Demand for professionals with a college degree remains high. Even before joining the workforce, newly minted graduates often have the foundation of technical and soft skills that today’s companies increasingly rely on. College-educated professionals typically 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?
While that’s a rhetorical question, this next one is not: Are you doing all you can to attract soon-to-be college grads?
Your competitors are.
In fact, employers plan to hire more new graduates for their U.S. operations from the Class of 2018 than they did from the Class of 2017, according to the Job Outlook 2018 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
The bottom line is that you can’t afford to sit back and be a passive player. To gain an edge, the savviest employers take steps to identify and reach out to promising candidates through active campus recruitment — before many other employers have a chance to talk to them.
Developing a formal campus recruitment strategy helps you make a positive connection with college seniors at a critical time: when they are starting to think more seriously about their future. Here’s some advice to keep in mind as you develop and invest in your campus recruitment 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. But some of the most promising college seniors may already have a post-graduation job lined up by the time career fair season rolls around. As such, you need to take a more proactive approach.
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 offer insight into the skills and attributes of their student body and can introduce you to career-minded students.
As you meet strong candidates, start building true relationships. Invite them to your company for a tour 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.
The bottom line: 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.
Offer internship opportunities
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 view
Campus recruitment requires commitment and a multipronged approach. It’s critical to develop and maintain relationships — not just with students but also professors, administrators and 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 they are 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 now working at the middle-management level. It’s important for college students to see a 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 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.