Think that setting up a student ambassador program is just too tricky and complicated for your university recruiting team? It doesn’t have to be. Ashley Collins, Education & Marketing Specialist at AgCareers came up with the initial plan for AgCareers’s Campus Ambassador Program while she was an intern. Her employer was so pleased with her proposal that they invited her back full-time so she could oversee the program.
AgCareers’s Campus Ambassador Program gives its students a lot of freedom to decide which events they’ll plan or participate in, and it also gives AgCareers a chance to bounce ideas off their core demographic.
It’s not all fun and games, though—Ashley warns that you’ll need to be aware that students can’t really honor a 9 to 5 schedule and they may need your help at inconvenient times. Read on to learn more about the nuts and bolts of the program and advice Ashley has for other employers who are interested in setting up something similar.
What is AgCareers? Do you currently hire college students or recent grads?
AgCareers is an online job board, similar to Monster or Careerbuilder or CollegeRecruiter, but specific to the agriculture industry. It’s been around for 16 years. It started as a print newsletter and evolved into a website in 2007.
We do not do any headhunting or placement—we provide our website and other products as part of our business structure.
We do personally hire some recent college graduates—we have a number who started working for us right out of college, which is one of the reasons why we have an ambassador program.
When some companies pay to post on our website, they’re looking for additional branding. If they participate at the partnership level, they also get access to student ambassadors. We currently have 15 companies that have access to the students through these channels.
How does the student ambassador program at AgCareers work?
This is our 10th year running the program. We’ve run it on 45 campuses and had 58 students participate. In a given year, we have between 6 and 10 participants, with one on each campus.
The program runs from September to April. They generally participate in their junior or senior year, but they don’t have the opportunity to participate more than once because we rotate campuses every year.
Students don’t have any expenses—we supply them with everything they need, but they can apply for additional funds if they’d like to do something special. Student ambassadors are paid an honorarium at completion of the term—basically a lump sum to cover their work throughout the year.
Student ambassadors go through a training process so they’re well equipped to inform students about our website and how to use it.
They reach out to clubs and organizations on campus like Ag Business clubs, Poultry Science, etc. and ask if they can come in as a guest speaker. They’ll give a 10- to 30-minute presentation about the website, how to use it, how to learn about open positions, and they’ll also talk about the 15 companies that have elite access.
There are sometimes other duties, like when we attend trade shows, we’ll invite student ambassadors to work at booths.
They also write a weekly journal entry, submitted each Friday about their activity and plans for the upcoming week. I’ll review those entries every Friday and then share them with the group so they can have access to each other’s ideas.
Do you offer any additional support?
We have additional training and also monthly conference calls. I am the program coordinator, and as I go through and read journals, I’ll follow up with students if necessary.
Do the students have opportunities to connect with each other?
In addition to the monthly conference calls, we encourage them to connect via social media, over the telephone, etc. If one of them misses a conference call, another student will call them and let them know what they missed. They are spread out across the country so they don’t usually have the opportunity to meet in person, but we’ve had it happen before that two of them might be attending an event like an FFA convention, and in that case they’ll plan to meet.
What is the selection process like?
We advertise the positions on our website and then conduct phone interviews, and sometimes a second interview. We also reach out to our faculty connections at universities and ask them to encourage specific students to apply.
What kind of qualities are you looking for?
Students who are well networked, involved in clubs and organizations, but not too involved because they need to have time. We think they spend three to four hours a week working on the role. We look for a student who isn’t afraid to do public speaking. It falls under our marketing department, but it’s also a sales role, so someone who has sales ability and strong work ethic. I can’t be there to watch over them and keep them on track, so they have to be accountable for their duties.
You mentioned that you change the campuses where you offer the program every year. What’s the motivation behind that decision?
Our audience is all of the US and really the world. Essentially these are brand ambassadors and we need that awareness everywhere, so we change it every year. Ideally they’re talking to freshmen and freshmen will remember it when it comes time to apply for a job later in their academic career. We maintain some presence that way. We know when you don’t have an ambassador traffic is not as high as when you do.
Do you measure any sort of metrics from the student ambassador programs?
It’s a hard metric to track because they may learn about the site now but it may be another year or two before that student is looking for an internship or full-time position. We do maintain a healthy level of applicants on our website in the first year we’re in a school. We ask how many years of experience they have and we’ve seen growth and we’ve been able to maintain that.
Our main focus is really to make sure our name gets out there.
What is your role at AgCareers?
I’m the program coordinator of the student ambassador program, but that’s really only about 5% of my plate—though I’d like it to be more! I also oversee social media and training.
I actually came to AgCareers as an intern and my intern project was coming up with the student ambassador program. This was the idea that I pitched and it was adopted so I came on full-time and kept it underneath my wing.
Do you get authorization from schools before selecting ambassadors there?
It’s not part of the process right now. That’s why ambassadors only reach out to extracurricular activities. If a company wants to have more integration into class time, they’d need to get approval from administration.
Do you have any other advice for companies that are thinking about starting a student ambassador program?
We have helped two or three companies start a student ambassador program of their own—in order to be successful, the employee in your company who oversees it must be committed to doing this type of work. While you’re not managing six full-time employees, they have a lot of questions and need a lot of guidance.
I mentioned that we have those monthly conference calls, and because these are college students, the conference calls take place at 9pm because I have students in every time zone. They are students first and I can’t ask them to miss class to fulfill their duties with us. So that’s one thing you should be aware of—pretty much all your calls end up being at night. Students text me at night, too. There are a lot of things that come up when you’re dealing with students because their schedule is not 9 to 5. The success of the program boils down to the person’s ability to manage the team and be dedicated.
Also, one of the things we do with ambassadors is position them as a think tank for us. We’ll throw ideas to them to get their perspective. That’s a great reason to have an ambassador program.
If we were in a different business like selling a product, my piece of advice would be to repeat the same ambassador over the years. Once you establish that presence it can easily be forgotten, so it’s a good idea to maintain continuity.
The next step: Which aspects of the AgCareers Campus Ambassador Program would make the most sense for your organization? Timing? Structure? Recruiting process? Use them as a framework to write a proposal about how your program would work.
Photos courtesy of AgCareers.