Campus Recruitment: Past, Present and Future
A look at University Hiring Practices and Trends
“Your time is limited. So don’t waste your time living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
With these rousing words, Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs bid adieu to the class of 2005 at Stanford, provoking them to listen to their inner voices and strikeout to do great things. Recruiters across the globe chase the same heady mixture of hunger, ‘foolishness’ and idealism that drives bright new college graduates – this elixir of youth provides the constant supply of boundless energy, out-of-the-box ideas, and innovative thinking that fuel growing companies.
College hires are critical for organizational success – the new talent and fresh energy are vital to keeping the pipeline of hiring filled to sustain growth. Whether hiring interns, trainees, or newly minted hires into the ranks of engineering, production, sales, or management, college hiring is a strategic function for recruiters in all enterprises.
A Seasoned New-age Practice
Going to college to suss out talent is quite an old practice. Graduates from prestigious universities such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in India have always been sought after by hiring managers in FMCG, manufacturing, marketing and technology companies both in India and abroad.
A planned practice of hiring from the next tier of institutions and beyond has become active over the last two decades. Fueled by the unshackling of India’s economy in the 1990s, software services companies such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro, as well as Banking Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) institutions spread their wings and started hiring in tens of thousands yearly. The branding worked both ways: the best colleges and universities wanted the best companies visiting, and vice versa.
The operational complexities of university hiring have had an interesting evolution: a chat with any seasoned recruiter will elicit anecdotes of traveling by plane, train and automobile to remote colleges armed with bulky CPUs and setting up shop in sweltering weather in career fairs. Recruiters would key in applicant details from filled-out paper forms and lug the workstations back to HQ to slowly build databases and invite candidates over for in-person interviews.
The times have surely changed: as of this writing, industry is riding the COVID inflection curve and recruitment is firmly going online. Candidates, recruiters, interviewers and hiring managers are all brought together on sophisticated recruitment platforms for testing, assessment, interviews and closure.
How Campus Recruitments (Used to) Work
The techniques and tactics of recruiting divisions are varied, with a single aim: to identify the most promising talent amongst graduating cohorts, and ‘lock them in’ with attractive offers and benefits earlier than anyone else.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of some of the techniques recruiters employ:
Traditionally, many colleges – particularly engineering institutes, business schools, and reputed liberal arts and sciences colleges – organize career fairs on campus, inviting reputed local companies of the region to put up stalls in the fair. Graduating students walk through the stalls with resumes, meeting and greeting key functionaries manning the stall. These could be hiring managers themselves, or recruiters who are experienced in gauging candidates’ potential.
The fair would usually be followed by on-site tests and/or interviews with a select group of applicants. This round served as the first filters for hirers: candidates who performed well on campus were invited to the organization’s offices for further rounds, all expenses paid.
To promote brand recall and gain candidate attention, it has been common practice to give away promotional materials, ranging from t-shirts and caps to pen drives and tablets to students. It’s a common sight in campus career fairs to see particular stalls attract candidates like bees to a honey pot just for their attractive giveaways!
Over the last 3-4 years, career fairs have gone online, with a vengeance now in 2020-21. In fact, career experts predict that 80% of hiring will be done via online or virtual fairs going forward.
Very similar to webinars, virtual job fairs take place at a designated time on a particular day. Attendees log in to an online platform and interact with recruiters in virtual spaces such as chat rooms, breakout rooms or other teleconferencing methods. Recruiters can meet several candidates at the predesignated time and rapidly identify those who they want to speak to again. Interviews can be done online and in some cases, offers may be made on the spot.
Following the initial rounds, many companies prefer to invite candidates of interest to on-site visits. The visits benefit both parties: more team members, beyond the initial interviewer, can meet the candidate and assess suitability for their team and open role.
The candidate, on the other hand, may gauge the company’s culture and policies first-hand: factors such as open seating or cubicles versus enclosed office spaces, or an open door policy versus a more formal appointment culture may be important for some applicants.
Applicants also get a golden opportunity to experience benefits such as on-site cafeterias, cultural events and other perks in the company.
A decades-old common practice in the West, internships are fast gaining acceptance among large and medium-sized companies in India. Students seek temporary work as interns as early as after their first year of college. This gives them invaluable experience in applying the tools and technologies they’re learning about in the classroom. Many internships pay handsomely as well. For companies, internships are not just a way to mentor students but to identify talent early and groom them to join the company after graduation.
Interns are a valuable resource for many growing companies, giving them an economical resource pool, particularly for seasonal jobs such as company events and conferences, market research activities, or short-term projects.
Tapping into the prime aspiration of many new graduates, recruiters sweeten job offers with a variety of bonuses. Signing bonuses may be time-bound, pressuring candidates to sign on and accept offers within a designated period. If candidates decline, it gives recruiters the opportunity to move on and make offers to other candidates. Many large companies also offer moving bonuses to help candidates move to a new city where the job is. Organizations are known to offer storage bonuses, helping students store their belongings in the new city while they hunt for living spaces; as well as assistance with finding housing.
With more and more jobs going online and remote, particularly in technology-enabled sectors, such bonuses may morph in the coming days – moving to a new city is no longer required for some positions. We predict infrastructure bonuses that will help new joinees set up high-speed internet connections will become the norm.
New candidates are also traditionally equipped with the necessary hardware, software, and organizational knowledge in the initial days, via a series of onboarding sessions, many of which are going online now.
However, signing bonuses will certainly remain as a bargaining chip for recruiters when it comes to hiring top graduates.
Offers, Counter Offers and More
Savvy new graduates are known to interview with multiple companies. The best among them ‘win’ multiple offers and get down to bargaining with recruiters for better pay packages, perquisites or other benefits. Seasoned recruiters keep buffers in their recruitment budgets precisely for such negotiations. Not all new graduates merit such a consideration – but the best ones do get it, and deservedly so.
Market conditions and the demand-supply gap for particular roles dictate many a negotiation. For example, new graduates who demonstrate skills and capabilities, even a portfolio of past work experience in ‘hot’ sectors such as Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Big Data or Cybersecurity are particularly sought after currently.
University Hiring, Circa 2021
While companies went into caution mode in 2020 and hiring dipped, by 2021, they have more or less the COVID shock and have gone back to hiring at close to regular numbers in many geographies, particularly in the West.
To be sure, pandemic-induced stresses on the system remain: employees are feeling dissociated due to prolonged ‘work from home’ tenures, training and other benefits have suffered tremendously and market forces are still unstable in many COVID hotspots. Many companies are still finding their feet in the unfamiliar new domain of online recruitment.
As with many other things in the industry, the once-in-a-century COVID phenomenon has impacted university hiring. Here are some key practices companies are currently adopting:
- As mentioned earlier, virtual job fairs have become de rigueur for hiring companies. The freedom from meeting personally and having to travel has meant that recruiters can meet candidates safely and speedily. This is particularly helpful in cases where hiring has to be done on a massive scale – such as thousands of hires per month.
- Campus recruitment has undergone a digital transformation like never before. Leading tech-enabled platforms such as HirePro automate remote hiring workflows efficiently so that fresh talent can be sourced seamlessly.
- Job candidates – especially new college graduates – are increasingly tech-savvy and social media aware, putting employee experience at the forefront of recruiters’ priorities. When the smallest slip-up in a virtual fair or on-site visit can become an embarrassing hashtag on social media, it falls upon recruiters to design and execute flawless experiences from the first contact to final close on offer.Here again, a comprehensive solution like HirePro can help recruiters manage the intensity of college recruitment with ease. With advisory services, content services (including industry-leading tests and assessments), operations management and interview services, HirePro is the best-in-breed platform for worry-free university hiring, especially in scale.
- Building brand awareness online via a mix of social media thought leadership and showcasing company culture is increasingly falling to a lot of recruiters. As students live more online than offline, listening on social media and maintaining engaging job portals online to attract new graduates is imperative for enterprise recruiters.
To be sure, campus recruitment comes with its own set of challenges, especially when recruiters go in with massive hiring plans. Candidate fraud during vetting tests and interviews, false documentation, and flubbing of credentials are common gotchas to watch out for. The operational complexities are real, especially when hiring across the country in a large and diverse country such as India. Companies looking to source the top candidates from the best campuses across the country are well-served to ally with tech-enabled platforms staffed with able recruitment specialists.
The future of campus hiring spells t-e-c-h. Aided by sophisticated fraud detection systems, seamless workflow management tools, and panels of experienced specialists, recruitment platforms can help enterprises source the best talent from colleges and universities.
Students are online now, so should the hiring companies be.