By: John Rossheim
Recruiters charged with scooping up the best and brightest graduating students will face a pair of challenges in hiring the class of 2013.
First, they must showcase employers to new grads who, in a recovering economy, may be entertaining multiple job offers.
Second, recruiters must convince young candidates of the need to polish their “professional presence.” Since they’ve come of age in an era of informality and social media, they often use a staccato short-hand style of communications that many companies may find off-putting.
Aggressive Recruiting of Top Students
Although 2013 won’t be the go-go ‘90s for campus recruiting, top graduates will be in high demand. At some institutions, competition for graduating students is fierce.
"Our class of 2012 was unusually strong," says Len Morrison, director of career services at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. Last year Bentley, which emphasizes business studies, boasted a 96 percent placement rate for college and advanced-degree graduates.
Companies are responding to the labor-market recovery by extending the reach of their recruitment strategies.
"Employers like Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton have a strong presence on campus," says Morrison. "The employers that are most effective in their recruiting will offer leadership employee development programs with rotations to different functional areas and international."
Employers are also getting creative about recruiting the forthcoming graduating class through their “relatable” peers. "Some employers are using their own recent hires to reach back to the colleges they attended to connect with forthcoming graduates," says Mark Smith, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
What Graduates Want: Hands-On Recruiting
The college graduates of the 2010s present a unique target, recruiters says.
"Candidates say cultural fit is the biggest decision-making factor," says Alexa Hamill, US campus sourcing leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers. "They want a customized, personalized approach to their career development."
This means that from first contact through making a job offer, everyone involved in the recruiting effort should be educating candidates on how the employer would work with them across the arc of professional development.
What Graduates Want: Meet Them Where They Live
Top graduates want employers to come see them where they live, and not just at campus career fairs. Companies that make contacts with students through academic departments have the opportunity to develop deep relationships early in the recruitment cycle, for example.
What Graduates Want: Paid Internships
High-performing students at expensive colleges and universities, wary of the debt they’re likely incurring in an unpredictable and rapidly changing economy, are less open to unpaid or menial internship programs than they might have been during the depths of the recession.
As increasing numbers of employers use internships as the main channel for recruitment of graduates, they’re putting more pay and more substantial projects into these programs.
What Employers Want
More than ever, employers are looking for young recruits who can begin taking charge immediately.
“Taking initiative is key,” says Patrick O’Rourke, human resources coordinator at SWC Technology Partners in Oak Brook, Ill.
“We expect that new graduates will have researched us before the interview process and come prepared with good interview questions and a strong understanding of what our business does and why they would like to work here.”
Candidates should be groomed to demonstrate how they took charge, even while in college.
"Employers like to see some evidence of leadership in some way, shape or form," says Barbara Efird, director of career services at William Peace University in Raleigh, N.C. "The resume should talk about some campus activity where they’ve led and can talk about the results."
The Trouble with Communication Skills
College students may excel at Tweeting and texting, but their communication skills, particularly longer-form writing skills, leave much to be desired, according to employers and recruiters.
"This generation is comfortable with short correspondence, but they often need help with other forms of written communication," says Hamill. "We have seen this change over the years."
Not that this shortfall is entirely new. "Communication has been the one thing that employers look for, since forever," says Sean Gil, director of the Career Center at the University of California, Riverside.
Employers are screening for written communication skills by evaluating the organization of resumes and scanning all application materials for typos, according to Gil.
Responding to employers' difficulty recruiting graduates with strong skills in written communications, William Peace recently instituted a requirement that undergraduates take writing-intensive classes for four years.
“Professional Presence” and Other Euphemisms
Many employers suggest that graduating students need to think about who they're speaking to when they interview – and even when they have a brief conversation with HR about the status of an employment application.
The givens of yesterday -- such as conservative dress for job interviews -- can no longer be assumed, according to some recruiters.
Companies are touting videos on “professional presence” on their career web sites, hinting not so subtly that they expect young candidates to prepare, groom for, and speak the part of the aspiring manager.