Why the LinkedIn Recruiting Team is Waving “Bye-bye” to Traditional College Recruiting

March 28, 2016

As the head of the LinkedIn College Recruiting team, last year I realized – my team had to quit doing traditional college recruiting, immediately. As a matter of fact, I think that all companies will be well served if they consider doing this as well. Let me explain.

You may think -- Wait!? What? But, you still need to hire interns and new graduates!

Relax, I’m not saying not to hire this talent (who else is going to have unrealistic expectations of career advancement yet enrich and reward you with their stellar performance… just kidding!). I’m saying quit doing the same old institutionalized college recruiting process right now.

Why the old model is not working

Because think about it, would you ever hire for other positions by exclusively going to, say, 15 job fairs a year? Even if you really researched the job fairs and went to the ones that best fit your company, would you ever use that as the sole strategy to sourcing the overwhelming majority of your hires?

Of course not; yet many companies still employ that exact strategy, when it comes to college recruiting. They form relationships with a few (elite) universities and hire almost all of their interns and new graduates from those colleges.

LinkedIn did it that way too. And while it was effective enough, there were a few issues: the talent pool was limited, we weren’t reaching our total addressable market of diverse talent nor were we finding the unique talent with the right skills and potential (vs. the pedigree).

So, we turned inward and started looking at our own LinkedIn platform. Five years ago we had five million students and early in career professionals on our network and today we have fifty million. The big question for us was:

How could we tap into that 50 million and start leveraging our own platform to help open up our talent pool to a wider, diverse talent pool, as opposed to being tied to a process that leaves finding the right talent up to chance?

Now, please don’t take this as a suggestion that we don’t need or want relationships with higher education institutions. We do; but, we wanted to find the right balance for us in order to be more efficient and widen our reach to a more diverse talent pool.

The motivation behind this new initiative

Frankly, it wasn’t a lack of applications that drove us to rethink the way we approached college recruiting. By sourcing candidates through traditional college recruiting – i.e. building a relationship with universities and going to job fairs – we would routinely get more than 50,000 applications for the 700-or-so positions we needed to fill.

Instead, this shift is more about:

1. Diversity- gaining access to a much larger, more diverse talent pool is of paramount importance

2. Efficiency. We only had a finite ability to travel to campus and the amount of human capital hours spent on campus is expensive and time consuming

3. Utilizing tools and processes to narrow the top of the funnel down to the right candidates.

We wanted to make the process less about the antiquated model many companies are used to – sending recruiters to a few select colleges ­– and more about building a broader, digital relationship and engagement model with a wider, more diverse audience.

The nuts-and-bolts of LinkedIn’s new college recruiting initiative

So, how does it work, exactly? Well, we’re moving away from doing college recruiting (in the traditional sense). Our strategy includes, appropriately enough, relying on LinkedIn’s own recruiting tools to build relationships with students.

But, beyond that, the LinkedIn recruiting team:

  • Works to make college students who intern at LinkedIn our biggest ambassadors

Nothing can affect your employer brand more than what people who have actually worked for you are saying about your company. In that vein, we as a company work to make the college internship experience as rich and rewarding as possible, both because it makes good business sense but also because those college students who do intern then go back to school and become ambassadors for LinkedIn.

A key metric for us in this area: We strive for an industry-leading 75 percent-plus intern conversion rate.

  • Giving prospects unique ways to demonstrate they have the skills to succeed at our company

The goal of LinkedIn’s recruiting efforts is to find talent that might otherwise go overlooked. Therefore, LinkedIn’s recruiting team works to find new avenues that talent can stand out.

A perfect example of that is LinkedIn is paying more attention to coding challenge scores when hiring entry-level tech talent. We now allow interns to voluntarily take computer-programming challenges that rate their ability against standardized and validated criteria.

So now, a college student from anywhere can take a coding challenge and if they pass they might get a chance to interview regardless of where (or if) they are enrolled at school. The point was instead of just going to a career fair or two and hitting just the people who show up and go to your booth, LinkedIn casts a wide net and then narrows the pool based on validated criteria.

We feel this is moving us toward a true evening of the playing field and fosters a more diverse talent pool.

  • Focusing on fewer, higher-quality diverse candidates

Ironically enough, LinkedIn is looking to broaden its talent pool with this new program, while at the same time dealing with fewer applicants. By using LinkedIn’s recruiting tools and other methods, the bigger pool allows us to focus on the exact people we want, and then focus on engaging and nurturing relationships with them…. just like traditional recruiting.

For instance, we can find out how many students are on the platform from a certain school then we can further look into what organizations they are affiliated with or what skills they have listed on their profile in order to more narrowly target them for engagement utilizing our platform and/or invite them to targeted events. It is important to note that all of our college recruiters have recruiter search licenses and are measured on sourcing and conversion outcomes. The beauty of this approach is that any business whether big or small should be able to utilize this process to create or manage their college recruiting process.

  • Holding events & leveraging strategic partnerships instead of going to the traditional career fairs

The bread-and-butter of college recruiting is the career fair. But we wanted to get away from that one set standard and start having LinkedIn provide value on campus while also getting in front of our sourced/targeted recruits.

For example, at one university last year, instead of going to a career fair, we held “career week”. That included a variety of events throughout a week, including a session for female students, five in-depth technical talks and some “pop your profile” events where students could learn best practices to building their LinkedIn profile.  

So, we changed the way we showed up on campus, still provided value and got in front of a more diverse targeted audience through our pre-event sourcing activities on our platform.

We are also bringing in many partners and organizations to help us source our talent. For instance, we hire a number of entry level hires through Year Up and have broadened our other campus partner engagements to leverage them for real hiring results.

Tying it all together

We’re excited about what this new process means for us and for the industry. While there is a chance of cost savings with this new measure, most of all I’m excited about bringing in a wider array of diverse talent to LinkedIn.

For example, we’re excited by the early returns of getting 30 percent of our college hires through our platform and we hope to increase this number as we go. By leveraging our platform, we have access to the 50 million-plus students and early-in-career professionals, which we would not have had access to if we stuck to the traditional model of college recruitment.

We’re being bold because we know the world of education is changing. By moving away from a school-only based program to a more targeted approach, we’re changing the game.

Please note: This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your existing relationships with universities. But it does mean you can start putting real effort to search outside your normal college recruiting targets and potentially find great people that you’d otherwise miss.

Stay tuned for the next blog post where I’ll discuss how we reorganized the team to achieve massive returns by turning our focus elsewhere.

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.