Advice for Employers and Recruiters

How to recruit college students and recent graduates

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
May 7, 2020

College Recruiter believes that every student and recent graduate deserves a great career. One of our core values is to provide thought leadership, which includes blog articles like this which we hope will help our campus recruiting and university relations employer customers.

Why do employers recruit college and university students through campus recruitment programs?

First, we need to discuss why Fortune 1,000 companies, government agencies, non-profits, and other organizations hire students and recent graduates for part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs. According to Wikipedia, graduate or campus recruitment refers to the process whereby employers undertake an organized program of attracting and hiring students who are about to graduate from schools, colleges, and universities.

“Employers commonly attend campuses to promote employment vacancies and career opportunities to students who are considering their options following graduation. Selection methods used by employers include interviews, aptitude tests, role plays, written assessments, group discussions and presentations.”

Most of the hiring of college and university students and recent graduates is by medium- to large-sized companies with high-volume recruiting needs. Many of these work with one or even dozens of university career centers to source potential candidates. The employers’ recruiters and hiring managers will often visit their target colleges and attend campus career fairs, information sessions, and recruiting events throughout the spring and fall semesters. Employers who hire a lot of finance, technology, business consulting, manufacturing, and engineering majors tend to invest more staff and budgetary resources into their university relations programs.

Why do employers hire college students and recent graduates?

For many large employers, entry-level roles are often the hardest to fill as the competition for college-educated talent is increasingly fierce. One of the largest sources of entry-level talent are students and recent graduates of one- (vocational and technical schools), two- (community or junior colleges), and four-year colleges and universities. These schools award certificates as well as Associates’, Bachelors’, Masters’, and PhD degrees.

Also, recruiting on-campus or through online media like College Recruiter and other job boards provides employers with easy access to the early careers talent, which typically are younger adults. For companies with high-volume hiring needs, recruiting students and recent graduates is one of the best ways to hire potential candidates at-scale.

Regarding the younger adults, today’s students are no longer from the Millennial generation. Instead, they’re members of Generation Z, often abbreviated to Gen Z. They’ll make up 30 percent of the workforce within a decade and are the first generation to be digital-natives, meaning that they don’t remember a time when the devices they used every day were digital. They’ve always had laptops, tablets, and smartphones at their fingertips.

What is a virtual college hiring program?

It is important to note that a rapidly increasing minority of employers are hiring students and recent graduates through what many call virtual college recruiting programs, meaning that they do not send recruiters or hiring managers to individual schools and instead use online media such as College Recruiter and other job boards to target, engage with, generate applications from the students and recent graduates. The primary benefits of recruiting students online instead of on-campus are:

  • Speed. This directly impacts time to hire. It takes months to plan, schedule, and visit even a few campuses. Advertising a job using job postings, targeted emails, or targeted display or mobile banner ads takes hours to days. Employers can be far more responsive to the needs of the hiring managers who often don’t know months ahead of time what their hiring needs will be.
  • Cost per hire. This is typically about 10 percent for candidates who are hired through job boards like College Recruiter versus on-campus. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that the average cost of hiring a student through on-campus recruiting is about $6,275. The average cost of hiring online is about $460 and often below $100 for hourly roles.
  • Diversity and inclusion. When you visit only five, 25, or 500 schools you’re only reaching students who attend those schools and not those who attend the rest of the 7,400 one-, two-, and four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Some employers will argue that they visit pretty much the same schools year after year as that’s where they get their hires from, but that reasoning is circular as they’re not including students from other schools in the process and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that students from other schools aren’t hired.
  • Productivity. Few employers measure the effectiveness of their recruiting efforts based on how productive those employees prove to be and even fewer measure the effectiveness of their college and university relations programs that way. Those who do are often surprised to learn that the students they hire online, on average, outperform the students they hire on-campus. Why? Because top students from top schools tend to job hop more than students from secondary schools. The longer an employee stays with you, the more productive that employee tends to be.
  • Scale. Most employers are hoping to hire one person for each open requisition, but that’s not the case for employers with college recruiting programs. For them, hiring multiple people into the same or similar roles is the norm, and that means that they need to hire-at-scale. Most of College Recruiter’s employer customers want to hire dozens or even hundreds into the same or similar part-time, seasonal, internship, or entry-level jobs. This kind of hiring is typically called high-volume hiring (HVH), and programmatic job ad buying and other types of automation offered by College Recruiter and other media sources is a perfect fit for these needs.

How to build a college recruiting team

Employers who want to build a college recruiting program will first want to hire a college recruiting team. Some teams consist of one person. That person’s job title is typically college relations manager, university relations manager, or early careers manager. In larger organizations, they typically report to the vice president of talent acquisition. If there is no talent acquisition unit but instead just human resources, then the head of your college recruiting team will likely report to the head of your human resources department.

Larger employers will have multiple people on their college recruiting team. One of the more common roles will be that of a college recruiter, which some employers call a campus recruiter. These people search for talent at college campuses and sometimes online with College Recruiter and other job boards. In the fall and winter, they often travel from campus-to-campus hosting information sessions, attending career fairs, and interviewing students who are searching for part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs. Their primary goal is to source, attract, and hire entry-level talent.

An increasing minority of employers with college recruiting programs have employment branding specialists and occasionally those people sit within the college recruiting team. These employees are often tasked with recruitment marketing initiatives, building a communications plan that will reach the career service offices and students, and enhancing their company’s employer brand. Generally, however, these duties fall to the college recruiters who therefore are responsible for both marketing their company’s job openings and also working with the hiring managers to conduct interviews, assess and otherwise evaluate candidates, and extend job offers. Some also onboard the new hires and run the internship and co-op programs.

The average compensation for a typical college recruiter is about $65,000 annually, which equates to $31.25 per hour. This compensation figure includes base salary, bonus, commission, profit-sharing, and benefits. It does not include travel and other costs such as career fairs, advertising of job openings, and wining and dining of professors. These costs need to be included when calculating your total cost of running your college recruiting program if you’re going to measure the effectiveness of your team, at least in part, on their average cost-per-hire.

The people you hire and responsibilities you give them will largely be driven by your strategy. Will they focus on recruiting on-campus much like organizations did in 1952, or will they take a more modern approach and focus their efforts online, perhaps even being school and major agnostic as more and more of the most sophisticated employers of students and recent graduates have become? In all likelihood, your team will do some of both, so you’ll need to create a plan for how your team will be managed. That plan will define which employees will travel to the colleges and universities and which continue to work from your corporate or their home offices.

How many people you hire, what skills they need, and where they’re located will also be driven by the schools at which you will recruit and whether that will be done primarily in-person, on-line, or some combination of the two. You’ll also need to consider how you will gather and manage the information you collect from the students, including their resumes. If you end up with a multi-person team, the ability to share that information will be critical.

Creating a college recruitment strategy

Historically, only the most elite employers of the most elite students who attended the most elite schools invested significant resources into on-campus recruitment in the fall semester. Over the past couple of decades, however, most employers of students and recent graduates are planning their on-campus efforts by June, making travel plans by July, and hosting information sessions and conducting interviews by September.

The bulk of fall recruiting wraps up by the end of October and almost none after mid-November. There’s a pause for during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday periods and then efforts resume in January and continue through March.

April, May, and June are busy months for college recruiting teams as that’s when interns and entry-level hires are wrapping up their school years and being onboarded by their employers. At the same time, college recruiters are starting their plans for the next year.

A college recruiting strategy is very similar to a marketing plan. The first step is to define your audience. What worked 20 years ago when recruiting the leading edge of Millennials may not resonate so well with Gen Z, and what works well for attracting business school talent may turn off those who want to become social workers.

Put yourself in the shoes of your candidates. What matters to them? What will likely turn them off? What will likely turn them on? If you were your candidate and faced with the option of working for your organization and a similar one located across the street, what would cause you to pick one organization over the other? If your answer is just higher pay, you’re likely wrong. Pay is important, but far from being the only important factor.

Whether you’re going to recruit most of your students through on-campus or online initiatives, your communication will be key. It needs to reach the right candidates with the right message at the right time. That may not be, and likely won’t be, at the time most convenient to you. Quite frankly, what is convenient to your organization isn’t all that important to the candidates you want to hire. If you’re going to succeed, you’re going to need to adapt to their needs and not expect them to adapt to yours.

Some organizations are fortunate to have a strong and positive employer brand amongst their target, student audience. For those employers, building name recognition isn’t all that important as the students already know about the organization. Other organizations have a strong but negative employer brand. These organizations need to focus their marketing efforts not on building name recognition but accurately communicating to the student why that organization is a good place for the student to start their career.

If a major scandal damaged your brand but you’re able to acknowledge it and demonstrate how you’re successfully emerging from it, that message will resonate. But don’t lie to your candidates: they’ll smell your lie from a mile away and, even if you trick a few, you’ll end up with a massive retention problem. It is better to work harder to get an informed candidate who chooses to accept your offer than to save time and end up with an uninformed candidate who leaves your company as soon as they can.

Business-to-business organizations often have little brand recognition with students, and they will need to invest in building their employer brand. Do so before you arrive on-campus. Targeted emails, display ads, and mobile banner ads are effective tools to reach your target audience, introduce your organization, engage with them, and encourage them to meet with you when you’re on-campus or apply online if you’re choosing a more virtual strategy.

You’re also going to want to weigh the relative costs and benefits of automating some of the recruiting functions. Many college recruiters will spend a lot of time posting jobs “for free” by emailing them or otherwise submitting them to individual schools. That’s okay if they’re doing that with one or two roles at one or two campuses for one or two months but doesn’t scale when you’re trying to reach students at dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of campuses or promote dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of roles. In that case, you’re going to want to automate the job posting process so that you don’t have humans adding, editing, and inactivating your postings. College Recruiter and other premium job boards can scrape from your applicant tracking system (ATS) just the jobs you want to promote and then keep those jobs up-to-date so that if you edit the job title or compensation on Monday, those changes are reflected on the job board by Tuesday.

When candidates do see your opportunity — whether that’s through on-campus or online efforts — you’ll also want to manage them through recruiting software, which can take a lot of different shapes and sizes. Some software is built specifically for managing college recruiting programs, while others are more general. Many employers will use assessment software to provide objective metrics to hiring managers. Almost all will require the students to apply at the employer’s career site through their ATS. Few employers are willing to accept printed or emailed resumes as those applications are difficult to track and, therefore, defend should your organization be audited by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) for potential discriminatory hiring practices. Given the costs of litigation, even if you win a battle like that, your legal costs will have caused you to lose the war.

How to create a budget for your college recruiting program

At College Recruiter, we see some employers who claim to have no college recruiting budget while others have a budget but do not include the appropriate elements into it.

Your budget, like all other budgets, should include in it all of the resources you’ll need in order to successfully meet your business objectives. Staff time, both dedicated staff and those who assist with your efforts like hiring managers, should be included. So must be the cost of travel, career fairs, advertising, and time spent posting ads at school and other so-called free job boards.

Consider that NACE reports that the average cost of hiring a student through on-campus recruiting is about $6,275. Are the students you’re hiring likely to be more expensive than average, such as students from elite schools or majors like computer science? If so, that $6,275 might be $10,000 or even more for your organization. On the other hand, maybe you’re hiring a lot of liberal arts grads from community colleges. If so, that $6,275 might drop to $1,500. Regardless, estimate that cost and then multiply by the number of desired hires. That number provides a pretty good estimate for what your total budget will need to be. It may be eye-poppingly large and, if so, welcome to the fun world of budgeting.

Typical items included in a college recruiting budget are:

  • Compensation paid to your team as well as the staff from other teams who provide you with assistance. Be sure to include their salaries, bonuses, payroll taxes, benefits and more. If you don’t know the costs of their payroll taxes and benefits, add 30 percent to their salaries as that’s pretty typical.
  • Travel costs including airline tickets, hotels, meals, rental cars, ground transportation, tollway fees, and even laundry.
  • Recruiting technology such as software you may use to manage the candidates you’ll meet at campus career fairs.
  • Career fair booth collateral including the cost to design and purchase the booth itself, shipping it, and flyers or other handouts.
  • Swag that you may give away to entice students to visit your booth, including items with your brand on it, candy, or other such items that you might pick up at the last minute.

Once you have a starting point for your overall budget, you can to work on ways to reduce that, which will increase the chances of getting it approved by your manager, your employer’s Chief Financial Officer and other C-suite members, or whoever needs to approve your budget. Is it really necessary to hire students in the most competitive majors from the most competitive schools? Do you have data that demonstrates that they’re more productive within your organization or might you recruit students from a wide variety of majors from second- and even third-tier schools and then spend a little money training them? Do you really need to travel to dozens of campuses or could you reduce that to five and hire the rest virtually (online) through College Recruiter and other job boards that primarily target students and recent graduates? When you do travel to campuses, could you visit ones closer to home to reduce your airline and hotel costs?

How to ensure the success of your on-campus recruiting event

Most medium- and large-employers now have college recruiting programs, most of those recruit at least some of their students and recent graduates on-campus, and most of those host or participate in campus recruiting events like information sessions and career fairs. That said, a rapidly increasing minority of employers are looking carefully at their productivity of their employees and discovering that their most productive, entry-level hires are those they hired virtually (online) and therefore are either scaling back or even eliminating their on-campus hiring efforts.

For those organizations who do visit college campuses, the outcome they want to see isn’t a completed trip to a campus but, instead, hires from that campus. Showing up and expecting a line of well-qualified candidates outside of your interview room is just a dream. Like anything else in life, if the outcome is important then it is also important to put the effort in ahead of time to properly prepare.

The employers who have the most efficient (lowest cost-per-hire) and effective (most productive hires) college recruiting programs tend to:

  • Build a strong, mutually beneficial, trusting relationship with the campus career service offices at their target schools. These efforts need to start months and even years before you expect to see results. Plant your seeds today if you want to be eating months and years from now.
  • Attend campus job fairs. Employers often report that these are very effective for meeting a large number of interested students, but the returns on investment tend to be low as the costs to exhibit are often high when you include the staff time needed. Still, attending a job fair often puts you in a favorable light with the career service office that organizes it as much of their budget comes from hosting events like this, and putting money into their pockets will help build your relationship with them.
  • Build a thoughtful communications strategy. Don’t wait to introduce your brand until after the students arrive at your event. Instead, market your brand to those who might attend the event in the days and even weeks ahead of time. Targeted emails, display ads, and banner ads that target your desired candidates by school, major, year of graduation, grade point average, and diversity are very effective.
  • Use software that will help you manage the candidate flow. Walking away from a career fair with a stack of resumes doesn’t help most of the medium- and large-companies that attend as they require candidates to apply through their ATS in order to be considered an applicant. Good software can help you identify who you met with and then follow-up with them afterward.
  • Consider what metrics are relevant. There’s a saying that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Metrics are all about measurement. Before you invest time, money, and other resources into any business initiative including attending an on-campus event, define the metrics that will allow you to determine whether the event furthered your business objectives. Is it all that important how many people came to your career fair booth, or it is more important how many of those then interviewed with you the next day?

How to build a successful internship program

Many of the largest employers of students and recent graduates recruit almost no recent graduates. How can that be so? Because they view their internship programs as temp-to-perm, talent pipelines. For every 100 interns they hire, they’ll extend offers to 90 and 75 will convert into permanent hires upon graduation. These employers plan out how many interns they hire by deciding how many recent grads they want to hire, discount how many interns won’t accept their offer, discount how many interns won’t get offers, and that gets them to the number of interns to bring on the previous summer.

The three R’s of a successful internship are recruitment, recruitment, and recruitment. If you don’t convert your intern into an entry-level hire upon graduation, then that internship has been a failure for you and the student. To help ensure the success of the internship:

  • Be selective. It is better not to hire an intern than to hire the wrong intern.
  • Be supportive in and out of the office. This is likely their first professional job. What might seem second nature or common sense to you at the age of 40 or 50 just isn’t to someone who is only twenty. They’re going to make mistakes and they’re going to need guidance. Be there for them and they’ll be back with you after graduation.
  • Accountability is not a four-letter word. It cuts both ways, actually. When they mess up, make sure they know but do so constructively. It is your job to improve their work performance, not make them feel bad. When they succeed, praise them and do so publicly so that everyone knows that the intern did a great job.
  • Create and build a positive culture. People might go to work for a company, but they stay for the people. Your culture is what will inspire that intern to do great things and is what will inspire them to stay with you for years to come.
  • Be flexible. We’re all people. We all have personal lives. We all need employers who understand that some days we might need to come and stay late or might need more guidance on an issue than someone else.
  • Reward referrals. Just as your best engineers or accountants know great engineers and accountants who work for other companies, the best students know the best students. Reward them through praise and monetarily for helping you connect with those best students.
  • Provide regular feedback. If you wait until the end of the summer to provide them with their performance review, that’s too little and way too late. Provide them with a couple of minutes every day the first week or two, then every other day, then every week. Make sure they know they can come to you for feedback too and that they should provide feedback to you. Maybe you’re emailing instructions to them and they’re having a hard time understanding what you want and so could perform much better for you if you could meet with them for a couple of minutes at the beginning of each day to make sure they’re on the right track. At College Recruiter, we call these daily stand-ups and they’re invaluable, especially for our newer and/or less experienced employees.
  • Conduct an exit interview. Don’t let them leave the internship without knowing how they did. Be detailed, be specific, and be positive in your exit interview. If they messed up, tell them (remember accountability?) but also tell them how they succeeded (accountability cuts both ways).

How to measure the success of your college recruiting program

As is the case with all business objectives, your return on investment needs to be positive when it comes to determining whether your college recruiting program is a success. To determine that ROI, you need to know your return and your investment. That sounds easy, but for many organizations, it isn’t.

First, let’s talk about the return. What benefits did you gain? Some organizations will measure the productivity of the people they hired through their college recruiting program. For salespeople, that’s relatively easy: what revenues (or gross profit) did the employer generate from those salespeople.

For other organizations, the return is the cost savings they achieved by hiring through their college recruiting program as opposed to using third-party (executive) recruiters. If you hire 20 people at $50,000 each, that’s $1,000,000 in first-year salary. A typical executive recruiter will charge about 20 percent of first-year salary, so the cost of hiring these 20 people through an executive recruiter would be $200,000. If your college recruiting program’s budget — including staff time, travel, etc. — is $150,000 then your return is $50,000 as that’s the cost-saving to the organization of hiring these candidates through your program instead of a headhunter.

Now, to the investment. What did you spend to generate that return? Going back to the first example, let’s say that the salespeople you hired generated a gross profit for your company of $1,500,000 and the cost of your program was $150,000. Your return on investment would be the $1,500,000 return divided by the $150,000 cost, so 10 fold. For every dollar your company invests in your program, you return $10. You’re going to have one happy boss if you can show that.

Using the second example, your company $50,000 by hiring the people through your program instead of through an executive recruiter. Your program cost $150,000 to run. Your return on investment is the $50,000 return divided by the $150,000, which is 0.33. For every dollar your company invests in your program, you return $1.33. Not as nice, but still quite nice.

Where you don’t want to end up is running a program that costs $1.5 million and is only able to demonstrate gross profit or cost savings of say $500,000. Your return on investment, in that case, is negative. You’re reducing your company’s net income. Without a significant and speedy change, your program won’t survive.

What are some examples of returns or, put another way, goals? Yello offers these suggestions:

  • Source more candidates. You can measure this by looking at the size of your talent pool, number of events you attended, sources of hires, and number of job applications completed.
  • Improve the quality of candidates. Use a data-driven approach to improve the quality of applications, look at the number of qualified candidates who apply for each job opening, attend your recruiting events, or even attend the schools you recruit at. At College Recruiter, we believe that the best measure of the quality of an applicant is if the hiring manager chooses to interview them. Why? Because the applicant’s resume should provide enough information that the hiring manager can see if the candidate meets the basic requirements for the position and, perhaps, some additional items that are preferred. If so, that candidate is qualified and, therefore, quality. Looking to see if the candidate was hired is not an appropriate recruiting metric because recruiters don’t hire candidates and, therefore, should not be held accountable for whether the candidate received an offer, accepted, or started. Those are metrics to evaluate the performance of the hiring manager, not the recruiter and not the job board, school, or other sourcing tool used by the recruiter.
  • Improve your engagement with candidates. How many candidates did you contact, how many open your marketing emails, how many like or otherwise engage with your social media posts?
  • Reduce your recruitment process. How many days does it take to hire someone or even just particular steps in that hiring process?
  • Reduce your costs to hire. You could look at the total costs and divide by the number of hires to come up with a cost-per-hire or even just look at the time it takes you to hire on average as that factors in the lost opportunity cost of having an unfilled opening.
  • Reduce turnover. To reduce your employee turnover, first you have to measure it. What percentage of your employees do you retain each year? How many openings (vacancies) do you average? What are your rankings on Glassdoor and other employer review sites?

College Recruiter can help with some, but not all, of the above. Our customers are primarily Fortune 1,000 companies, government agencies, and other employers who hire at scale, meaning dozens or even hundreds of students and recent graduates who are searching for part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs. These employers advertise their job openings with us, whether the jobs are part-time, seasonal, internship, or entry-level and whether the work is on-site or performed remotely by virtual interns or other employees. Depending on their need, we might market those job openings through single job postings, JobsThatScale job posting campaigns, targeted email campaigns, display ads, or mobile banner ads. For more information, email us at or call 952.848.2211.

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