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

In part one of this series I highlighted the many reasons why you should include remote college recruiting as part of your college hiring strategy. In part two, I will highlight action steps, tools, and approaches that you can use to identify and sell top college students remotely.

Tools for Virtual College Recruiting (Identifying and Selling)


Finding people remotely is certainly nothing new in recruiting. Most recruiters already identify and assess experienced talent remotely. However, for some reason college recruiters feel compelled not to utilize the same approaches in the college recruiting arena.

While there is not one best way to abandon the old and embrace virtual college recruiting, the following list provides an overview of commonly used tools and approaches that others have found helpful.

Remote recruiting requires a little proactive research to determine what will and will not work, but it is nothing that an intern can’t handle. In fact, I recommend that firms hire interns to develop the “virtual college recruiting” process and to test what does and does not work.

Remote Approaches for Identifying Top Students

  • Grad assistants. Identify and get the help of the graduate students who support the best professors of the subjects for which you are recruiting. Most will be flattered when you call and will jump at the chance to earn extra income. Graduate assistants are normally hand-picked by faculty and as a result are generally top student themselves.
  • On-campus interns. If you hire interns, pay them a small stipend when they return to campus to act as your “recruiting ambassadors.” QUALCOMM has experienced great success leveraging this approach, as have many other technology companies.
  • Last year’s graduates. If you’re fortunate enough to have hired individuals from your “target” campus, ask them for the names of underclassmen who impressed them. In addition, ask them to make some calls or send some emails to former professors, student group leaders, and selected students to identify late bloomers.
  • Contests. With the growth of the Internet, it’s now relatively easy to hold an online “solve my problem” contest. Contests are excellent mechanisms for both attracting and assessing potential college hires. Contests are superior to face-to-face interviews in that they are anonymous and fact-based. As a result, you won’t be fooled by the applicant’s pedigree. Because the submissions are assessed anonymously, you are likely to get a higher percentage of diverse applicants. Ask your on-campus interns to post notices on campus and to send out email/text message notices to the best students.
  • Student groups. The Dean’s office in any school can tell you the names and the presidents of each of the professional student groups active on campus. Sponsor the group or even just one meeting and build friends for life. Organization presidents are more than willing to share a list of their student members, and you can ask them to refer the best students to your firm. If you’re bold, you can even hire the top officers as interns or as campus representatives for your firm.
  • Identify key faculty remotely. Call the targeted academic department and ask which faculty attracts top students. Also, ask who runs the internship program and who sponsors the professional student groups. Identify professors who do outside consulting and faculty who teach advanced classes. Be careful of students recommended by the department chair, as I haven’t found them particularly accurate in identifying top students using any other factor but GPA. There are also numerous “rate your professor” sites on the Internet that you can use to identify target professors. Some colleges even publish teacher evaluation books, so you can use them to spot the best. You can also identify top faculty by attending local, regional, or national academic events that faculty regularly attend.
  • Projects. If you can find a top professor to cooperate, the best way to find game-changing students is to select the top performers after a class project is completed. Start by identifying a problem that college hires would face in their first three months at your firm and ask the professor to assign it as a team project. Ask the team leader and the professor to force rank the best participants on the winning teams, and then target them for recruiting!
  • Student referrals. Ask top students, “Who is better than you?” Intuit had great success by paying students a referral bonus.
  • Internet searches. Students who write, win scholarships and awards, and are written up in publications are relatively easy to find using Internet searches. Be careful here, because some of the awards and scholarships might be based on grades and not on the student’s ability to work in a business environment.
  • Networking sites. College students love networking sites (especially Facebook and MySpace) so consider hiring interns to do some searching and networking for you. In addition, some companies have begun to search YouTube for creative individuals because you can see their work.
  • Chatrooms. Learn how to use email, listservs, and chatrooms to find the best students without having to visit the campus. Post questions or problems on the ones that graduating students frequent and capture the names of the ones with the best answers.
  • Campus newspaper ads. It’s not new, but you can also place large ads in the student newspaper and still get a healthy response at second-tier schools. Ad agencies can help to make placing ads in many papers quite easy.
  • Tutors. Peer tutors and volunteer peer mentors are also excellent collaborators.
  • Develop a referral network. Ask campus employees, coaches, computer lab managers, librarians, fraternity/sorority house parents, and dorm supervisors to refer top students and offer referral bonuses for hires who prove to be top performers.
  • Find them early. Develop early identification programs to capture both the names and the career interests of promising freshmen and sophomores so that you can influence them over time before others do.
  • Scholarship contests. Scholarship winners are not always great hires but if you offer scholarships you can then use the biographical information from every applicant to help identify great prospects.

Remote Approaches for Convincing Top Students

  • Case studies. The best convincing approach is for faculty to use your company or its business practices as examples in their teaching. To accomplish this, invite them for on-site visits, hire them to complete a case study, offer them a summer faculty internship, or just periodically send them reports or publications that highlight your firm’s best practices. It’s important to note that your company being “green and sustainable” is at the moment the best way to get your firm mentioned.
  • Offer short-term remote projects. By offering short but exciting projects that last only a few weeks, students can essentially do a “project internship.” Not only do short-term projects excite students, but being able to do them remotely means that they don’t have to wait until summer break to get practical experience. Some companies also experience great success in allowing students to apply for project internships as a group. Simply post project descriptions online and let students or students groups apply for them. This is a great way to get exposure among students who would not otherwise consider you a viable employer.
  • Mentor students remotely. Once you identify a few targeted students, develop an e-mentoring program where employees mentor students via email. Target employees who are recent alumni as mentors. Develop a “friends” program where students can get discounts, e-newsletters, and win prizes. Consider having interns become peer mentors.
  • Post a video. Students are in love with online videos, so if you post a compelling video about what it’s like to work at your firm or profiles of your recent interns or college hires, you will pique their interest.
  • Blogs. Having a recent hire, recruiter, intern, or manager write a periodic blog that addresses college student issues will soften your image and personalize any corporation.
  • Remote interviews. Telephone interviews are easy, but video interviews are more exciting to college students. Some firms that need to hold face-to-face interviews have held them at student conferences or off-campus hotels, without ever working through the career center bureaucracy.
  • If you must visit, give a talk. If you can only make one visit, have a senior manager or CEO give a speech to the entire department or school. One organization found that such talks at second-tier schools gave them a 100% offer acceptance rate among those who attended.
  • Become friends with the secretary and the student assistant.University departmental secretaries are some of the most helpful people on the planet. If you’re nice to them, they will distribute any brochures, flyers or posters that you send them. They’re also an excellent referral source for the names of top students and faculty.
  • Your corporate career website. No matter how good your reputation or sales pitch is, no student will pursue a job with you without first visiting your corporate website. As a result, make sure your website doesn’t directly contradict the message you send on campus. In addition, offer an exciting but realistic job preview of what it’s like to be a recent college grad at your firm. Make sure that your website answers tough questions of college students and that it tells candidates what they really want to know about, including their future team and challenge/growth opportunities. Include a technical answer/research section where students can go for answers and information they can use in their classes, projects, and papers.
  • Newsletters. Email newsletters can highlight new products, business processes, successful college hires, and anything else that keeps targeted students interested in your firm.
  • Offer a prize. Hold a drawing for a free iPod, computer, or trip for those who make successful referrals or even to those who agree to apply and go through the remote interviewing process.
  • Check your negatives. Scan online to see what individuals are saying about you, both positive and negative. Don’t forget to search, which is a prime source of information for top students.
  • Rewrite your position descriptions. Unfortunately, most college recruiters fail to realize that their internship and new hire position descriptions for college hires are notoriously dull. Make the job and internship descriptions compelling and exciting.
  • WOW things. Consider doing something outrageous like sending free pizza to the dorms or student lounge during final-exam week to create a buzz (Google does this). Ask your interns to come up with something that is innovative and will be written about in the student newspaper.
  • Use your products to attract. Offer your products for top student and student groups to use (software, the products, etc.). Having the best use and speak highly about the product certainly can’t hurt your recruiting effort. Donating free equipment for faculty use can have the same impact. Giving your products away can increase the visibility and the acceptance of your firm.
  • Local facilities. Incent your branch offices that happen to be close to campus to hire interns and to get involved on campus. Where possible, have them visit targeted classes with “problems” and see which students come up with plausible solutions.
  • Reward managers and recruiters. Offer rewards to those that help you identify and hire the best “remote” candidates. Weight their recommendations the following year based on the accuracy of the recommendations from the previous year.
  • Mail them. Students who 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.
  • Advisory committee. Put recent hires on your college recruiting advisory committee. Let them tell you what is cool and the best ways to identify top students remotely.
  • Influence the influencers. Ask top candidates for the contact numbers of their references, close friends, parents, and mentors. Contact them and sell them on your firm. Students seldom accept offers without the ok of their references and friends.
  • Top employees as recruiters. Decrease the use of recruiters in remote recruiting conversations and interviews, and increase the use of star employees and managers as your primary salespeople. Students distrust recruiters and really want to talk to people who are close to the action. Use recruiters to coach and train managers on how to sell the job to candidates.
  • CEO calls. Have your CEO (or other notable employee) call targeted remote students directly and tell them how much you want them on your team.
  • Hire them both. Offer to hire the best students and their best friend as a “duo” to improve your chances of getting the best (Nortel once hired an entire graduating class with this “work together” opportunity). Consider the same for students with spouses.
  • Hire them early. College football and basketball players routinely “come out early”. If you have the courage, consider hiring special students before they graduate. Financial hardship or frustration with boring classes can force some to look for early opportunities. Make sure they finish their degree at night or during summers.
  • Donate money. Donate funds to popular campus causes (environmental, social) in order to get written up in the student/ local newspaper to build your image.


There is a world of opportunity out there that doesn’t require college recruiting to take place on campus. Whatever you do, don’t forget to develop and track metrics on the best approaches for identifying and selling college students remotely.

Obviously, you can then reduce funding or drop the sources, professors, and approaches that result in no or low-performing hires.

Incidentally, it’s critical that you calculate the remote program’s ROI and then directly compare it to results from the traditional “on-site” college recruiting model. You will be amazed that you can find and assess good college hires without getting on an airplane!

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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