Innovative Strategies for Identifying/Finding the Best College Students

Holding interviews at a career center might get you a lot of students, but probably not the best ones you need to attract. Finding the very best students is actually quite easy if you use a focused strategy. Here are some advanced strategies that are guaranteed to help you identify the cream of the crop:

    1. Hire “on campus” representatives (students in HR or the key major you are targeting) to help you gather information and interested students in our program. Use your summer interns as full time on-campus reps and recruiters. Identify officers of student groups as possible reps. Give reps “take a friend/great student to lunch” coupons to help them identify the best students. Identify “opinion leaders” in key academic programs and make them reps or sell them on the value of your firm.


  1. Go to “second-tier” schools with large diversity populations and “international” universities to “cherry pick” the top talent where there is little competition. The competition for the best students at top schools is Intense. Although the talent is thinner at second-tier Schools, the top 1% are likely to be as good as all but the very best at top schools. Targeting them is easier and the odds of getting a top student are much greater. Identify local schools and track how the hires from there do against the “big name” schools.
  2. Find the best faculty to make referrals. The best “academic” professors might not know the best talent because they have little student contact. Look at the best teachers (from student evaluations) and grad assistants to help you find the best. Faculty that teach elective, honors, senior level and graduate classes are often superior in making referrals. Professors that also teach in executive education and do consulting are excellent targets. If you are looking for research-oriented students, look for the professors (and Post-Doc’s) with the most grants, Ph.D. students or publications in top journals. Track the referrals over time to make sure they work out at the company. Offer referral bonuses as appropriate.
  3. Incent superstar students (and student groups) to identify and refer other star students. The best students know each other. Offer referral bonuses or prizes to your recent college hires that find the best from this year’s class.
  4. Centralized career/placement centers are often a “waste” for targeted hiring (unless your data shows that they are effective). They are so far removed from the academic departments, they often have no inside information on the best students, other then their GPA’s. (I know they are nice people but they are just too far removed from the students). Focus your resources on targeted departments and faculty.
  5. Newspaper ads only sell “average” students. It takes substance to sell the best. Ads do, however, tell students you are in town and can help build your brand. Consider the use of billboards, ads at sporting events, bag inserts at the bookstore and similar tools to build awareness of your firm.
  6. Give prospective hires “between semester” projects (paid) to help identify the best and to give the students financial support.
  7. Identify faculty internship coordinators and ask them for referrals of students that have done exceptional internships.
  8. Offer scholarships and use the biographical information
  9. Career fairs work best if you are trying to get non-technical majors, juniors and “average students to know you. The best seniors and grad students don’t need them. Often they are so crowded that even the best firms (and candidates) are easily lost in the “flood.” Hold virtual career fairs as a substitute. Don’t rely on resume “books” because they are seen by too many people to offer any competitive advantage.
  10. Assessing student talent can also be done through observing in class presentations, cases and projects. Offer to be a “professional” assessor to faculty.
  11. Develop web sites where students can go to find out their skill levels, the degree that they are prepared for employment, as well as to find out which types of jobs might fit their interests. Capture those with high scores and offer them on-line opportunities to sign up with a mentor at your firm. Consider making it into a fun video game format (or a simulation) with competition for the best score. Allow potential candidates to “self assess” and self-select themselves (out) in order to minimize the volume of “bad fit” and unqualified applications.
  12. Use the Internet and PC video interviews to help supplement on-campus visits. Place computers with interactive video (or use Kinkos teleconference facilities) at schools to avoid having to do many of your on-campus visits. It might also help your firm build an image of being on the leading edge.
  13. Learn how to use e-mail, listservers and chatrooms to find the best students without having to visit the campus. Post questions/problems on the ones they frequent and capture the names of the ones with the best answers.
  14. Use technical contests and inter-university club competitions to identify students that can solve real world problems.
  15. Develop a technical “answer/research” web site where students can go for answers and information they can use for their classes. Capture the names of those that use it.
  16. Offer to teach a class when faculty are out of town. Consider teaching (or co-teaching) a whole semester class (perhaps for free) to build relationships and to identify the best.
  17. Offer winter and spring break internships and projects as well as part-time work during school. In addition to offering your own internships and projects, identify interns at competing companies that are dissatisfied and that may be looking for other opportunities.
  18. If the university or a student group has a mentor program, get your employees to volunteer as mentors. Offer to sponsor mentor programs if they don’t have one. Develop “peer” mentor programs where your interns/campus reps mentor up and coming students in their early college years.
  19. Ask campus employees, coaches, computer lab managers, librarians, fraternity/sorority house fathers/mothers, dorm supervisors for referrals of top performers. Offer referral bonuses as appropriate.
  20. Look for internal college awards (dean’s list, outstanding students, best essay, honors program enrollees, honor societies, fraternity/sorority honor rolls) as indicators of good students.
  21. Grad/student assistants and tutors are often hand picked by faculty for their skills. Target them and ask them to refer others.
  22. Ask recent hires from college who else is good at their school.
  23. Many classes use student teams. Identify team leaders as possible targets.
  24. Students that join professional organizations and clubs are often some of the best students. Seek out association and club membership lists. Look at their bulletin boards for events, then attend and ask if you can be introduced as an invited guest. Put an electronic banner on their web site.
  25. Grades can be poor predictors of great professionals. Look at some students that may have lower grades in non-major classes because of their need to work outside of class.
  26. Offer to fund faculty for plant trips and equipment or give them a summer faculty internship/research project. Let faculty sit through any of your company’s training classes. The visits, training and projects will give them stories to tell in class. Offer trips to student groups also in order to get them to talk about your firm and to refer the best to you. Use the forum to identify students that ask tough questions or give great answers.
  27. Identify the toughest/best classes and target students that select the tough elective classes. Students that get “A’s” from tough graders are likely to be top students.
  28. Sponsor/hold social (non-recruiting) events to attract “passive” students. Hold events (concerts, sporting tournaments, BBQ’s) at spring break vacation sites.
  29. Hold professional development and career seminars on or off campus to attract students interested in learning beyond the required. Offer resume writing services (on-line or on campus) and capture the best resumes.
  30. Find out where the best students “hang out” (student lounge, video parlor, coffee bars, technical sections in bookstores) and gather information and build relationships by just “hanging out” with them (you or your campus rep).
  31. Consider donating money/equipment to department heads for every student you hire from their department.
  32. Give faculty research funds for assistants so they can hire and further assess promising students.
  33. Look for grad students that publish articles in academic journals (or are cited as contributors in faculty publications) as prospects. Fund a student journal to help identify the best.
  34. Consider bringing mobile vans to campus (or on the edge of it) to attract student interested in your firm.
  35. Incent your “branch offices” close to campus to hire interns and to get involved on campus.
  36. Hold “off campus” interviews close to campus to avoid the strict rules of many career centers. Consider offering “give aways” (concert tickets) to top students that go through interviews.
  37. Reward managers and recruiters that find (and hire) the best candidates. Weigh the recommendations the following year based on the accuracy of the recommendations from the previous year. Weigh faculty and employee referrals the same way.
  38. Develop early identification programs to capture the interest of Freshmen and Sophomores. Tailor your efforts to their unique needs and “culture.”
  39. Students that are away from home love mail and will read almost anything that’s personalized and mailed to them. Capture dorm/apartment addresses by holding contests for prizes and capturing their major and address on the contest coupon.
  40. Get a list of International students from the International student office and target them. Offer them a 1-yr. stint in the U.S. before rotating them back home.
  41. Look at “one/two year after” grads that rejected our offers to see if they might want to work for us now.
  42. Be careful not to over-use traditional “knockout factors” such as requiring a degree and X number of years of experience (remember HP turned down Steve Jobs (and the personal computer) because he had no college degree).
  43. Track the performance of all hires and use performance to weigh the value of each recruiting tool/source. Use multiple sourcing tools (paper, people and electronic) to ensure all “superstars” are identified.
  44. Consider “adopting” a department (or school). Focus your resources (Instead of spreading them thin over many colleges) assemble a “team” of employees to help and build a deep and long lasting relationships with the targeted department(s).

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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