Attracting College Grads

Today’s college recruiting landscape requires talent managers to go beyond the on-campus job fair to connect with prospective entry-level hires.

Allison Maltese may have graduated from Rutgers University in 1995, but that hasn’t stopped her from spending lots of time on college campuses.
As an internal recruiting manager for information technology staffing firm TEKsystems Inc., Maltese said she is a regular at on-campus job fairs. But today’s college recruiting environment requires more than a poster and a table.

“You have to get out a lot sooner and do a lot more,” said Maltese, who recruits for mostly entry-level sales jobs for the Hanover, Maryland-based company.

In the past five years, the world of college recruiting has been flipped upside down. Thanks to an improving economy and advances in recruiting practices, nabbing top undergraduate candidates has become both more accessible and more challenging.

In 2010, as the aftershocks of the financial crisis put many firms in a hiring freeze, more than half of companies surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, said they planned to cut their college recruiting budgets.

The nonprofit’s most recent report paints a different picture. It shows that companies plan to hire 8.3 percent more college graduates in 2015 than they did last year.  More than half say they plan to offer signing bonuses — the highest percentage in five years.

“College recruiting has gotten so much more competitive,” said Andrea Koncz, research manager at NACE.

Forging Multiple Connections
Today’s college recruiters are connecting with many more students in many different ways.

While Maltese said she still works with college career centers and attends on-campus job fairs, that’s just the beginning of her recruiting strategy. She said her team also connects with professors and academic advisers to learn about potential candidates. They also attend a wider swath of on-campus events, offering TEKsystems employees as mentors, advisers and event volunteers.

“Any time we have a chance to get in front of a group of students and talk to them about our industry or our company, we’re excited,” Maltese said.

After she connects with a student, Maltese said she adds them to one of the school-specific talent communities that she has built using the company’s customer relationship management system. This way she can keep track of each student and stay engaged virtually. Maltese said she tries to connect with all the students at least once a semester to touch base, share relevant articles or let them know when her team will be on or near campus.

“You can’t just meet a student once and hope they come back to you when they graduate,” Maltese said. “You have to follow up.”

Taking a more aggressive, long-term view is necessary given today’s competitive recruiting landscape, according to NACE’s Koncz. “You have to get out there a lot sooner and work on your branding to make sure students notice you,” she said.

“Early identification is so important,” said Alexa Merschel, head of U.S. campus recruiting for professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Philadelphia. “There is a lot of competition to get to these students first and to be the ones who build a relationship with them.”

PwC currently has a multitiered recruiting program designed to engage with students at various times throughout their collegiate careers. One of the first formal engagement efforts is the firm’s Case Competition Challenge, where teams of accounting and business students from freshmen to seniors attempt to solve a business problem designed to test their critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Each team works with a PwC mentor as they brainstorm ideas. Last year, 4,500 students participated in the challenges at more than 95 colleges, Merschelsaid.

“It’s a way for us to introduce them to the business services profession and help them develop their leadership skills,” Merschel said, adding that it’s also a way for her team to connect with students by providing them with a PwC team mentor who can act as a career adviser.

Students who win the challenge often move into the firms Elevate events. These events involve high-achieving students interested in professional services who participate in firm-sponsored community service projects, team-building challenges and networking activities with PwC employees.

“It’s a leadership development program where they can also learn more about PwC’s culture,” Merschel said.

Students who do well in the Elevate events are offered one of the roughly 1,200 summer or winter internships the firm offers each year. Many of those positions eventually lead to a job offer. Merschel said these events give PwC a strong sense of which students will do well in the company long before the internships begin.

“Our internship experience is the culmination of our whole process,” Merschel said. “Students get to participate in client services engagement and experience what life is like at PwC, which leads to a highly successful conversion rate.”

Merschel estimates that 80 percent of the college graduates that PwC hires are interns and that 93 percent of their job offers are accepted.

Getting Social
Not every company has the time and money to build multiyear college-recruiting programs.

For those with more limited resources, harnessing social media can be a low-cost way to connect with students. “You’ve got to be on social media to attract this generation,” said Amelia Nathanson, resource facilitator for Barnum Financial Group, a financial services firm that is part of MetLife Inc.

Because the company is in a highly regulated industry, Barnum recruiters are limited as to what they can put on Facebook or Twitter. So the recruiting team focuses on posts that showcase the company culture and its priorities. “These kids want to work for a company they can believe in and that will help them grow,” said Maria Conlon, one of the company’s agency sales directors. “We are trying to relate to that through our social media efforts.”

Barnum also uses social media to gauge how well it’s coming across to college students. Last year, the company asked itsinterns to go on employer reviews website to review the program. “That was eye-opening,” Nathanson said, adding that the insights gleaned from the reviews helped improve the internship program.

For instance, while most of the comments were positive, reviewers complained that the six-week program was too short. “We realized that students might pass on the program if they wanted a longer, paid opportunity,” Nathanson said. “You have to be open-minded with this generation if you are going to figure out what they want.” The internship program was extended to eight weeks.

Lights, Camera, Interview
Social media isn’t the only low-cost way technology has changed college recruiting. Global packaging products manufacturer Sonoco Products Co. is harnessing other workplace technologies to improve its process.

The company uses Async Interview, a video interviewing tool, for traditional recruiting activities, according to Keesha Moore, the company’s talent acquisition specialist. Last year, Moore said she added it to her college campus efforts to meet with more students at career fairs.

In the past when Sonoco recruiters attended a career fair, they might have time to meet with eight or 10 students. If there were other promising candidates, the recruiters would try to remember to follow up with them. “But then you go to the next campus, and the next career fair, and by the time you get back, you forget who you wanted to talk to or why,” Moore said.

Video interviewing has helped solve some of that problem. When Moore doesn’t have time to meet face-to-face with a student, she sends that person a digital appointment card that invites them to videotape responses to a pre-made set of interview questions. “It has increased the number of students we are able to engage with,” Moore said, “which creates a better candidate pool and reduces the number of times we need to return to each campus.”

Moore said she also hands out the cards when she attends college events or does speaking engagements, even if she isn’t actively recruiting.

Recently, for example, Moore said she met a young man in passing at a fraternity convention in Georgia. She wasn’t planning to do interviews, but she gave him a card and asked him to record a video that she then passed on to the hiring manager.

The manager was so impressed that he offered the student an internship without any further interaction. “Normally, we would have had to pay to bring him here from Georgia to complete this process,” Moore said, “but this way it didn’t cost us a dime or any extra time.”

Video technology has also helped college recruiters get a better sense of a student while allowing the company to send the message that they offer a fun and innovative place to work, said Kelsey McGinley, associate talent manager for the Los Angeles office of the global communication and advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi.

As part of its application process for internships, McGinley’s team requires students to send a 60-second video on what they can bring to the company. The Los Angeles office will offer 14 internships this year, with the videos playing a big part in the selection process.

“It lets them show off their personalities, which makes it a lot easier for hiring managers to choose who they want,” McGinley said.

It also demonstrates how interested a student might be in the internship based on how much effort they put into the project. While McGinley has seen plenty of talking-head videos, there are others that immediately draw attention for their creativity.

One of the most promising candidates in the most recent crop of students did a photo montage showing pictures demonstrating key qualities that would make him an asset to the agency, McGinley said, along with a voiceover narrative explaining the images. They included a picture of him graduating high school to show how he achieves goals and rock-climbing to show how he challenges himself to “reach the top.”

“It was really well done and we are excited about working with him,” McGinley said.

In return for the effort, the project sends the message to students that the company values creativity. It also creates more of a buzz around the program than just asking students to fill out a static application. “There are so many agencies in L.A. fighting for the same pool of students, we need to do whatever we can to get the attention of the best and brightest,” McGinley said.

Though Sonoco’s Moore is quick to point out that harnessing technology for college recruiting is a great way to broaden a company’s reach and build global appeal, it should never replace the face-to-face experience.

“We love to connect digitally and to find people online,” Moore said, “but you still need to make connections on campus.”

This is especially true for companies that may not have great name recognition.

“As a recruiter, you have to be an evangelist for your brand and have real conversations with students about your culture and what you believe in,” Moore said. “No matter how much technology becomes a part of this process, that will never change.”

This article originally appeared in Chief Learning Officer's sister publication, Talent Management.