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Campus Recruiting: Advice from a Campus Pro on how to do it well

(Note: I’m going to do two blog posts on this topic this week. The first will be aimed at the HR and Recruiting community; the second at college students seeking internships.)

It’s a beautiful April day here in Seattle, and in Springtime many hiring managers–and recruiters–turn their thoughts to campus recruiting.

I’m sure that the in-house recruiters who read my blog will have lived a variation of this dialogue–most more than once:

Hiring Manager: “Hey, it’s mid-April. Are we doing any campus hiring this year?”

HR: “Well, when we asked about that in December, you said there wasn’t money in the budget. So no, there hasn’t been any campus recruiting this year.”

Hiring Manager: “I said that? Huh. Well, we have some funds and need a couple of interns to do some small projects for us. Can you go out and hire, say, 5?”

HR: ” *bangs head against desk* ”

This is a typical occurrence for a lot of companies, unfortunately. Recruiters can usually dig up a few interns–but both the quality of available talent, and the intern experience they receive, is variable at best.

I spent many years on both sides of the campus recruitment and employment world, most recently in campus recruiting and talent management for an F100 company. Working for a much smaller company now, I know not every company is large enough to have a formal campus recruiting program. But there are some ways to ensure successful campus hiring:

  • Ask early and often. If you think there is any potential that your hiring teams will want interns, ensure you are asking up to a year in advance. Most firms start their intern recruitment in Fall of the academic year, so the best talent is recruited–and off the market–earlier than some people might think. This gives you time to plan and budget.
  • Educate. Help your business clients understand how campus recruiting differs from regular incremental hiring (aligns to the campus calendar, lots of competition for top talent in targeted majors, rigid recruiting/interviewing/hiring schedule). This will help you get confirmed headcount before you need to recruit.
  • Build a business case. According to NACE, college hires can be reasonable in terms of cost per hire (around $5000/hire on average) and have high retention (90% after 1 year, 69% after 5 years). While the cost seems high, it pales in comparison to spending 20% of first year’s comp to a headhunter for a mid-career professional only to have them leave after 2 years.
  • Don’t just go to big name schools. Your business clients will often tell you, “We only want Stanford/Berkeley/MIT/CMU talent.” Guess what? So does everybody else. And unlike you, they have BIG budgets, big recruiting teams, and a very long head start on you (by decades in some cases). Instead, think about starting small/local with under-rated programs closer to home. When I worked for an F100 financial services company, we found a small Business school that produced graduates that equaled–and in some cases outmatched–those from big-name B schools. It was our secret weapon, and the business leaders, initially skeptical, soon thought we were geniuses.
  • Plan your work, and work your plan. Do the research to figure out what schools–and majors–you want to target, and then identify a few channels of building your brand with those students. Often, large campus-wide career fairs are not a good use of your time if you are targeting a specific major. You will be better off engaging with the TA’s in that department as well as the student group for that major in addition to any recent alums you might have working with your company.
  • Get the hiring managers involved. This shouldn’t be (only) about cheap labor; rather it’s an opportunity to develop–and evaluate–potential future hires. Get them excited about being part of it and they will become your champions with other teams.
  • Don’t get hung up on GPA. Yes, a student’s GPA is one indicator of their abilities. But in my experience, hiring only the highest GPA students leads to problematic outcomes. That student may be exceptional in an academic environment, but may be wholly unable to succeed in the dynamic, multi-faceted work landscape. Look for students that balance solid academic performance while juggling other activities like leadership positions in student organizations, or working part/full time. Those are the people that are likely to be more successful in the ever-changing world of work.
  • Information Sessions are boring. Let’s face it: No student wants to hear a recruiter talk about why their company is more awesome than the giant multinational software company across the lake, or the uber-cool cloud storage startup that just asked them to go rock climbing. Think of a way you can engage students with some hiring managers and high-caliber recent college hires in a more social environment. Give them something to do together; they’ll learn more about each other that way.

Even if you can only put the first 4 ideas above into action, you will be FAR ahead.



3 thoughts on “Campus Recruiting: Advice from a Campus Pro on how to do it well

  1. I really enjoyed your article! I would also point out that there are various other low-cost options that Employers can take advantage of both on-campus and virtually. I also agree that Information Sessions are a “thing of the past” but bringing recent hires on campus, holding networking events, and making the experience exciting for students will definitely draw a bigger crowd!

    Posted by Kelly Bogey | May 28, 2013, 7:47 pm
    • Hi Kelly! Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      You’re right–there are other lower cost opportunities that can produce results; when I worked in this space exclusively we used a hybrid recruiting model for 1st tier and 2nd tier schools that included more of a virtual recruiting presence at 2nd tier schools. If a company only plans to make a few hires/year and is not anticipating that the number will sustain/increase in a specific business area (ex: Software Development), this can be a highly successful model. However, if you want to build a strong brand image on a target 1st tier campus, I think on-campus engagement is critical. It’s all about using your resources most efficiently based on what the business needs today and in the future!

      Posted by Jon J-B | May 29, 2013, 11:38 am


  1. Pingback: Campus Recruiting, Part 2: Advice to students starting Summer Internships | Are YOU the Right Candidate? - May 2, 2013

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