Stop Hitting the 1%: A New Way To Think About College Recruiting

April 9, 2015

Here’s a stat every recruiter should know, courtesy of the National Center for Educational Statistics: this year, there were 21 million college students in the US alone, which is more than a three-fold increase since 2000. And that number is expected to grow by 500,000 a year for the foreseeable future.

How do you reach those people? The old way was going to career fairs and setting up relationships with a few “target” universities. That’s a good facet of a larger plan, but if that’s the only thing you do, what percentage of those 21 million people will you hit?

Well, even if you have a robust relationship with eight 20,000-student universities (a stretch for most companies), that means you’ll only hit 160,000 people, or less than 1% of the US student population.

Plus, think about it. With a few million students in college a generation ago, you could reasonably assume the top talent was concentrated within the few best universities. But now, with so many options and more international competition, talent is far more spread out throughout different pockets in the world.

That makes the winning strategy to college recruiting today a multi-faceted approach that hits students where they spend an ever-increasing amount of their time, the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, career fairs and university relationships are still effective, but now their just one arrow, instead of the entire quiver. 

How do I reach 100% of students?

Well, first off, you’ll never hit 100% of all students. But by using as many facets as possible, you can hit the majority, and start having the enviable problem of having too much talent to pick from instead of too little.

To achieve that, follow these five steps:

1. Understand your company

The first step in marketing your company to students – or anyone, really – is to determine what your company is and the people it wants. For example, Southwest Airlines puts an emphasis on funny people, Tesla seeks the ambitious type and Zappos wants people who are easy to get along with.

The key to doing this well: be honest. If you have a culture where people are pushed to the max, than just be that (that’s similar to Netflix’s culture, they own it and it works great for them). Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter what your company is, so long as everyone is on the same page about it.

Once you have a clear picture of how you want your company to be seen and the type of person your company is looking for, it’s time to…

2. Start a conversation

Some say, “content is king.” That’s not really true. As Daniel Roth argued, “conversation is king.”

What’s the difference between content and conversations? Anyone can sit around and crank out content all day. But if nobody is interacting with it, if it isn’t starting conversations or if those conversations are purely in one direction – you to them – it isn’t going to resonate.

No, the goal should be to create content that starts two-way conversations. That could be something as simple as a Tweet or an Instagram update or a blog post that gets people talking, either directly to you or with each other about your company.

Need some ideas for content pieces that will resonate with students? Some good ones are:

3. Build a place for that conversation to flourish

Along those lines, you want a place for that conversation to develop. The key to creating a place like this: don’t just post your own updates and ignore comments from users. Interact with those comments, so you truly create a two-way conversation.

Three great places to foster those conversations are:

  • A student-specific LinkedIn group.
  • A student-specific Twitter page.
  • A student-specific portal within your careers site.

4. Turn your CEO into a celebrity

Admittedly, this won’t work for your company if your CEO isn’t comfortable in the role of “celebrity” (although you could turn another one of your higher-ups into one instead). But if he or she is, it works wonders for your employer brand and really makes students want to work for you.

Just think about it – there are quite a few venture capital conglomerates out there. But doesn’t Virgin Group stick out from the crowd because of its iconic CEO, Richard Branson?

So how do you turn your CEO into a celebrity? Well, here are some effective methods your company’s leader can take:

5. Go mobile

The latest generation of students, and each one thereafter, is officially the smart phone and the tablet generation. Both of these inventions have been a part of their formative years, and they expect to be able to do everything on them, including interacting with your company and applying for a job.

So make sure your career site is 100% adaptive, a must to reach young talent. As an additional bonus, it makes your career site more SEO-friendly as well.


With talent more important than ever today, particularly young talent you can develop over time, missing out on 99% of your market isn’t going to work. The good news is that the Internet provides a free and easy way to reach your entire audience and amplify the relationships you already have.

So don’t be afraid to start a conversation and showcase what makes your company a great place to work for. If done effectively, that turns the tables from you chasing after top talent to top talent chasing after you.

Student Recruiting Ebook