How to run an killer campus recruiting program

Looking to dive into campus recruiting? Already running a campus recruiting program that is underwhelming? This post is a great place to start.

No matter how big, cool, or well-known your company is, there are a handful of common truths that always apply:

Students find out about jobs mostly through friends

According to HBR, almost all companies they surveyed believed that career fairs were the most important way to build their brand among students. Students disagree, though, ranking “friends” as their number one method of discovery (>70%). This is interesting not because it changes your tactics, but because it changes who your tactics should target. To me, this looks and feels like influencer marketing.

If most students look to their friends for recommendations and flock to companies that are hyped up by their peers, a small handful of other students with loud voices are getting details on hiring companies. How can you know which ones are your influencers? You’ll need to spend some time connecting with students on a deeper level than just handing out a pamphlet. Honest feedback and advice goes a long way towards gaining trust (and not just with students).

Don’t screen on schools, screen on performance

I’ll admit that I’m biased. I almost never hire someone who went to an Ivy League school.

Why? Because it’s foolish to believe that you can rely on four or five core schools to pre-screen students for you as though it qualifies them for work before they even sit at their new desk. Pedigree doesn’t qualify someone for a job. Doing the job qualifies them for the job.

The best way to find real talent fast no matter what school you are recruiting from is to find opportunities to test your students in a near-real-world scenario. Fun events like hackathons, business model competitions, and prototype contests are great, but so are the more standard methods like online challenges. In any case, start with the hard skills and let the students wow you with their HBS-tought charisma later.

A faster process means more hires

This doesn’t just apply to college recruiting, it applies to all recruiting programs. People want to feel as if your company has a genuine interest in pursuing them and students are no exception. Make it easy to apply and then don’t drop the ball with communication.

First, cut your application form down to the bare minimum (or even ditch it all together if you can). You can get most of the information you need later In terms of your actual hiring process, the faster you can turn around your decision to hire, the better. Applying for jobs out of school is stressful time for students. You can bet that they are anxious while they wait for responses! It’s never a bad thing to have an offer in someone’s hand a month before their first-choice can get around to it.

Students want authenticity and timely feedback

Put applicants through a standard process and be proactive about setting expectations. Even though it’s expected, students get anxious about the fact that most companies will “go dark” on them if they didn’t get shortlisted (aka they don’t bother to contact the student about being rejected).

This means that your company can start from a place of transparency and proactivity. Even if you need to turn a student down, timely feedback will be appreciated and communicated to others who might think about applying.

Authenticity also applies to your social media strategy. Students spend a lot of time on social media and they can smell when your company doesn’t understand the nuances of their platform of choice. The key is to be human and relatable. Putting your brand message through too many layers of bureaucracy is a surefire way to appear sterile and alien to prospective hires.

Social media hiring isn’t just about posting weekly and letting the likes roll in: it’s also about reaching out to students directly. The best company social media accounts are able to build a community of active members, and the campus recruiting strategy is no different.

Core schools aren’t enough for diverse hiring

I touched on this a bit in the point about screening on performance, but I think it’s worth mentioning that your core schools are never able to hand you high performers from a set of diverse backgrounds on a silver platter year over year. In fact, the Ivy League in 2017 was still 40-50% white without taking into consideration family backgrounds and financial advantages that influence overall GPA by graduation day.

Realistically, most companies can only recruit heavily from a few schools because of the importance of in-person connections to students, plus the cost of travel to nearby campuses. It doesn’t make sense for me to recommend that you take the exact same tactics everywhere, but taking chances on less prestigious schools or schools outside of your local area is a great first step, especially if you are screening on performance.

One more thing

At least a few employees at your company went to college, right? If you have some extra time, think about setting a program to take advantage of referrals from their university networks, especially the networks of younger folks who are still connected to full-time students. You can empower your co-workers with materials to help them convince students to apply. And, of course, you’ll want to find ways to reward your co-workers for successful student hires. The more people that are involved in recruiting, the more successful any program will be.