Talent Acquisition

Recruiting College Students for Jobs

Employers may think they don’t need to focus on attracting recent or soon-to-be college graduates because it’s an employer’s job market, but thinking that way will put them at their own peril, say career experts.

“Companies no matter how big or small need to do workforce planning and development to match anticipated growth with talent,” says Steven Canale, manager, global recruiting and staffing services at General Electric, which goes to great lengths to recruit at the college level. “We are trying to build a deep bench of future talent and thought leaders.”

Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of upcoming book Promote Yourself: The New Art of Getting Ahead explains: “Young people hold the key to unlock the future of companies. They have all the bright ideas and are extremely savvy with technology.”

Even though the job market is tight, on the college graduate level there is fierce competition to lure the best and brightest to companies. Hot technology companies and marquee brands have little trouble recruiting college students but even so everyone has to have a well thought out strategy. Visiting a college campus and walking away with a few new hires isn’t the way a company will be successful. In fact, Canale at GE says that if it’s easy, chances are the company isn’t getting the best of the best.

“You have to be ready to compete like hell,” says Canale, who is pleased with acceptance rates in the 60% range. “If you’re not competing then you’re probably not attracting the top students.”

According to career experts when it comes to a college recruiting strategy, a company has to be where the students are and that not only includes on college campuses and at job fairs but also online on Facebook, Twitter and on YouTube. According to Schawbel, companies need to present themselves as the best place to work and have to showcase what it’s like to work there, what the company values are and how it gives back to the community. Schawbel explains, “young people want meaningful work. They want to work for companies giving back over making money.”  Done right, Schawbel says the company will attract the right candidates and repel the wrong ones.

College Recruiting Strategies

Forging relationships with universities is another part of a successful corporate college recruiting strategy, say experts. But a company has to be careful in which colleges they choose to partner with. “You want to pick them based on a variety of criteria,” like majors and skillsets, says Mimi Collins, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “It’s important to understand the profile of the student at the school.”  Since many companies are working with limited recruiting dollars, it’s a good idea to first come up with the positions you are seeking to fill and then pinpoint the colleges and universities that will best match your needs. Once you’ve come up with the schools you want to target, Collins says a good resource is the school’s career center. “The career center can give you entry to the rest of the company,” says Collins.

At GE, Canale says the company focuses its recruiting efforts very heavily on 45 key schools in the U.S. and another 60 outside the U.S. At the targeted schools, GE will have executives on hand through the year doing something whether it’s building relationships with faculty, administrators, or student organizations. GE will also be at career fairs, sponsor competitions and events and have its leaders including the CEO speak at the universities. The conglomerate also has an internship program and a culture of promoting from within. GE hires 2,000 full time college grads a year, half in the U.S. and half outside the U.S. with the primary feeder of those jobs coming from its internship and cooperative programs. “We use it as the most important place to find our full time hires,” says Canale. “We source 70% of our full time hires from that pool.” Now that’s an in-depth campus recruiting strategy.

Having an internship program is also a great way to attract college graduates but experts caution your company reputation among students will be based heavily on how the internship program is structured. If students sit around doing nothing all day, or spend their hours making photo copies they aren’t going to want to work for the company or brag to their friends about the internship. But if you have a well-defined internship program where the student learns, it’s a surefire way to turn the intern into ambassador of your brand and thus attract top students in the future, says Collins.

Recruiting college graduates is one part of the equation, keeping them at the company is the other. According to Schawbel preventing students from jumping ship can be tough, since retention rates are usually two years although the students want to stay for around four years. They leave, says Schawbel, because of career opportunities. If the opportunities are there they would stay. “One of the big trends is internal hiring programs,” says Schawbel.

Companies can not only save money promoting the people that already work there but it boosts morale and makes job seekers want to work there, he adds.

GE has a good track record when it comes to retention, and Canale credits that to the investment the company makes in the student’s career. “We invest a lot in their development. It’s the training and the career opportunities,” says Canale. Whether it’s a large company or small one it has to be willing to develop the person, he says. “Students today are willing to work hard but they want to know what I am going to get. How is working for this company going to improve my personal brand,” says Canale.

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