A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.
The only startup activity more challenging than battling well-established competitors for customers is competing with them for talent. As the class of 2016 prepares to enter the working world, this challenge can feel bigger than ever before.
The larger the company, the larger its team of recruiters working to establish great relationships with top universities’ career centers. They start engaging with students as early as freshman or sophomore year, inviting them to dinners, hosting networking events, and offering internships. By the time graduation rolls around, they’ve already extended offers to the people they want most.
Big companies might have resource advantages, but don’t let them intimidate you. Just like there are ways to win customers from competitors, there are also tactics to recruit soon-to-be grads.
1. Discuss last-minute opportunities with university career centers
Spring job fairs might be over, but there are other ways to work with university career centers throughout this season and into the summer.
A good place to start getting the word out about open positions is on student and alumni career portals. Identify the top 10 schools you’d like to recruit from and reach out to each career center to ask about the costs (some charge, some don’t) of publishing job posts and the typical number of leads each one generates.
2. Guest lecture on a topic related to what you’re hiring for
If you want your college recruiting efforts to stand out, simply posting job ads and hoping for the best won’t cut it. Find creative ways of getting in front of students before they graduate.
Particularly for schools with business or entrepreneurial programs, reach out to department heads to discuss guest lecture opportunities. If you’re looking for marketers, give a talk to an undergraduate marketing course filled with seniors on a topic like, “The startup marketing tactics they don’t teach you in school.” If you need product managers, speak to a management class filled with MBAs about the product management strategies you wish you learned before starting your company.
At the end of these lectures, don’t forget to pitch your company! Say you’re hiring and offer your email address to the class. Most importantly, make yourself available after the class to speak informally with students.
3. Host events at your office
Don’t just think about how you can go to students – find ways to get students come to you, too.
If your startup is near the schools you’re recruiting from, organize a college event at your office that people will actually want to attend. Tailor the event based on the positions you’re hiring for. For instance, a hackathon complete with prizes could help more developers learn about your startup.
Once you’ve decided on an event date and theme, get the word out. Reach out to university papers and other relevant event listing sites to get the word out, and promote via your startup’s social channels.
4. Let local press know your company is growing
Maybe our startup doesn’t plan on hiring just one or two recent grads. You're going to hire a whole slew of them to double or triple the size of your team. This is the type of story that local business reporters might be interested in covering, which can help you recruit from universities in your area.
Having an article written about your startup’s growth is like getting free job postings, but it goes way beyond that. An article is often more powerful than any job ad you could pay for. That’s because a journalist won’t just communicate that you have an open position. She’ll tell a broader story about your startup’s success and the factors contributing to your rapid growth. These growth-related pieces can result in many high quality leads from recent grads.
5. Get your team to reach out to alma maters
College recruiting should be a full team effort at your startup.
Ask all of your employees – even the ones who aren’t usually involved in hiring – for help in reaching out to their own university alumni networks. If you’ve hired any graduates in the last few years, they might have good relationships with professors or career center staff who can get you in front of students with skill sets you’re looking for.
Also ask your employees if they have access to a LinkedIn page for students and alumni from their alma maters. These pages can be great mediums for publishing posts about the opportunities and culture at your startup.
6. Seek out the entrepreneurs
Worried that the best and brightest have already been scooped up by bigger companies at this stage of the game? Think again.
Many students who get hired into stable, salaried jobs with well-established companies aren’t the same people who thrive in startup environments. As your startup pursues college recruiting efforts in April, May, and over the summer, many of the people you talk to will be enthusiastic, energetic self-starters who never had any interest in a conventional job. They’re seeking excitement and opportunities to learn fast and take on large projects early in their careers.
Image via Shutterstock