Remote College Recruiting, Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

As recruiting continues to become more difficult, more and more companies are looking to reinvigorate their college recruiting programs and concentrate a greater percentage of external hiring efforts on entry-level professionals. If you are preparing to go that route, I suggest you look at some of the new approaches that comprise “remote” college recruiting.

Many of these approaches produce three-times the ROI than the resource-intensive traditional approaches used by many. While remote college recruiting may not seem right for you, remember that today’s students are products of the Internet age. They are accustomed to purchasing clothes, setting up dates, paying bills, and reading course materials online.


Under traditional college recruiting programs, a university relations specialist or recruiter physically visits the campus. This is an expensive and time-consuming approach that is fraught with potential problems. Stories abound about university recruiters engaging in activities that not only embarrass the company, but pose real risk to the organization.

Historically, there were few other options to going on campus, but now with the explosion in communications and Internet channels, a non face-to-face recruiting option (also known as remote recruiting) is emerging as the dominant approach.

For example, the U.S. Army uses a play-at-home video game that includes a virtual recruiting office as one of its top recruiting tools. Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have all used virtual online contests to attract and assess the very best remotely, no matter where they live in the world.

With the abundance of college-oriented networking websites like FaceBook and YouTube, your remote recruiting options are almost endless.

Remote Recruiting Can Produce Dramatic Results

My favorite remote college recruiting example came when a large oil firm found that it needed a large group of intern hires really fast. The firm had previously visited numerous campuses but those on-campus approaches weren’t working well.

Instead, this Fortune 25 firm turned to remote recruiting. The first step was calling the relevant university academic department office to identify and get the phone numbers of the grad assistants for the top professors.

Although this was their first contact with the firm, the grad assistants were well aware of the best students and eagerly helped after being offered a small reward. They came through and provided a list of students willing to accept an interview opportunity in an amazing single day!

As a result of this effort, every position was filled with some of the highest quality students that the firm had ever gotten, all without a single campus visit or painful relationship-building process.

In addition to cost being a reason to consider remote college recruiting, organizations should consider the scope of their approach. Traditional approaches limit via resource constraints the number of campuses that can be visited, thereby limiting access to thousands of excellent recruits at “non-top 10″ schools.

Use yourself as an example. Did you attend a “top” school? Would you have been identified by the recruiting system you currently use? You might also look at the top talent in your executive team and see what percentage attended the top schools at which you currently recruit. When you think about it, the scope and capacity of your college recruiting program is quite limited. It’s time to expand both its reach and its impact by instituting a remote recruiting capability.

Weaknesses in the Traditional On-Site ‘Fly In’ Recruiting Approach

Traditional college recruiting revolves around three basic foundations. Delivering “brochures” to students, on-site information sessions to “sell” students, and then face-to-face interviews to select them.

There are many inherent weaknesses in the traditional visit-the-campus system:

  • You can only visit few campuses and even those, maybe twice a year.
  • Getting on the recruiting schedule at campuses career centers is very difficult.
  • Operating information sessions are expensive and they quite often conflict with the busy schedule of top students.
  • You might not get a “prime” information session or interview slot.
  • If you are not considered a viable employer by top candidates, they will not respond to you being on campus anyway.
  • Although operating managers do a superior “selling” job (as opposed to coach recruiters), it is often difficult to convince them to visit campuses because it takes away from their current responsibilities.
  • Building relationships with campus administrators and Deans might not get you access to the top students, since they don’t always know who they are!
  • It’s not realistic to get access to all of the top global college talent through on-campus visits.
  • A significant percentage of college students now attend “virtual” universities. Even if they attend brick-and-mortar campuses, many take online classes.

Where Not to Find Them

Don’t look for top “game-changing students” at the career center. My best student from last year (Matt Millunchick) who is now a recruiter at Google actually told a recruiting manager, “I’ve never been to the career center. Why would I go there?”

Why, because top students build relationships and have internships, mentors, and job offers long before their senior year. Many career centers “ignore” students until they are within one year of graduation. Some offer advice straight from a self-help book, and the advice is so antiquated it’s laughable.

Advantages of Remote College Recruiting

There are many reasons why organizations should supplement college visits with remote college recruiting:

  • It saves the travel costs and travel time of both recruiters and managers.
  • It allows you to expand your global capabilities where visits are just not realistic.
  • Using the Internet and other remote recruiting tools allows you to identify individuals that would not have been found using the traditional career-center recruiting approach.
  • The competition at smaller, regional, or second-tier schools is much more subtle, so you will likely have little difficulty in “landing” any student you find.
  • If you use contests and projects, you might actually recruit a higher-quality student with the ability to solve problems.
  • If you design your program correctly, you might actually increase your percentage of diversity hires.

Use Remote Recruiting to ‘Cherry Pick’ Second-Tier Schools

Although there will always be some schools that you will still physically visit, wouldn’t it be great if there was some approach where you could identify and recruit top college students on campuses that you don’t have the time or resources to visit?

Remote recruiting allows you to recruit top students from “second-tier” schools that might have a few good recruits but not enough to justify a full-scale visit. While remote recruiting works in all schools, I recommend that you focus it on non top-tier schools because I have found that a large percentage of the top college talent do not attend the “top” schools.

By skimming the cream, or cherry-picking the very top grads from these smaller, remote, or second-tier schools, you can supplement the talent you get at top schools.

The premise of this approach is borrowed from the process of recruiting athletes from out-of-state or international schools. We know from professional football that many top stars, including Brett Farve and Jerry Rice came from remote schools like Mississippi Valley State.

Remote recruiting allows you to add almost any school to your list so that you can get top students that faced restrictions that prevented them from going to the top schools. Everyone knows that Harvard has 1,000 game-changers and 2,000 recruiters trying to recruit them.

SF State might have five game-changers, but there are zero recruiters talking to them. Yes, go to Harvard and MIT, but don’t be surprised if the local state-school grad isn’t just as good, easier to recruit, won’t have an ego from hell, or be focused on pay. This graduate is certainly less likely to quit within two years after relocating to go back home.

Incidentally, if hiring diverse college students is your goal, don’t assume that all of the top ones have gone to top schools.

In addition, the competition for top diversity candidates is incredible at top schools, so if you want to increase college diversity hiring, go to smaller schools or minority schools. Work directly with the faculty and ask recent diverse hires to help you identify up-and-coming talent at their school.

Next week: The second and final part of this series will examine the tools and strategies for “virtual” college recruiting.

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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