Building an Effective College Recruiting Program

Company growth requires a constant infusion of talent. One effective means of obtaining new talent is a proactive college recruiting program. However, such an effort requires focus, commitment and persistence to consistently pay dividends. Just like the marketing and sales process, an effective college recruiting program requires a strong focus on relationships and branding.

Getting started

For AEC firms, the process starts by identifying target schools that offer programs that will produce students that meet your needs for engineers, project managers, estimators and business people. Identify programs with solid engineering, construction management and business programs that are in close proximity to your offices. Then, the next step is building relationships with faculty, professors and students.

You’ll likely need to try some atypical marketing techniques to reach today’s students. It is no secret that today’s college students are tech savvy and they do research a lot differently than how you likely searched for a job. As such, be sure to utilize a variety of media outlets and technologies to promote your company brand. Your efforts must include proactive, integrated communication efforts. For example, begin by evaluating your website. Do you have a content-rich section geared toward students? Be sure to use videos, podcasts, and other multi-media tools to reach this audience in a language that speaks to them. Also develop an integrated approach to using Web 2.0 strategies that incorporate tools such as Facebook, wikis, e-newsletters, text messaging and other tools commonly used by students. Be sure that your communication also addresses parents as they have become increasingly more involved in their children’s decision and career choices.

Another key component of building awareness about your firm is through career fairs as they are a great tool to reach a broad array of students. Many colleges and universities have general career fairs as well as specific engineering and construction fairs. Since attendance at most career fairs typically consists of juniors and sophomores, you have a great opportunity to establish a relationship and explore internship and co-op possibilities. Internships are a great way to provide professional experience for students as well as an opportunity for you to evaluate them as potential employees. Most important, internships provide a means for you to develop a relationship. Ideally, internships and this relationship can start after the sophomore year, and can possibly continue for a second internship. Students that have a good internship experience are likely to look heavily at your firm upon graduation. In addition, they become ambassadors for your company as they share their experience with students and professors. However, don’t simply show up to a career fair with your standard booth that you use at industry trade shows. Rather, be sure to invest in engaging, quality graphics and multi-media tools that speak to students. Also consider taking advantage of on-campus interviews that are usually offered in conjunction with career fairs. The same rules apply for recruitment pieces — develop engaging, and interesting materials that fully articulate your company’s capabilities, career opportunities, and advantages.

In addition to various media outlets and career fairs, groups such as Chi Epsilon, ASCE, ACI and others are an excellent way to reach and build relationships with students. Consider offering guest speakers, hosting a social event, funding a project, or participate in other innovative ways to develop a relationship with the groups. An added bonus is that the student group officers are typically high-potential candidates.

It is also prudent to build relationships with the academic community. Professors and other faculty members can help identify high-potential students for internships, part-time work and for full-time positions. Further, they typically have great insight into a student’s work ethic, intelligence and interaction skills. Therefore, it is important to establish and maintain relationships with professors. Start by researching faculty members, their background and classes they teach. Offer to be a guest speaker or host a class trip to a job site or engineering office. Professors are also looking for “real projects” that can serve as cases or projects for their students. Also consider teaching a full semester long course as an adjunct professor. Be sure to also reach out to professors that serve as faculty advisors to the aforementioned students groups.

Building a brand on campus

Ultimately, your goal is to present your firm as an employer of choice for students. Like all consumers, students tend to gravitate to brands they know. As such, it is important to develop a strategy for developing your brand on campus that goes beyond career fairs. Ideas include sponsorships of student competitions such as the steel bridge or concrete canoe contests. Also be sure to take advantage of advertising opportunities in student newspapers, directories and other publications. Further, consider offering named scholarships, making donations to capital campaigns, sponsoring events, or distributing shirts, hats and other premium items as means to gain exposure on campus.

Another important audience that is essential to building your brand is the career services or counseling departments. Strong relationships with career services offices also can have many benefits. Counselors can identify candidates and recommend your firm to students. Also be sure to take advantage of job boards, web postings and other ways of promoting your firm. For example, offer to host a seminar about your business or a generic topic such as “Career Options in Engineering,” “What General Contractors Look For in New Hires,” or another relevant topic. Also consider having a recent grad that works for your firm be part of the presentation. Students are more likely to relate to someone closer to their age, ideally a graduate of that school. Send new brochures, press clippings and articles to the Career Services staff, faculty and professors.

Next Steps

In addition to a proactive, detailed marketing program for your recruitment efforts, it is important that you have outlined the type of student you are looking for to join your team. Develop specific profiles and potential career paths for the types of students you want to reach, including the establishment of goals, expectations and desired results. This clarity will help ensure you find a good match and create success for both you and the student.

Like any other marketing or sales effort, it is important to identify a champion within your firm to be accountable for implementing and managing the college recruiting program for each campus. College students have a number of choices when starting their career. By developing a proactive, coordinated approach to college recruiting, your firm can ensure a strong brand and a steady flow of talent to grow your business. The result will be the establishment of a solid pipeline of talent coming into your organization.

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