A Few Lessons From GEICO’s Manager of National College Recruiting

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GEICO knows a thing or two about recruiting top students. Every year this company hires more than 400 entry-level candidates AND makes it a priority to promote within. The overwhelming majority—78%—of GEICO’s upper management team began as entry-level hires.

And one significant way that GEICO stands out as a college recruiter is by simply giving money away. Every year, GEICO offers Achievement Awards to several dozen college sophomores and juniors. (For more info on the details of the program, check out this post.)

We were super excited to have the opportunity to chat with Stephen Cairns, Manager of National College Recruiting at GEICO to learn more about GEICO’s recruiting practices and get some of the behind-the-scenes info on how the Achievement Awards program is run.

What are some of the benefits of offering a scholarship program?

Well, there’s the obvious benefit of the money for the students. They also get a chance to be seen by companies that put out the awards.

We ask for quite a bit of data on their academic background and service background, so for us we get into contact with candidates we might not have had access to otherwise. We can follow up and recruit students we’d never get a chance to see if it wasn’t for the awards.

What are some of the challenges you face in running the program?

Sometimes it’s the consistency in managing the selection process. The way we’re structured each of our 14 locations has their own recruiter or recruiting team. They’ll make their selection and send their short list to me, so I need to ensure consistency of how we measure students. Our awards are based on a combination of achievements, written elements, endorsements, etc., and some locations might have a strong emphasis on the written piece and others might focus on GPA, for instance, so I need to make sure that we use the same criteria and it’s a little more objective.

Then there’s also the administrative piece in that we’re awarding 55 to 65 recipients in a one-month time span, so we need to get checks cut and confirm that we have the right information so that everyone gets their award on time.

How does GEICO award the recipients?

It depends on the location. It’s left to discretion of each recruiter. Some locations like to have students come in for breakfast, a luncheon, or a celebration at their office.

We do really encourage people to be creative and get on campus, though, because it’s a good branding opportunity. The idea is the more we can get on campus, the better.

What percentage of award winners go on to apply for jobs or internships at GEICO?

We don’t have any exact numbers, though we’re trying to get to the point of tracking this more effectively. I’d guess it’s about 10%.

Is this a number you’d like to see go up?

Absolutely. The achievement awards started out as a tool for branding awareness, so students could learn that GEICO was on campus and that we’re looking for talent. But as we continue to put out more money, we want to see more return, so we’d like to convert more. We’re really focusing on looking for and rewarding the talent that’s going to fit into our organization.

What advice would you give to other companies thinking about offering scholarships to students?

Gauge the impact that you’re going after. Is your scholarship program a marketing tool? Is it a candidate generator?

We started out one way and now we’re trying to make it more of a candidate generator and it’s more difficult that way.

You should also be specific about the number of awards you want to give out and the dollar amount of the awards. I think we’ll be shifting to fewer awards and larger amounts for each award in the future.

How do you build the GEICO brand among college students?

We use a lot of social media. We try to be on campus as much as we can, whether that’s doing info sessions or participating in student group and national association events.

Whenever we participate in events on campus, we make it a point to learn as much from the students as we can. It can be difficult when students only hear about what a company wants. We see our on-campus events as a great opportunity to talk to them and find out what they want to know from us about managing their career and their personal brand and transitioning from being a student to joining the workforce. Sometimes companies can miss the point of being in front of student groups.

We also do as many sponsorships as we can. Depending on the school, we might sponsor the entire career center, the business school, or be a title sponsor for the career fair.

How many campuses do you visit in a typical year?

It’s hard to say since we work independently from each other, but we’re probably at around 150 campuses between my office and the regional location-based offices.

What is something you wish you knew about college recruiting when you first started?

How frustrating it was! I wish I knew more about the metrics and getting the right data to track. It’s so important to know which data to pull so we get the right numbers and right feedback.

The next step: Stephen mentions the importance of tracking metrics and having a clear vision for your scholarship program. Develop your skills in these areas (and more) by attending an AfterCollege webinar. Get all the details here.

P.S. Stephen also mentions the importance of GEICO’s social media presence as an important aspect of their recruiting efforts. Find the links to their blog, social media accounts, and talent community on their social media page.


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