Last month, I had the opportunity to present at a workshop for campus recruiters in Toronto. For the core conference there were 39 paid attendees and for the keynote speaker on day two of the conference well over 120 people attended.

Why is this interesting? Campus recruiting as a specialty, even in large organizations, has taken a beating these past three years. Since mid-2000, if your expertise was in finding entry-level talent and filling internships you've probably had a hard time finding a buyer for your talents.

Even though the unemployment rate for four-year college graduates in the U.S. remained low (about 3%) throughout the recession, new grads faced a tough job market. In 2003, only 8% of college grads had secured full-time employment before they graduated. By then, most organizations had severely reduced their campus recruiting programs including less attendance at local college career fairs, lapsed relationships with campus career centers, fewer internships, and less use of campus-specific job boards like JobTRAK (now MonsterTRAK).

This year is looking better for new grads. Among the Class of 2004, 18% had found full-time employment by March2 By all measures, 2005 is looking even better. Data presented during the workshop from two large student surveys conducted this year among North American college and university students each convey a confidence in finding work upon graduation that has not been seen in several years.

While the U.S. Department of Labor continues to file discouraging payroll reports, anecdotally at least, the news from recruiters (corporate and contract) and from recruiting technology suppliers is all good. In both cases, business appears to be double or more what it was this time last year. Likewise, though the recovery is fragile and job growth minimal, substantially more grads expect to find work and, apparently, are finding work upon graduation.

Given the renewed interest in campus recruiting and the increase in positive experiences of seniors and recent grads, 2005 may be the beginning of a more competitive landscape in new grad hiring.

Small and mid-sized companies who often tap new grads as a means to acquiring new ideas and energy at a bargain price will face heavy competition For firms with fewer resources and less brand recognition, fall is the best time to begin recruiting next year's crop of grads.

These tips will help you get ahead of the pack in this stiff market.

  • Build relationships. With the Internet offering dozens of ways to reach students from the comfort of you own office, it is tempting to save time by skipping the effort of building personal contacts. However, polls still show that students rely on professors and their career centers for guidance in their search for work. Visit the career centers at your local colleges early in the year, tell them your plans, share information about opportunities in your organization, and ask for their help. Also, getting to know some of the professors in programs that your graduates are likely to come from is a worthwhile investment of your time. If you can, offer to furnish guest lecturers in the departments whose graduates you are most interested in.
  • Offer internships, if you have the capacity to do so. The first piece of advice graduates give to those that follow them is to participate in internships. Internships not only provide students the knowledge of what it is like to work in a particular organization, occupation, and industry, but frequently result in full-time work. For employers, internships must be planned well, be meaningful, and pay within a wage range normally set by the college. Project-based work properly matched to the students interests and abilities is best suited for internships which are normally about 10-16 weeks but can run up to one year.
  • Build a campus component into your corporate career site and use job boards that are specific to students and recent graduates. Even if your planned hiring is minimal, it helps to offer some specific information for new grads and students who visit your site. This should include comprehensive descriptions of jobs and the ability to apply online. Also include information on corporate culture, what it's like to work in your organization, and any benefits that might be particularly appealing to new grads. The next generation of workers has been polled extensively--skills development, flexible working conditions, and quality of co-workers consistently rank in the top five characteristics they seek in companies.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, these initiatives are likely reap the greatest returns for time-pressed small and mid-sized organizations.

1 Experience, Inc poll of 2,500 graduating college students across 431 colleges and universities. See
2 Ibid

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