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How small businesses can compete for college hires

How small businesses can compete for college hires

The US Small Business Administration estimates that small businesses have created 64 percent of new jobs in the last decade. Yet it’s sometimes easy to feel like a “small fry” trying to recruit and hire college students, particularly for seasonal hiring for summer.

If you want to keep college visits in your recruiting strategy, but don’t have the hiring resources for “can’t miss” spots in the career fair, what do you do? To find out, we asked the experts. While each had a different approach, they all agreed on one thing: There are plenty of great college hires out there — IF you know how to look. 

Step One: Broaden Your Horizon

It can cause a sinking feeling: your business is about to play second-fiddle on a certain campus. If so, turn your attention to recruiting at college campuses where you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. 

“I recommend that small and medium-sized businesses consider recruiting at institutions larger firms might ignore,” says Jennifer Jacoby, Associate Director of Career Services at Rollins College in Florida. “We go out of our way to recruit student applicants and make an on-campus career fair or interview day as smooth as possible for our employers.”

Jacoby adds that both the career center and the students are able to provide extra attention at her school, but many companies won’t consider recruiting at colleges without many of the obvious majors desired by large employers. Still, Jacoby says the proof is in the applicant – and smaller schools are capable of holding their own. “I think businesses would be very pleased with the quality of student they find at an institution that’s a little off the traditional beaten path.”

Step Two: “Get Guerilla”

“Small businesses that don’t have the resources to compete with large organizations need to get guerilla in their approach,” says Brad Karsh, who founded career services company JobBound after 15 years in corporate recruiting. 

When he served as VP/Director of Talent Acquisition for Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago, Karsh said he would seek opportunities to connect with students one-on-one, including classroom presentations and even letter campaigns. “We’d go to the president of campus student groups, from marketing clubs to fraternities and sororities, and ask them to recruit for us,” he says. “They’d not only give us the names of students we should talk to, but they would also send letters to those students on our behalf.” Karsh said this personal touch enabled him to build relationships beyond the career fairs that resulted in many key college hires.

Step Three: Sell Your Size as an Advantage

Sure the perks can be sweet, but not every career newbie is cut out for corporate life – and many aren’t interested anyway. Janet Smith, President of Ivy Planning Group, conducted a series of focus groups recently to gauge student perception and interest in various industries.

To her surprise, more students were interested in working for small to mid-sized businesses than the big names. “Smaller companies have an advantage they just might be underestimating,” she says. “Fewer layers to access senior executives, an opportunity to take on more responsibility sooner, and perhaps some cynicism about ‘big business’ often represents the right combination for top talent graduates.”

Step Four: Make the Hiring Process Quick and Painless

One thing many students have come to expect from “big business” are long wait times between initial meetings and a formal offer. Shawn Loutensock, Career Services Program Manager at Neumont University in Utah, says he has everyone from small companies to large, Fortune 500 businesses recruiting on campus – and the recruiting and offer process for small businesses is generally much quicker. “I find that many students tend to take the first offer they see, rather than holding out for something bigger or better,” he says.

In fact, Loutensock shared the story of a mid-sized company that came to his campus from Washington D.C. recently to fill a few positions. “They brought several reps and each interviewee talked with three recruiters for 30 minutes each. Then, they took several students out to dinner.” The result? “They had offers the next morning,” he says.

Sometimes it pays to be nimble.