Campus recruiting is an integral part of any major company's talent acquisition strategy. It creates pipelines for a host of internship, entry-level and early-career roles and also helps companies gain exposure to diverse candidates and new ideas in their field.
This is no secret, however, and as incoming classes of interns' and entry-level employees' preferences change, it's important to evolve an on-campus recruiting strategy to make sure it's meeting company goals and being executed as effectively as possible.
Here are a few ideas to help jump-start a campus recruitment program.
Get more involved
Attending career fairs is the basic level of involvement with schools and a good way to get broad exposure at a lot of them. However, it can be helpful to broaden the timeframe for making college visits and widening the scope of on-campus activities for institutions that are a higher priority or where a company is looking to do a lot of recruiting.
"You can't just do the college job fair circuit and expect to fill your near-term hiring needs, let alone build a pipeline of future potential hires," Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, wrote in a blog post.
Some additional ways to be present on campus beyond career fairs include hosting case competitions, informal lunch-and-learns, speaking with different cultural groups and other student organizations, and really taking time to get to know students.
People from different majors and backgrounds value different qualities when considering a company for an internship or their first job. That means customizing the approach and working with people rather than trying to collect a bunch of resumes. The National Association of Colleges and Employers provided some guidance on this matter.
"Career center staff can provide you with intelligence about their campus—its culture and traditions, specifics about their students' attitudes and behaviors, and such—which you can use to tailor your strategy," Mimi Collins, a director at NACE, wrote. "Career center staff also can help you develop relationships with other key campus contacts, including faculty and administrators."
Shake up the list
Companies may also want to reconsider or make additions to the list of schools on their recruiting radars.
"There are a lot of smaller schools out there that may be not as well represented within your firm," Nicole Coomber, a management professor at the University of Maryland, told HR Dive. "If you have a really great employee and they went to a liberal arts college, could you build a relationship with that liberal arts college to get a different type of employee? And then in talking about diversity, there are particularly talented people from community colleges or from [historically black colleges and universities]."
NACE offers a service to help companies identify schools that meet their hiring needs, and advises not to follow rankings as canon.
"It's tempting to use these as a short cut around real research, but be aware that rankings are based on criteria that may not match up with your organization's needs," Collins wrote.
Understand the market
Before even meeting with students, companies can improve the likelihood of success in their on-campus excursions by gathering the right information. If heading to a specific school within the university, such as the school of business or school of engineering, it's important to be familiar with the programs offered and what those students are looking for.
"The [companies] that I see securing the top talent do their homework in advance. They have alums reaching out to former professors, identifying talented students in advance," Brooks Holtom, a professor of management at Georgetown University, told HR Dive. "They make specific efforts to reach out to those students to invite them in."
Additionally, a host of data is available on student preferences. A school's career center may have information on student demographics and preferences, and a great deal of survey data on Gen Z, the current generation in college right now, is widely accessible. For example, Yello, a recruiting software company, recently published a recruiting-focused survey on the newest generation to enter the workforce.
When recruiters are unprepared, "they come in and there's no sort of customization. There's no recognition that the students at a school are unique or different or special in some way, they probably get the majority but they are missing at the margins," Holtom explained.
Students now more than ever have widely differing needs and goals, which recruiters need to take to heart in their interactions on campus. Though some key elements remain consistent.
"I do think students are looking for the opportunity to apply what they've learned in the classroom ... to apply their knowledge in a real-world work environment ... collaborate with coworkers, complete important deliverables, and they want to demonstrate their value and contribute and they want to be given challenging work," Rachel Loock, an associate director of career services at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, told HR Dive.
Get comfortable with digital or virtual strategies
Digital methods are known to be valuable for recruiting young workers, but their value has risen amid the coronavirus pandemic. Social media, online ads and virtual interviewing are all key tools.
"Campus recruiters make the assumption that just because they post a job on our job portal, that they're going to get just a ton of applicants and they don't take the time to build a brand with our students," Loock said.
Digital strategies are not just beneficial for year-round messaging or overcoming the conditions of the pandemic; they can also enable hiring from more diverse candidate pools. Doreen Amorosa, associate dean of career services at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, told HR Dive that the school's interview rooms are equipped for virtual interviews to support this goal.
"It is our hope that more employers increasingly take advantage of this technology as a way to easily broaden their candidate pipelines," she said via email.
Just because a company has had success recruiting at a school or at universities more broadly does not mean it will always be that way. Recruiting leaders need to constantly tweak their campus recruiting strategies to open new recruiting pathways and find prospects on the margins they may not have otherwise met.
Loock said one of the biggest mistakes she sees from university recruiters is when they aren't working hard enough to distinguish themselves from each other.
"What is it that's special about your company? Is it the culture? Is it the size? ... Is it the type of clients served, the type of work that is performed? Is there going to be opportunity for a wide exposure to a variety of work experiences as a chance for professional growth and development? All of those things can be distinguishing factors, but the company's really got to put time into communicating that with the students," she explained.
Particularly now that all business activity is virtual for the time being, maintaining a strong online presence that engages this talent pool year round is even more important. Some recommendations from Yello include considering a careers microsite for this population, offering special opportunities or gifts for folks who engage with the company meaningfully through any channel, and building a network of internal colleagues posting about their work experiences on social media to re-share and build enthusiasm organically.