Do You Have a Campus Recruitment Plan? (If Not, Here’s Why You Should)

By Robert Half September 2, 2016 at 2:17pm

Demand for professionals with a college degree remains extremely high. To get an edge on other firms competing for these hard-to-find candidates, smart employers are investing in campus recruitment programs that allow them to woo prospective hires before they even hit the job market. Read on for advice about effective campus recruitment, along with an overview of the most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

After two consecutive months of higher-than-expected job gains, payrolls grew by a more modest 151,000 jobs in August. The following industries were among the most significant contributors to job growth last month, according to the BLS:

  • Professional and technical services grew by 20,000 positions.
  • Employers in the financial activities sector increased payrolls by 15,000 jobs in August. 
  • Healthcare added 14,000 jobs in August.

Since the start of the year, the U.S. economy has added nearly 1.5 million jobs, averaging 182,000 jobs per month.

A closer look at unemployment

The national unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent in August. The unemployment rate for workers who are 25 or older and have a college degree edged up to 2.7 percent after holding at 2.5 percent in June and July. Still, this rate is more than 2 points below the national rate.

Regular readers of my column know that I make a point of highlighting the unemployment rate for college graduates 25 years of age or older each month. That’s because I think it’s particularly relevant for employers. Workers who have a bachelor’s degree or higher have the technical and soft skills that today’s companies increasingly rely on. College-educated professionals know how to analyze data, think strategically, communicate clearly, debate ideas and apply critical thinking to complex problems. What business couldn’t benefit from workers with these abilities?

The demand for college graduates has been building for quite some time, and it’s not likely to fade. The unemployment rate for those 25 or older with a college degree has sat below 3 percent since December 2014. In fact, it has not exceeded 5 percent in the past 25 years, according to data available through the BLS website.

Consider this: Research by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that 8.4 million of the 11.6 million positions created since the Great Recession have gone to professionals who had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another 3.1 million jobs have been awarded to candidates with associate’s degrees or at least some college education.

Why you need a campus recruitment strategy

This all leads to an important question for employers: What are you doing to attract college-educated professionals? 

You must have a strategy in place for recruiting these workers. Demand is so high that you can’t afford to sit back and be a passive player. The savviest employers take steps to identify and reach out to promising candidates before they officially enter the job market through active campus recruitment

In a recent survey by our company, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of CFOs said their firms are doing more entry-level recruiting from colleges or universities than they were five years ago. 

Developing a formal campus recruitment strategy can help you make a positive connection with college seniors at a critical time: when they are starting to think ever more seriously about their future. Here’s some advice to keep in mind as you develop your plan.

Think beyond on-campus career fairs  

Career fairs, which are often held in the spring, provide an opportunity to introduce your company to soon-to-be graduates. However, waiting until then to start campus recruitment could be too late. One reason is that the most promising college seniors may already have a post-graduation job lined by the time career fairs roll around.  

You need to start earlier. One valuable exercise is reaching out to career center staff at the colleges or universities you want to target for campus recruitment. They can help connect your recruiting team with faculty, administrators and other vital contacts on campus. These individuals can offer insight into the skills and attributes of their student body and make introductions to career-minded students. 

As you meet strong candidates, start building true relationships. Invite them to your company for a tour, for example, or to have lunch with a top executive and a select group of other employees — including people in their peer group, if possible. You can offer a look at your company culture and explain why your business is the right choice for them.

Offer opportunities to students

Internship programs require time and effort to execute well, but they are without question one of the most effective campus recruitment techniques. Not all internships result in a full-time hire, of course. But they are still a great way for your business to form a professional relationship with a college student who might become an employee sometime in the future — or at least, would be likely to recommend your company to peers in their network who are looking for employment. 

Running a well-planned and challenging internship program can also help you foster goodwill with leading colleges and universities, which are always looking to help their students gain real-world work experience.

Take a long-term approach

Going back to my first point, 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. Campus recruitment requires a multipronged approach, and commitment. It’s critical to develop and maintain relationships — not just with students but also professors, administrators and many others. Building these relationships, and awareness about your company and what you have to offer to aspiring professionals, takes time. There’s no getting around it.

Be sure to devote your best resources to the task of campus recruitment if you want to see a good return on your investment. You want college seniors to interact with people who are genuinely enthusiastic about your business and can speak articulately about why a new graduate would want to launch a career at your firm. Remember, in today’s highly competitive market, it’s just as important for an employer to make a good impression on a top candidate as it is for a potential hire to demonstrate why he or she is the best fit for the job.

Ideally, you’ll introduce entry-level candidates to employees who have walked a path similar to the one they’re about to embark on — for example, someone who joined your firm right after college and is already working at the middle-management level. It’s important for college students to see a little bit of themselves in the people trying to recruit them. It can help them to visualize how they, too, might build a future at your company.

Paul McDonald photograph
Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

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