What students want

How organizations can woo young talent who can afford to be very picky
By Graham Donald
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/29/2006

In an increasingly competitive job market, student confidence about career prospects is rising. This means students can afford to be picky and only the employers meeting their interests will be able to recruit — and retain — the most talented graduates.

According to the

From Learning to Work 2006 Report

, a survey of 30,000 students from more than 140 universities and colleges across Canada published by Brainstorm Consulting and D-Code, there are some dramatic gaps between the commonly held stereotypes of graduating students and the reality. Understanding that reality and how to position the organization to attract top graduates is critical to successful campus recruiting.

Attract new hires for life

A commonly held misunderstanding about young graduates is the belief they will be disloyal as new hires. This simply isn’t true. The

From Learning to Work 2006 Report

found more than 40 per cent of students hope to stay with their first employer after graduation for more than five years. Even more surprising is the fact the majority of students hope to find one company they can stay with for their whole career.

Of course, that’s only one-half of the equation. Employers have to create the other half with a workplace that delivers opportunities to grow and evolve not just up, but laterally as well. The desire to stay with one company is not a choice for stagnation. It’s contingent on having constant stimulation within that company.

Employers that once shied away from talking long-term with young candidates are now learning that students want to see the full picture. Sure, an organization may be hiring them as engineers today, but it would do well to give them glimpses into other career paths — from sales to HR to anywhere else they may want to move in the future — as well as the organization’s full breadth of opportunities, lines of business and locations.

People, people, people

What has changed most dramatically in recent years is new graduates’ focus on wanting to work with and for great people. Perhaps they won’t be particularly loyal to a company, but they can become fiercely loyal to colleagues. When those colleagues become their friends, retention becomes far less of an issue as long as the organization can retain the team.

What this means is that recruitment messages should focus less on such things as corporate social responsibility, innovation or great salaries and benefits and more on the “community” the new hires will join. The most effective way to do this is to have current employees interact with the students. The more people recruiters can bring to campus with them — especially recent hires from that school — the better.

Create other opportunities for students to interact, in person and virtually, with the staff. Make sure they are interviewed by the people they will work for and with and get employees out on campus to participate in panels and provide workshops that help students with their career exploration. Most campus career centres are more than willing to have recruiters deliver such presentations and students appreciate this type of approach. It also gives them an opportunity to meet company representatives in a more informal format.

Of course, this means employees representing the organization have to put on a good show and understand the people they are interacting with. If they are older than their mid-20s, they may need some training in this regard. They should understand that students want to be challenged, but aren’t interested in an 80-hour work week. They want to work hard and play hard and demand the flexibility to do both. They will expect company representatives on campus to be very knowledgeable about opportunities with the company and to also be knowledgeable about the school and programs they are hiring from.

Another effective way to convey what it is like to work in an organization, and among its people, is through stories of experiences within the company. These stories should align with the emotional, intellectual and rational interests of graduates. For instance, a story about how colleagues rallied to help out a fellow employee in a dire situation will have an emotional resonance and a story relating to the creative development of a solution to a business problem may have an intellectual impact.

Everyone who interacts with students should be prepared to share true stories of their personal experience in the organization. This includes the summer and co-op students who are returning to campus. Take time at the end of their work term to discuss their experiences and have them share the highlights in an open forum with others. Having shared these stories with the organization, they will be far more likely to repeat them among their friends, many of whom may be great potential hires. Over time these stories will become part of the lore of a company on campus.

Becoming a top employer brand

There are some interesting surprises in the top employer brands as ranked by students (see sidebar below). Of course, for the most part students have not yet worked at these companies, so these rankings reflect their impressions of the brand more than actual workplace experiences.

This explains why a company like Microsoft, with only about 700 employees in Canada, can rank so high. It also means that for an oil company to make this list, it would need to have a consumer or retail presence like Shell. Ironically, General Motors makes the list despite its economic troubles and doing very little campus recruiting in recent years.

However, only 20 per cent of students feel decided about what employer they would like to start their career with. The key for less-known brands is to become a big brand with their target programs and schools by investing in a focused campus recruitment effort.

Rather than spreading a wide net across many campuses, most employers will do best to cultivate deeper relationships over the long term with student leaders, campus career centre staff and even individual professors. When these people start relaying the stories about an organization, it will be well on its way to become a big brand on campus.

Graham Donald is president of Brainstorm Consulting in Victoria, an organization dedicated to helping employers improve their campus recruitment effectiveness. He is also co-author of From Learning to Work 2006: Canada’s Campus Recruitment Report, a comprehensive survey of student attitudes and opinions regarding employers and careers. He can be reached at graham@brainstorm.ca or visit www.brainstorm.ca.

Making an impression

Where students want to work

Students were asked, in an open-ended question, to list up to five employers with which they would most like to start their careers.

As ranked by all students

2Government of Canada
4Deloitte & Touche
7RBC Financial Group
8Ernst & Young
9TD Bank Financial Group

As ranked by business students

2Deloitte & Touche
3TD Bank Financial Group
5RBC Financial Group
6Ernst & Young
8Bank of Montreal
10Procter & Gamble

As ranked by engineering students

3Research In Motion
4Ontario Power Generation
7ATI Technologies Inc.
8General Motors
10General Electric

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