Each new class of graduating college seniors brings a new opportunity to add fresh talent to your team. And while some of those seniors have jobs lined up, over half are likely unemployed or underemployed.
To capitalize on this new class of job seekers, it’s important to create relationships with students early, even before their diplomas are printed. The key to attracting young talent to your organization is to be strategic in your approach to college recruitment. And while appealing to today’s college students requires a social media presence, there’s still a lot to be said for — and gained by — showing up in person.
Below, we’ll discuss best practices for recruiting college students, focusing on what to do before, during, and after conducting on-campus interviews.
The Importance of On-Campus Interviews
Campus interviews are a time-tested method for publicizing your jobs and internships, generating resumes, identifying candidates, and interviewing them in an efficient, low-cost, structured process. Typically, employers form and maintain relationships with the universities they’re targeting (the University of California at Berkeley, for example, provides great resources for connecting students to more than 300 employers).
Even if you’re not currently hiring, on-campus interviews are key to promoting your employer’s employer brand and building awareness. Think of it as an ongoing investment that will pay off down the road. You’ll also gain valuable insight into what motivates emerging workforces, allowing you to fine-tune your recruitment strategies.
Recruiting College Students: Before the Interview
Connecting with college students starts with establishing an ongoing and visible presence on campus. Your campus recruiters and managers need to develop personal relationships with the students you’re targeting to help you understand what motivates them.
What are some effective pre-interview activities? Here are a few ideas to consider:
Cultivate Your Social Media Presence
Even more than millennials, Gen Z is ever-present on social media. From Instagram and YouTube to Snapchat and TikTok, “Zoomers” spend an average of three hours a day on social media. So, your employer should also be present and active on as many platforms as you can manage, with a consistent message across the board.
“Don’t expect them to come to you,” says Jes Osrow, director of people and culture for TodayTix. “You’re missing out if you’re not proactively finding those places where they are.”
Target Nearby Colleges
Of course, it’s important to get on campus and form partnerships with college career centers. Most have career management systems to promote job opportunities and can help employers with campus recruiting activities, including directing you to relevant campus clubs that could be good sources of quality candidates.
Some employers take their campus recruiting a step further and go straight to the professors for help. “We ask them to recruit top-performing students for us,” says Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO of MySlumberYard.com, a mattress review site. “You’d be surprised by how receptive professors are to gestures from local companies.”
Designate a Campus Ambassador
If you don’t already have strong connections on campus, find a liaison. Identify a recent intern to serve as a campus ambassador, someone who can be a conduit between your employer and the school. Students and recent grads know the ins and outs of their campuses and can be very helpful in creatively spreading the word about opportunities at your organization.
Recruiting College Students: During the Interview
Once you’ve made your way through a stack of resumes, identified potential candidates, and lined up the interviews, be prepared to ask the kind of questions that will sell them on your employer. Interviewing and hiring college students effectively requires a clear understanding of what you’re looking for and what motivates this next generation of workers.
Be Mindful of employer Culture
Gen Z cares about how a employer or corporation affects the world around it. “Socially responsible programs are very important to them,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. To the extent that your employer is involved in projects and initiatives that help a program, cause, or community, promote it as much as you can.
It’s also important to know exactly what you’re offering in terms of culture, because new graduates have some clear priorities. “It’s the empowerment generation, which is great, but it makes it way more difficult for employers — especially old-school employers — to wrangle the necessary things to entice the top talent in that age group,” says Osrow.
This generation is looking for upward mobility, companies that invest in them, and work-life balance. “What I’m hearing more and more is, ‘We don’t mind working hard, we’ll work at 8:00 at night if we have to, but we want to leave at 5 each day to go to the gym or to get home and take care of our family,’” McDonald says. “That’s highly encouraged, especially with technology today. A lot of work can be done in an hour or two at night if required. We stress that, and that’s a real attractant.”
Get Them Talking
New graduates generally have little to no experience interviewing, so they’re probably nervous. You’ll want to approach the interview with more flexibility. “Set them at ease,” McDonald says. “Spend a little more time on lighter conversation than you would with an experienced person that you’re recruiting. Ask them about some of the off-campus activities that might be on their resume.”
In addition to putting them more at ease, this gives you the opportunity to evaluate their soft skills — how they communicate and listen, and whether they’re able to think critically and problem solve. “You’re going to find that you’re evaluating on the potential of that person because they don’t have a lot of experience,” says McDonald.
Recruiting College Students: After the Interview
Hopefully, finishing a set of interviews leaves you with some great prospects. Whether you’ve found “the one” or you’ve narrowed down the list to a few top contenders, you have options for your next hire — including starting your new employee on a temporary basis. Of course, no matter what route you go for this round, a college recruiter’s work at building relationships and promoting the employer is never done.
Consider a Temporary Start
When it comes to hiring college graduates, it’s hard to know how they’re really going to perform on the job. “Many employers are starting to test drive their applicants before they give them full-time offers,” says Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, a career coaching service for young people. “We’ve seen this with Ivy League students. They’ll start them as an apprentice or on a three- to six-month project base with a stipend or paying hourly.”
This arrangement can be useful to both parties: Employers can see how an employee performs in real time, and employees can get a real sense of a employer’s culture and whether it’s a workplace they enjoy and in which they feel they can thrive.
Contract work can also be attractive to graduates who hope to move on to master’s level education. “Those who plan to attend graduate school or medical school may want to benefit from gaining relevant experience while preparing for admissions,” says Christine Casey-Charter, vice president of business development for HumanEdge. “A year of contract employment in a related field is a tremendous career boost.”
Plan Site Visits
Once you’ve conducted a round of interviews — and even beforehand — it can be helpful to bring candidates and school representatives to your home turf. Think about inviting groups of students, career services representatives, and faculty from key departments to your facility. Site visits are great ways to share your employer culture, organization, products, and services with participants and they can help spread the word about your employer when they return to campus.
Give In-Class Presentations
Regardless of where you are in the hiring process, there’s always more you can do to recruit quality candidates on college campuses. For example, in the key departments at your focus schools, see if you can find a professor who will invite you into their class. Or, maybe you can find a lecture series in which you can present. The point here is not to actively recruit but to raise awareness of your employer and generate interest in your profession.