A Message to College Recruiting Leadership - You're Either In or Out

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent the past few decades working with organizations that viewed their college programs as critical to their ability to compete in the marketplace. However, in my observation this point of view seems to be the exception. Without strong support from an organization’s leadership, and I mean starting at the very top, success in the UR space will be like a roll of the dice and at worst, produce dismal results.  

When it came to college recruiting, a former recruiting assistant of mine would repeatedly tell me, even delight in telling me, “Steve, it’s not rocket science.”  I did say former….but seriously, she was stating a bit of the obvious.  Yet if college recruiting isn’t rocket science, why do so many organizations tend to achieve only lack luster results or fail outright? I firmly believe it starts and ends with an organization’s senior most leadership and whether they are either in or out when it comes to winning the war for talent.  

Speaking of talent wars, if you Google the phrase “war for talent”, you’ll get 370,000+ results.  Suffice it to say, there is quite a bit of research to support the notion that to be successful, talent strategies, including those surrounding college efforts, require leadership’s focused attention and demonstrated support throughout the organization. Why?  Because their recruiters will go up against companies who’s leaders do embrace college recruiting and from a candidate’s perspective, the differences will be clearly discernable.  

This was made crystal clear to me many years ago when I was recruiting MBA wannabe consultants for a well know consulting firm during the Y2K/dot.com era. Good times that they were, competition was out of control and professionalism among firms seemed to have taken an extended holiday. As it happened, a rival firm well known and coveted by the MBA crowd, went out of its way to reschedule their courting ritual (some referred to its as an information session) for the exact same day and time as my firm’s event.  Their strategy was to make MBA’s “choose a side”, but it backfired miserably as they had a very poor showing. Why? This firm, despite their high brand appeal, had only recently come to campus whereas my firm had a solid fifteen-year history of recruiting MBAs. Leadership’s commitment to the firm’s college recruiting function from day one along with a 15 year recruiting history at this university, sent a very compelling message to these future consultants – The firm believed in you long before you were the darling of consulting and I-Banks. Wow!

Decision Time:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where—" said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

"—so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." - Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

Okay so what do I mean when I say leaders need to be all in?  For starters, you need to know exactly why your organization is recruiting in the UR space. Whether it’s because you think college hires are cheap (they are not), or you believe the future CEO is out there waiting to be found, it all starts with clarity in purpose. If you’re having trouble articulating why a college recruiting program makes a lot of sense, consider reading Dr. Sullivan’s Business Case for Hiring College Grads and he’ll give you at least 32 great ones. I’ll add #33 – that it can be a great way to reinforce or transform an organization’s culture rather quickly but in a positive way.

A few years ago, I was ramping up a college program for a company that sought to supercharge its annual hiring. As part of an overall program, I successfully argued for a mandatory one-week orientation session for all new grad hires – yes, mucho $$$$ but well worth it. The organization suffered from poor communication between its key business units, most likely the result of years of growth by acquisition. Not long after these newbies landed, managers commented to me that these grads were often more tuned in to the happenings of other business units than they themselves were. How was this possible?  Simple. As a result of locking them in a room for a week, and then forcing….ahem, I mean encouraging them to work and interact with their team mates, communication channels developed naturally that were not aligned along vertical business units. Post orientation, they naturally continued communicating with each other even outside of each other’s BUs. The entrenched and dysfunctional “vertical only” communication practice was being displaced by a cross-organization communication approach. Oh yes, and to Dr. Sullivan’s point #3, just like in college, these new hires were utilizing instant messaging profusely. Soon, even senior execs got on board with IM, and the company introduced a corporate version not too long thereafter.  Not a bad ROI if I do say so. 

Change is in the Air:

To the recruiters in the audience, stay with me when I say that if leadership is in it to win, they must expect more from those directly responsible for recruiting college talent – that’s you. In a recent article from Bersin by Deloitte Research, they state “…to reap the benefits of campus recruiting, organizations recognize they need to take a more strategic approach and demand measurable results” (emphasis added).  This means leadership will look to you as the expert, but to be taken seriously, you’ll need to continuously converse in the universal language of  - wait for it – metrics with a dollop of strategic planning to provide context.  If you need to play catch-up, check out Dr. Sullivan’s “Metrics for Assessing College-hire Effectiveness and ROI.” If you’d like a sample strategic plan, contact me at st@recsolu.com and I’ll be glad to send you a template to get you started.

But to be clear, I’m not talking just about yesterday’s metrics such as intern conversion rates, offer acceptance rates, quality of hire, and the all important delivery time for your info session pizzas. Mobile recruiting solutions, essentially pioneered by RECSOLU just a few years ago, can now illuminate event-centric metrics that were once unattainable. These insights are causing organizations to drastically re-think their event-centric strategies, especially around the ROI.  Trust me when I tell you that metrics and making decisions based on them, are here to stay. So for the sake of your career alone, you need to embrace them.

Same but Different:

Perhaps most importantly, leaders who are “in it to win it” fully understand that college recruiting is far more dissimilar than similar to its sibling- experienced recruiting. They understand that it’s all about preparing for a talent harvest rather than an endless supply of on-demand talent, and will push their organizations to engage in forward-looking planning and early id programs (internships).  And to quote an old adage, “it’s not always what you know but rather who you know,” they recognize it takes years to build trusting relationships with influential faculty and student leaders, which must then be constantly nurtured over time.  

The best leaders astutely recognize that UR folks have no real authority, but do have a lot of responsibility to deliver results. Accordingly, these leaders understand they’ll occasionally need to assume the role of “enforcer” to ensure everyone is fully onboard and supportive of the collective vision.  For example, a company I worked for had a strict policy that if you made a commitment to assist on campus, it was your responsibility to find a replacement – not the UR folks. If you were unsuccessful, you were in for a nice chat with the school executive, who was usually partner level and an alum. Needless to say, no shows were more the exception than the rule.

And finally, leaders are beginning to truly understand that UR folks require technology that is radically different than their peers on the professional side.  Event-centric planning capability, institutional knowledge management, campaign based CRM, and mobile-enable solutions are quickly entering the lexicon of campus recruiting.  Back in 2009 when RECSOLU began offering our innovative technology to UR professionals, they often had to move heaven and earth to seek out resources from their budgets.  Although it’s still not a cakewalk, more UR programs are able to budget resources specifically to acquire UR focused solutions. In return, they’re achieving a 100% paperless intake process, team members are significantly more productive, systemic risks and inefficiency have been reduced, and candidate experiences have improved considerably.  For more information on how RECSOLU can help your UR effort, contact sales@recsolu.com.



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