Remote College Recruiting — Capturing Top Students From Schools You Don’t Visit

Many exceptional students probably do not attend the schools that you visit

If you assume that the best students only attend the top ranked schools, you are making a big mistake.

A while back I asked a recruiter at a large well-known network firm that recruited engineers at MIT, Caltech, and the other top-ranked technology schools to identify the single school who was attended by the best-performing engineers who were hired over the last five years. After running the data, the answer much to his surprise was “a second-tier state school.”

You can also find evidence that smaller schools produce top talent when you hear the players and their schools announced before any Super Bowl game. You’ll find that as many as 30 percent of the players did not attend a top-ranked “football power.” We also know that many top industry CEOs including Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, and Michael Dell didn’t attend prestigious Ivy League schools as undergrads. Research from Equilar demonstrated that if you look at the C-level executives working at Fortune 100 firms, rather than being concentrated in a few elite schools, instead they attended 300 different undergraduate schools, including 20 international universities. The study revealed that the University of Missouri at Columbia (hardly a top-tier school) produced 50 percent more executives than the highly ranked Dartmouth, Colgate, or UCLA.

The lesson to be learned is that there is an abundance of exceptional talent that can be found at dozens of schools. And the best part is that they can be successfully recruited without a single visit, using “remote college recruiting.”

The benefits of remotely recruiting the No. 1 student at a “non-top-10 school”

The first benefit of recruiting at, but not having to physically visit, non-top 10 schools starts with the time savings, because there is no travel time. You will likely also find markedly less competition for talent at these less-glamorous schools. You will find that these students that you recruit remotely have manageable egos and that they don’t demand to be immediately promoted to vice president. You will likely discover that they also have extremely reasonable salary expectations and that they are willing to work their way up as they learn.

Recruiting and communicating with them remotely almost guarantees that they are Internet and social media savvy. Finally, you can expect that these remote campuses often have much higher diversity rates than the “top schools.”

Remote recruiting is cheaper and at least as effective

The most serious limitation in college recruiting is that the traditional model requires corporations to physically visit the campus of their target schools in order to recruit. Physically sending both recruiters and hiring managers to campus for information sessions and for interviews is extremely expensive.

And if you are doing international college recruiting, you face the even longer time requirements and the expense of international travel. Those constraints mean that many corporations can’t recruit at international universities unless they happen to be close to one of your international facilities.

Even if you wanted to use the Career Center, it can be problematic because at many of the top campuses, you need to go through a sign-up process (and possibly a direct or indirect expectation of a donation) just for the right to interview students at their career center. Taken together, these limitations mean that college recruiting visits to distant colleges must be limited to a small number of universities. But it is now possible to identify, contact, interview, and close candidates remotely at any university, without ever visiting it.

Nestle Purina led the way in demonstrating that 100 percent remote college recruiting can produce measurably superior results (compared to campus visits) in a relatively short period of time. Once you decide to adopt remote college recruiting, even as a supplement to traditional recruiting, you will need the right tools in order to identify, sell, and assess the students remotely.

Identifying Top Prospects Remotely

You can identify student talent remotely using a variety of approaches. Start identifying top students by capturing their names from Dean’s lists, student awards, and honor society and student organization membership rolls (these are often posted online). Encouraging your technical employees to search the Internet for examples of high-quality student work (especially on Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube) can also be effective. Having your employees look for great questions and answers in online student oriented technical discussion forums is another approach to consider.

Students love blogs because they are authentic, so employee written blogs tailored to student interests should be posted on Tumblr or other blog sites those students frequent. A large percentage of students now have a LinkedIn profile, so with a recruiter’s access, it is extremely easy to identify them, based on their school and major. Posting instructional videos on YouTube and slide presentations on Slideshare (covering topics relative to their classes and assignments) have proven to be an effective way to attract students.

Offering a variety of virtual mini projects and internships or holding technical contests on the Internet and recruiting the winners is a great way to identify the best “not-looking-for-a-job” students. The most powerful identification approach is to use this year’s interns and recruits to make referrals of other students. Referrals are extremely effective because students are well connected across universities and even country boundaries. The most effective remote approach that I have used starts with placing a few phone calls to the department office of the major you are recruiting in order to get the name and contact information of the grad assistants of the top professors. Because they do grading, tutoring, and assessment, grad assistants not only know the students but (unlike faculty) they are more than willing to reveal the names of those who they have found to be outstanding (grad assistants are also ideal recruiting targets themselves because the professor handpicked them). You may also find that the professors at these less well-known and remotely located schools are extremely open to building virtual relationships with your managers and researchers. Over time, these strong faculty relationships may lead to the referral and even the encouragement of top students.

Building the Interest of the Identified Prospects at Universities You Can’t Afford to Visit

After you identify your student prospects, you have to build their interest. Start by doing market research to identify the factors that these remote students will use to determine if a company or job is desirable. Once you know those “excitement factors,” you can then send them stories, videos, and recruiting materials to demonstrate that your firm and your jobs meet these criteria.  Understand how they communicate, so send a sample of students a quick survey that identifies the channels of communication that your prospects favor. In almost all cases, the mobile phone works best because students carry it with them and answer it at all hours of the day. This mobile platform can handle all forms of communications including text messages, websites, videos, pictures, email, and voice.

Students also like to communicate and share on Facebook and Twitter. An exciting Facebook page can attract many students and convince them to “like” and follow you, and to share your firm’s information with their friends. And finally you can increase your visibility among students by offering employees and managers as remote speakers (via Skype) at their student events. Offer the officers of these student organizations a virtual mentor from among your recent college hires.

Convincing “Active” Students at Remote Universities to Apply

A percentage of remote student will be active job seekers. Once sold, merely posting your grad job openings will attract these actives; however, if your site allows them to apply directly through their mobile phone, your response rate will be much higher. There are also many Internet sites and job boards were you should post your jobs because active students will look there for internships, summer jobs, and jobs after graduation.

Convincing “Passive” Students at Remote Universities to Apply

“Passive students” who are not actively looking for a job after graduation generally fall into these groups: those going to grad school, entrepreneurs, night students, international students, underclass students, and online students. It may take some effort but once you gain the interest of passive students, they will likely visit your corporate Facebook or college webpage for more information. You may only get one chance, so they need to find it memorable and compelling. That means that obviously your page should answer all of their questions and provide “authentic” stories, pictures, videos, and blogs that are designed to further excite them.

Your college career page should also use the latest technology. Once you get remote students even partially interested, you can make them a member of your firm’s “student talent community,” which provides you with the opportunity to periodically “push” employer branding and job information to them. You can get to know students in-depth by holding online “office hours” or by offering your firm’s recent grads as virtual mentors.

Assessing Remote Students

Finding the basics about any student is now quite easy. Many students now post information that allow you to do some initial assessment and screening. Many post their resumes online; large percentages now have LinkedIn profiles or Facebook pages and a few even post their portfolios that can be used for an initial screening.

When an interview is required of a remotely located student, be aware that they are comfortable with using Skype or other live video tools on their mobile phone. While career center interviews did not allow for a second follow-up interview, multiple live Internet interviews are easy and cheap for remote students if you have follow-up questions. Alternatively, remote interviews can also be done without technology, using an online questionnaire. Or if you don’t need live interaction, you can send the students your interview questions and then have them make a video of their responses using their mobile phone camera.

Also remember that if your managers are not comfortable making a hiring decision remotely, you always have the option of flying the student to your headquarters, just as you might do with career center candidates.

You can assess the work of students at campuses you don’t visit by giving them small research projects or manageable technical problems to solve. Because internships are the most effective way to assess candidates, consider offering your top remote candidates a virtual internship project, which will often excite them while at the same time providing you with on-the-job performance information and team interactions to assess them on.

Final Thoughts

A combination of technology, social media, the Internet, a better understanding of metrics and the mobile phone have all converged so that we have dramatically changed the way that we recruit our experienced workers. Unfortunately, when it comes to college recruiting, most firms are still using a 20th-century model that overly relies on face-to-face meetings and interviews.

It takes a wake-up call but once college recruiting leaders see the data that reveals that the remote approach actually produces higher-quality hires, most are willing to try it. If you “run the numbers” at your own firm, you will learn that the No. 1 top grad at a second-tier school is likely to be a far superior performer and much easier to manage employee than the No. 20 ranked student that you had to settle for at a top-tier school.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

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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