5 College Recruiting Toxic Practices—And How to Avoid Them

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Do you have your college recruiting down to a science? Beware the urge to turn everything into an exercise of going through the motions, especially any time you’re interacting with students. What most students crave from potential employers is authenticity. They want recruiters to keep it real with them. What exactly does this mean? We caught up with Mary Scott, the President of Scott Resource Group to discuss the essential elements of a successful college recruiter (and the toxic practices that’ll ruin your company’s reputation).

Scott Resource Group is an independent research, consulting, and training firm that specializes in university relations and college recruitment. Mary has 25 years of staffing and recruitment experience in the corporate, academic, and consulting arenas and provides proprietary, primary research and consulting services in university relations and recruitment to major corporations nationwide. To learn more, visit Scott Resource Group’s website.

Why should employers care about their brand presence on college campuses? How is brand image related to recruiting?

Ultimately what students communicate to each other about what it’s like to work at a company is the be-all and end-all. You want to have a reputation as a good place to work. It’s very easy to confuse your reputation as a provider of goods and services with what it’s like to work there.

Some employers conflate these, but nothing could be further from the truth. What students are interested in is what has been the experience of their peers—either at their university or other students in general—in terms of workplace experience. Did it meet their expectations? Was it a positive experience? That’s what students care about rather than the brand that’s conveyed through your logo and commercials.

What are some common mistakes that employers make with regards to establishing their brand on campus?

Overestimating the impact of marketing materials. Ultimately it’s what students tell each other, not what a website or a brochure or commercially produced product might imply. Brand messaging has to speak to students and match what they’re hearing. Face-to-face communication packs a big punch.

Students will also look at online sites like Glassdoor, though they take that information with a pound of salt because they realize that most of the content is either written by former or current employees who have an axe to grind or by people who work for the company and have an ulterior motive.

Who are some examples of industry leaders in on-campus branding and recruitment? What do you think makes them so successful?

It really comes down to on an individual basis what a student is majoring in and what they value.

There’s a common misconception that it’s a one-size-fits-all situation when it comes to brand. There are organizations that are perceived as top employers and featured in articles and websites as such, but students aren’t necessarily influenced by this—in some cases they’re skeptical that there’s an agenda or it’s a pay-to-play situation. A lot of these articles about top employers are sources for students, but they’re not necessarily as valued as we might assume.

It’s a common misconception that everyone wants to work at the same place and that’s not the case.

That’s good news for employers who are looking to break onto campus for the first time. On the one hand it’s simple and straightforward, but it’s still complicated to execute. Your primary goal is to establish a credible voice on campus through students who do internships or work there.

That’s how to get traction the most credibly and quickly—through word-of-mouth. It’s a surprising paradox that the more technology we have available to us, the more the personal recommendations seem to make the most impact. Make sure that you have a successful story to tell by someone who was recently impressed by the place firsthand.

What are some of the most common complaints or frustrations that employers have about on-campus recruiting and how can they be addressed?

They underestimate how competitive the marketplace is on some campuses with some students.

They assume that their reputation/logo alone will attract students. That’s not a winning strategy because it doesn’t communicate what they’re looking for.

They rely on job postings and assume that students will just flock to them. It’s true that that method can generate volume, but it’s not guaranteed to generate quality—it can quickly degenerate. It’s simply not that easy to just post and hope for the best.

Another problem arises when employers don’t understand the lifecycle of the college recruiting year. You can’t just show up in April and expect to hire the so-called “best and brightest.” The bulk of hiring goes on in September and October.

And you can’t assume that the hiring process is the same as recruiting for an experienced level position. With college recruiting, you need to make sure you have the forethought to plan what your needs will be, where the students will fit into the organization, and what sort of support you’ll be able to provide. That catches a lot of employers by surprise

What are the most essential aspects of on-campus recruiting that even companies with limited resources can participate in?

The building blocks are career fairs, info sessions, and on-campus interviews. The deal-breakers are the individuals who represent companies.

What defines a good company representative?

Enthusiasm is huge. Students will strike a company off the list if their representatives seem unenthusiastic.

The nature of their interactions needs to be full of dignity and respect. For example, the rep telling the student to visit the company website is a toxic practice, because the students are left wondering “Then why are you here?”

Similarly, info sessions need to tell students something they don’t already know. You just can’t show up with your 25-slide PowerPoint presentation and leave time for Q and A at the end. Students want to interact and hear the representatives’ stories and what they’re working on at the company, in a very granular way.

The interviewing process needs to be quick and let students know where they stand.

The number one expectation of students is a professional interaction and being treated with dignity and respect through the entire process. Remember that at any touch point you have with students. That’s what they expect and value, and that’s how they differentiate among employers.

You mentioned that referring a student to the company website is a “toxic practice.” Can you give some other examples of toxic practices?

  • Anything that’s perceived to be intrusive, like social media. Some students value it, but a lot of them don’t and they don’t want employers “stalking them” (that’s their word, not mine, by the way) on social media. LinkedIn is a little different, but getting them involved on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. is perceived as intruding into their personal life. A lot of employers overestimate the students who really value social media interactions. The majority of them do not want to interact with employers that way.
  • Using your mobile device to catch up on email and not interacting during a career fair.
  • Being rude or insulting—it sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens!
  • Boring them in your PowerPoint presentation. Remember that any interaction you have with them communicates what it’s like to work at your company.
  • Over-promising things like the time frame of your response to their application. Students tell me that they can handle rejection, but to be left hanging with an unclosed loop communicates a really negative message to students, and they’ll communicate that to everyone they know.

Any last words of wisdom about college recruiting?

It’s not as easy as it looks. A lot of people think you just go and do it and it doesn’t require much, but it really takes a lot of thought in terms of planning, having the right people involved, and being in it for the long-haul. You can’t just go one year and then skip the next year and go back and expect students to remember you. You have to be consistent and demonstrate your commitment to students.

The next step: Take some time to evaluate the presentations you and your team are currently giving to students. Do they contain personal stories as Mary suggests they should? Are they designed to be interactive and provide students with information they can’t get on your website? What changes can you make to reflect the unique and compelling aspects of your company’s culture?

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4 Responses to “5 College Recruiting Toxic Practices—And How to Avoid Them”

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    […] true that in past posts, we’ve said that relying too much on your consumer brand or assuming that students are familiar with it can be a fatal flaw when it comes to recruiting college students. However, if the target […]

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  2. What You Might've Missed at NACE14 - AfterCollege Employer Blog

    […] You don’t want to rely too heavily on qualitative or quantitative information alone—ideally you should be able to use data to tell a story. Mary Scott’s presentation on student perceptions of employer brand was a great example of blending both types of data. (Mary shares more insights on “toxic recruiting practices” in our interview with her, which you can find here.) […]

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