recruiting approaches, this article provides an array of more moderate practices that you should consider adopting.

15 Moderate But Effective College Recruiting Practices You Should Consider

The moderate practices with the highest potential impact are listed first.

  1. Be willing to accept online profiles as an alternative to resumes — social media profiles like those found on LinkedIn have many positive features. They are easy to find, more accurate than resumes (because of their public visibility), more current (because the owner receives prompts urging them to complete them), and they have a defined structure that makes comparing two students side by side easy. As a result, most graduating college students have an updated one. In direct contrast, you have to ask students for a resume, and it is often delayed before the updated version is ready. Firms should realize the inherent weaknesses of resumes and start accepting LinkedIn profiles in lieu of resumes, at least for the initial application process.
  2. Use candidate research to understand their job acceptance criteria and their job search process — if you expect to attract and sell in-demand talent, you must know the company and job factors that your targets consider important. You can identify what we call their job-acceptance criteria by using a process that we call candidate research. Candidate research borrows the market research techniques of focus groups and online surveys to identify the key factors that individual candidates care about. Rather than generalizing, realize that every top student’s wants and needs are different. Candidate research can also add value by discovering the typical process that your targeted students use to actually find a job. Once you know the steps that they take in the sites they use, you can engineer your recruiting process to match how and where they look for a job. Knowing where they see, read, or view job postings and job-related information can make your recruiting more precise and effective.
  3. Provide a side-by-side comparison sell sheet — the most in-demand students are considering several firms. So it makes sense to proactively help students see how your firm stands out. Start by surveying your own employees and recent hires in order to determine which factors they care about and how your firm rates on each factor compared to your talent competitors. Each year, compile this “sell sheet” and give it to your recruiters and hiring managers so they can fully understand and sell candidates in the areas where your firm excels compared to others. Pretest it to make sure that it is effective and credible. Cisco was one of the first firms to develop a “brag sheet.”
  4. Add a “find-their-work” process and Internet contests to source — using resumes as the primary mechanism for identifying the best students to recruit can be problematic. This is because great students often don’t take the time to build or update their resume, and instead they simply want their work to speak for them. In fact, reviewing the work of students is an excellent approach for both finding and assessing top students, and it has the added advantage in that it provides your firm with an opportunity to discover some new ideas and approaches. Fortunately, with the growth of the Internet and social media, it is now possible to find the actual work of many students. Start by talking to recent hires and applicants and ask them where they would post their work. Also ask your employees to make referrals when they see impressive student work online during the course of the workday. Some places to consider when looking for their work include writing on blogs, YouTube instructional videos, pictures on Instagram, answers on forums and question sites like Quora, and their own personal website or social media pages. Firms like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and many startups have held Internet contests that allow them to find both “hidden students” and usable solutions in your firm’s areas of interest. Incidentally, the fact that you reviewed the student’s work will likely peak your target student’s interest in your firm. Because these contests are generally anonymous, they reduce a great deal of bias from the selection process.
  5. Add virtual internships and projects to your offerings —internships are literally the best way to both assess and sell a college student. But traditional internships are limited because most students can only participate in the summer. Some students are simply unwilling or unable to travel to your internship sites, and you may physically only have office space for a limited number. An alternative that has none of those problems is the virtual internship. Virtual internships can be offered during any time that the student is available and can travel, and office space is obviously not an issue. Providing virtual internships starts with identifying projects or problems that both parties are interested in. The firm then selects an internship supervisor who works with the student to develop learning goals, a learning plan with milestone measures, and a continuous feedback component. Virtual projects are similar, but they are normally of a relatively short duration. And in some cases, the student is allowed to select teammates to form a virtual team. Whirlpool was one of the first firms to offer these types of opportunities to students.
  6. Offer virtual mentors in order to build relationships — one of the most effective approaches for recruiting in-demand students is to build a relationship between them and an employee over time. One of the best ways to build relationships is by offering the student a mentor from your firm. Supplement your traditional face-to-face mentor approach with a virtual or e-mentor program. Start by putting together a mentorship plan with learning goals, milestone measures, limits on the time required, and a list of what is okay and what is not allowed. Solicit mentors internally from among volunteers, recent new college hires, recruiters, or any of your employees who are alumni of the school that your target is attending.
  7. Offer online hangouts or meetups with students — on-campus information sessions are a traditional but expensive way for getting to know students and more about your company. The reality is that students now get most of their information about the firm on the Internet. Supplement these information sessions with virtual meetings where a variety of your students and employees can attend remotely. Google calls them “Hangouts” while others call them meet-ups, but the premise is the same. These sessions can be like “Ted Talks” or they can be simple question-and-answer exchanges. Because a physical room, travel, and coordination with the university are not required, hangouts can be scheduled at multiple times during the year. Virtual hangouts have another advantage in that they demonstrate to students that your firm is tech savvy. Nestle Purina and Duke University has successfully used Google Hangouts to speak with students.
  8. Post your jobs on niche college job boards — traditionally students seeking open jobs had only three choices: the campus career center job listings, career fairs, and visiting the college career website of each firm they were interested in. Now students realize that they can visit a single niche college job board website and find out about the college job openings at almost every firm. It means that a job-seeking student on a campus who doesn’t receive a lot of college recruiters can in one spot find out what college jobs are open. This niche focus and one-stop advantage makes it worthwhile for organizations to also post their job openings on niche sites like CollegeRecruiter, College.Monster, and Collegegrad.
  9. Offer anonymous question-and-answer sites for students — some students don’t apply for a job because they are unsure about some aspect of the firm. Although they are somewhat interested, they are afraid or too embarrassed to ask a question whose answer might clinch the deal. One of the best ways to overcome these roadblocks is providing an anonymous opportunity to ask potentially embarrassing questions on their corporate web or social media site. By allowing students to ask questions using only a pen name or a number, you increase the likelihood that they will apply for one of your jobs (of course they must like your answers). The only major drawback to this approach is that the firm must assign someone who can answer the questions promptly. Of course, the firm must be willing to answer tough questions where both the question and the answer will be visible to the public.
  10. Demonstrate that your large firm has the same desirable features as startups —when you are seeking the highly desirable but hard-to-recruit innovator, you must realize that one of your main talent competitors are startup firms. Many large firms falsely assume that they can successfully compete against startups, but the reality is that they can (for example, Google offers employees freedom with its 20 percent time). Start by talking to your new hires and applicants who strongly considered joining a start up and identify the factors that they liked and didn’t like about startups. Work with your innovator employees to identify the things that your firm does that make it “startup like.” Identify the factors that make your organization “too corporate” and work with management to reduce them, at least for new college hires.
  11. Realize that exam periods are ideal times to show you are empathetic — the time periods around midterms and final exams are often the times where students get distracted by pondering their career future. Even though you can’t do serious recruiting during exam periods, you can get the attention of students by showing that you have empathy for them during this stressful period. One of the best ways not to be intrusive, but to get your name mentioned, is to learn from Google, which championed the concept of distributing free pizza at major universities during final exams. The message to students is clear: “we think like you and we understand your needs. So when you’re looking for a job at a company that understands you, consider us.” Offering free food to get noticed during student orientation may also be a good idea, and free ice cream during hot days and hot chocolate during cold days may also be effective food options to consider.
  12. Offer practical training sessions for students — when students get closer to graduation, many realize that they lack enough practical knowledge to get a job. In order to gain recognition and build relationships with students, several accounting firms and Google have designed and supported seminars and short courses that cover practical topics that are not in the regular college curriculum. These mini-courses can be offered on campus, near campus, or online. In addition to gaining knowledge, students get a chance to interact with your employees and learn how you do business.
  13. Use “exploding offers” to improve your deal closing — two of the primary problems are convincing “in-demand” candidates to accept your firm’s offer quickly, and to get them to actually still show up to work on their start date. One of the most powerful tools in recruiting is the exploding offer, which is a form of sign-on bonus designed to get candidates to say yes very quickly. If the exploding offer is not accepted on the same day, the bonus is immediately reduced and the bonus continually decreases over the next few days without a decision. And eventually, it goes away completely. Exploding offers act to decrease first-day no-shows because the individual has accepted money from the firm, so they are now mentally and legally obligated to show up.
  14. Build your employer brand by using videos to reveal the excitement — because not all firms offer products or services that appear on the outside to be exciting, some students assume that working at these types of firms and government organizations would be boring. You can overcome that negative image by finding a way to reveal the excitement at your firm. Often the best way to do that is through posting employee-generated videos that show an individual employee’s view of the excitement in their job and work team. One of the reasons these videos are so effective is because students are enamored with videos (one study shows that 84 percent of them view videos on YouTube). They also work because they are not shot professionally nor edited. Their roughness actually increases their authenticity. Companies should sponsor employee reveal-the-excitement contests, or ask interns and new hires to create these videos. Employees should also be encouraged to post instructional videos in the technical areas that students are studying. The videos can be posted on the company website or on a YouTube channel. Micro videos can also be attached to tweets and other social media messages. Deloitte, the U.S. Army, Microsoft, and Google have used YouTube to post videos of their firms.
  15. Provide uncertain STEM grads with more time to decide their focus area — a significant percentage of technical college grads aren’t sure about what job they really want to pursue. The fear that they will be permanently “locked in” to what may end up being the wrong field for them causes them to not pursue job openings where the position descriptions are so narrowly defined. What they want is more flexibility and the ability to learn more about a job before they are locked into it long-term. Cisco has initiated a program that is known as “Cisco Choice” (Facebook has a similar first-job-choice program), which is designed to give new technology grads more time to make their final job choice. The key word here is “choice” because at the end of the program’s extended onboarding process, amazingly the new hire gets to choose their engineering department, manager, and job.

The Benchmark Firms In College Recruiting to Learn From

It may not be enough to rely on the recommended bold practices that we have provided in this article. The best firms are continually innovating and adding even newer, bolder recruiting tools and approaches. So if you want to continually learn, benchmark the best and maintain a competitive advantage in the area of university recruiting. These firms are listed not only because they routinely raise the bar, but also because they have been open enough about their practices so others can learn from them. Here is a list of the firms that we have identified as leading-edge firms:

Google

PwC

E&Y

Goldman Sachs

KPMG

Deloitte

Microsoft

Procter & Gamble

Nestle Purina

Whirlpool

Final Thoughts

One of our goals in writing this article was to make the reader aware that there are a significant number of approaches to university recruiting that are new to most firms and moderate enough to gain approval from conservative executives. Select a few practices to implement that best fit your culture. Whatever you do, act quickly before your competitors have a chance to get a head start.

Related reading: There are two companion articles that are related to this one. The first is entitled “What’s Wrong With College Recruiting? – Identifying The Out-0f-Date Program Features”, which covered how to update your current recruiting program features. ERE.net published it on 8/10/15. The second companion article was published on ERE.net on 8/17/15 and it was entitled “Bold Best Practices In University Recruiting.”

As seen on ERE Media on 8/24/2015.

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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