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Back to School: Campus Recruiting for Small Businesses

In Sourcing — by Erin Engstrom

In the last several weeks, millions of students across the country have returned to school. It’s an exciting time for everybody: There are old friends to catch up with, new friends to make and lots of information to be learned. For college seniors, it’s an especially dynamic time. In addition to anticipating one last year of school sporting events, campus parties and awesome cafeteria food (okay, maybe not the last one), it’s time to think about next steps. Many will be applying to grad school, but most are going to be trying to land their first full-time jobs.

Although students are just beginning the school year and seniors won’t be graduating for another nine months, it’s not too early to start thinking about your 2016 hiring needs – especially if your business is growing. Just as it for college grads on the job hunt, if you wait until next May, you’re probably too late.

Recruiting new grads, though – that can be tough. Your pipeline-building tactics like hiring from within or internal referrals are less likely to be applicable to new grads than they are to experienced candidates. Between purchasing a booth and shelling out for signage and marketing swag (college student love their koozies), the cost to participate in a career fair will easily cost you hundreds – and maybe even thousands – of dollars. For a small business, that’s a big expense. Fortunately, there are some affordable ways to recruit soon-to-be college grads.

Campus Presentations

If your network includes a faculty member in your industry, it’s worthwhile to see if they’re ever looking for guest lecturers to visit their class. The benefits are myriad for all parties: Students can get a fresh, real-world perspective. The pressure’s taken off the professor for the day. You’ve got the chance to inspire students, raise your professional profile and connect with prospective candidates.

Not everyone knows professors, of course, so the easier route may be to connect with clubs on campus that are related to your field of work. From engineering and construction management to economics and optometry, there’s a professional club for pretty much every industry. These clubs are frequently looking for guest speakers or mentors, and it can take a lot of time and effort to find people who are ready and willing. By approaching them first, you’ll actually be doing them a huge favor. And you don’t even have to be an alumnus.

The great thing about going the club route is that you’ll be interacting with a highly engaged, self-selecting group of students – they wouldn’t have joined the club if they weren’t already interested in your field. You’ll also have the chance to build up a relationship with students over the course of months or even years. During this period of time, you’ll have ample opportunity to gauge whether their personality and approach to work is a good match for your small business.

Internship Programs

Another way for employers and students to assess fit is through internship programs. Test-driving the talent doesn’t have to cost a lot, either. According to the National Association for Colleges and Employers, the average hourly wage for an undergraduate intern was $16.26 in 2014. And of course there are no benefits to pay for. 

Setting up an internship program does requires some advance legwork. Among the steps you’ll want to take are:

  1. Exploring the legal ramifications of an internship program, including worker’s compensation policies and termination guidelines
  2. Defining the program, including learning objectives, daily responsibilities, project assignments and hirarchy
  3. Getting staff on board and making sure they’re okay with oversight and delegation while the intern is there, and that the transition is smooth once the intern leaves

There’s still the logistics of actually recruiting your interns, but the pool is also larger. Your focus won’t necessarily be narrowed on seniors, but rather students of all ages. Additionally, many students view internships as a way to test the waters and explore careers they might be interested in. So your internship opportunity may appeal to students who have a more exploratory mindset. In contrast, students in professional clubs are liklier to be more single-minded about their career goals. 

Social Media

No doubt you’re familiar with that old saying, “Go where your audience is.” When it comes to college students, that means taking the first train to the land of social media. One survey found that a whopping 95 percent of college students are on Facebook, 80 percent are on Twitter and 73 percent are on Instagram. And they’re not just using these channels to post photos of their latest culinary adventure or make arch observations about the state of the world.

The majority of college students are also using social media for career-related purposes. A survey of more than 50,000 college students found that more than 68 percent used social media to search for an internship (great for the tip above!). It stands to reason that this behavior will carry over into job searches.

When considering which networks to use in your recruiting efforts, don’t limit yourself to Facebook and Twitter. Instagram’s potential as a recruitment platform is just being tapped (and most college students are on it). Looking to hire more women? Given that 71 percent of its users are women, Pinterest might be the place for you. Consider searching searching Reddit for college students who are posting threads with career questions or concerns. For the truly fearless recruiter, maybe Snapchat – where 71 percent of the users are under 25 – is the network for you.

For small businesses in particular, social media is an essential element to your new grad recruiting strategy. Since it’s free to use, it gives you the chance to level the playing field a bit against big corporations with more resources. It also doesn’t limit you to recruiting in one geography. College grads are likely to move after graduation, either back home or to millennial hubs like Denver, Nashville or Portland. They’re a transient group, and your opportunity just may be the one to convince them to call your city home.

There are a lot of reasons to consider fresh-out-of-college candidates. Their salaries are more affordable, they’re technologically adept, their minds are primed to learn and they’re easier to manage. Simply put, you want new grads to work for you. By locating them and putting your best face forward via the power of campus presentations and social media, they’ll want to work for you, too.

About the author
Erin Engstrom (@erinaengstrom) is the web content strategist at Recruiterbox. I’m in Chicago for now, but hope to take advantage of Recruiterbox’s remote workplace and do the digital nomad thing. Relax and eat the elephant one bite at a time.

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