No Image Available

Jeanette Maister

Read more about Jeanette Maister

What can UK organisations learn from US graduate recruitment tactics?


This article was written by Jeanette Maister, U.S. Managing Director of Business Development at WCN.

US companies don’t have all the answers when it comes to campus recruitment, but there are many best practices in place that could have relevance across the globe. Of course, it would be a mistake to simply replicate the US process in the UK and vice versa. One key difference between the two countries’ campus recruiting practices is the use of online assessments – while it’s the norm in the UK, the American market does not typically use these assessments given the widespread use of college admission’s standardized tests (SAT and ACT). And here in the states we say campus recruitment, while across the pond, it’s graduate recruitment. Suffice to say, what works in one regional area, won’t necessarily work in another, but there are some best practices being deployed in the US which may very well translate to the UK market.

University Selection
Because going to each campus takes a lot of time, resources and money, successful campus recruiters in the US have to focus. They identify the key universities that are likely to deliver the talent they need. Big organisations with large campus hiring targets may focus on just 10 to 15 core schools. This is done in order to ensure their resources are not spread too thinly. Many base their school selections on a variety of factors – how selective the university is in their admissions process, demographics of the student body, location in relation to the firm’s offices, university curriculum (though there is a trend of hiring smart “kids” and teaching them the rest in the workplace), existing passionate alumni within the organization, number and calibre of hires that have historically come from the college, and how the hires have performed over time at the organization. Sophisticated software can assist in these types of analysis.

Key relationships
Once they have a short list of core schools, companies work hard to develop relationships with the colleges’ career centre staff, professors, deans and student clubs leaders to then identify the top talent on campuses. Latest research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), shows that 80 percent of firms with 2,501 or more employees have a formal college relations department – and while this figure drops among smaller companies it still sits at 44 percent among those employing 500 personnel or less. Some deepen the links even further by having employees serve on university advisory boards. This is a symbiotic relationship with the college career services; thanks to the close relationship with US firms, career services are able to heavily coach students on what potential employers are looking for and how to best prepare for the campus recruiting process.

Increase reach via technology
Instead of simply focusing on the top handful of universities, some are supplementing the core school model by using a low cost sourcing methodology with the help of technology. These technologies enable companies to virtually connect with the top candidates who are not at the firm’s core schools. Personalized yet “bulk” communication, virtual career fairs and presentations, remote live video interviews, (used by 27 percent of employers according to NACE), interviews via phone and Skype, ‘interview rooms’ online assessments, and simulations are set to be more actively used to assess potential candidates and interns residing in a broader mix of colleges. Applicant tracking software supports this process, with almost 90 percent of employers studied by NACE in 2012 using such a system. Many of WCN’s clients use CRIS, a global campus recruiting information system to support these efforts.

Earlier competition
With competition for talent fiercer than ever, companies in the UK are increasingly looking at how they can connect with top talent earlier and start talking to candidates well ahead of graduation. In the UK you may have seen the launch of Engineer Graduates, which provides early stage graduate programmes to the geotechnical, mining, utilities, energy, defence, aerospace and technology sectors. Such early courting of students has been the norm in the US for many years and is widespread. Companies bring students in as interns, not only during the summer before they graduate, but some will hire interns two summers years away from graduation in order to court students before other firms. Others are starting to hold presentations and workshops targeting younger students in order to build the brand and connections even earlier. Event and candidate relationship management software is key to keeping organized and staying in touch with this early talent pipeline.

Given the USA’s reputation as a ‘melting pot,’ there has been a significant effort for many years to reach promising, diverse candidates. While it may be less of a trend in the UK, there is no doubt that employers increasingly recognize that diversity of thought is a good thing in the employee base, and that a workforce which reflects the diversity of your customer base/market makes commercial sense too. As a result, many of the techniques for reaching out to key groups deployed as part of Campus recruitment in the US, with some modification, may well transfer. For instance, many US employers hold specific campus recruiting networking events with their firm’s diversity networks (black, hispanic, women, GLBT) and top diversity students at college. Employers also host various diversity “boot camps” and offer scholarships to further educate these populations on their firm’s opportunities. Such interaction is further fuelled by the rise in social media channels which make it easier than ever for current employees to connect with potential hires and promote the employer brand.

Build the employer brand
Building the employer brand has become incredibly important among US companies who want to attract the top college talent. Major corporates have a campus recruiting specific brand, usually in a slightly younger, hipper “voice” to better relate to and engage the candidate. Mobile career websites and apps that feature this campus brand are increasingly appearing given how tech savvy this generation is. When it comes to the employer brand companies are also thinking about messages such as the company’s role in society, the scope to make a difference and so forth, as salary package alone is not pulling in this generation of graduates. Many of the top candidates have true philanthropic aspirations and firms that want to compete must address these candidates’ values in their own employer-value proposition.

Tech Takeover
Historically US campus recruitment has been dominated by financial and consulting firms and established corporates. However, tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are not only increasingly found on campuses, but their hiring targets are increasing as well. This is re-drawing the battle lines somewhat in terms of the brand messages, the style of interaction, the packages, and prospects. The rise of tech is not likely to be a trend confined to the US given these tech brands are global players. Furthermore, almost every developed economy is focusing on STEM businesses, so competition from tech-based businesses for graduate talent will only increase.

Attracting top graduate talent, wherever you are in the world, is a competitive business. By sharing best practices and insights we all can all further innovate. In this vein, I hope these insights from America prove useful in your own organisations.


Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.