August 7, 2013

The 8 Characteristics for Successfully Recruiting on Campuses

The savvy startup knows that being highly effective at recruiting top students is quite different than recruiting experienced professionals. For every HubSpot, Square or Wayfair, there are dozens of companies that struggle to show success or wonder why their efforts aren’t more productive. It’s simply a different game, one that requires a different mindset and approach.

Startups that consistently show success on campus build their recruiting efforts around eight key characteristics:

1.  Don’t settle for anyone other than exactly the recruits you want.

While you may not have every role fully spec’d when you hit campus, put serious thought into your needs, have a good sense of the type of role or person you are looking for, and (most importantly) be able to articulate it. Startups that excel at campus recruiting are committed to bringing on exceptional young talent (it’s not just boardroom talk) and they structure their go-to-market accordingly with the right staff and approach.

2.  Work harder and smarter than your competitors to know your target audience: the students.

Have a sense of what’s going on on campus and understand the millennial ethos that emphasizes change and personal impact. Structure your pitch to what ultimately most excites prospects and creatively play to students’ interest in starting their careers with a startup. Show students how they can advance their career and keep their future options open by joining your organization, while convincingly demonstrating how you can help them achieve those objectives.

3.  Have a compelling story that excites candidates and sell it better than your competitors.

It starts with job descriptions (rethink the traditional approach here), getting the word out on campus to attract the most talented students, and extends right through the selling, closing and even onboarding (especially for interns). Big visions, collaborative cultures, and the opportunity to have meaningful impact and learn from the best are embraced as competitive advantages. Adjust your entire recruiting approach to market and sell around this.

4.  Face the fact that most students have probably never heard of your company.

Look to compensate for this with creative approaches to recruiting that enable you to attractively stand out and get noticed. Leverage both Career Services and the right student groups & superconnectors on campus, particularly at top universities that are ramping up their service offerings to work more closely with startups and cater to their unique needs.

5.  Run an efficient and focused campus recruiting process that presents a unified front to candidates.

Recognize that the process for hiring students is not the same one you would follow for hiring more experienced professionals. Know that you should ideally time activities to coincide with the key phases of the academic year and structure your approach accordingly, pulling in founders, CEOs and others as needed.

6.  Recognize that compensation packages must be on par with those of your peer employers.

If you can’t beat/match Google/Facebook/Amazon on a salary basis, then win students’ hearts and minds by compensating in other ways - the opportunity to be part of something special and have personal impact, a great work culture, cool perks, positions that expose candidates to many things, or opportunities to develop skills that will show them the money in the future.

7.  Understand that everything doesn’t simply end once a new hire is onboard.

Treat interns and new hires well, deliver on what you promise, and provide rewarding company experiences that advance career aspirations. Recognize that this will result in admiration and respect for your organization, which becomes your most valuable asset for helping to recruit future prospects. Some startups also take great care to develop thoughtful and comprehensive internship programs or rotational job programs to help accomplish this.

8.  Build feedback loops to learn and optimize your process, developing a best-in-class campus recruiting practice.

Build trust and solicit valuable feedback and then actually act on it to make your go-to-market approach better. Stay in touch with former employees and even strong candidates, turn them into evangelists for your organization and solicit their suggestions for sourcing other students.

Michael Gaiss is the Founder of ThinkB1G and an EIR at UMass-Boston's Venture Development Center.  You can find Michael on Twitter (@MichaelGaiss) by clicking here or sign up for the ThinkB1G newsletter here.