Think You Know How Your Brand Measures Up On Campus? Think Again

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Picture this: You’re at a campus career fair. Your booth is all set, you’ve got a perfectly poised pyramid of water bottles to hand out, you’re pumped and ready to get students fired up about working for your company. There’s just one teensy problem with this scenario—when it comes time to actually talk to students, none of them have even heard of your company. This kind of kills your mojo, especially when you see competitors who have long lines of students who can’t wait to speak to their recruiters.

This scenario is sadly pretty common with companies that are new to college recruiting, but the good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to measure and  build your brand on campus. We caught up with Jeff Goodman, Principal Consultant at Campus Strategic Partners to learn more about branding your company on college campuses.

Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in talent acquisition and development, has led university programs organizations for Raytheon Company and Texas Instruments, and recently developed Professional Standards for University Relations and Recruiting for NACE.

jeff goodman

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

The worst thing is for students to know nothing about you. Well, even worse than that is if they know you and somehow have a negative association with your brand. Typically the best branding agent has a history of hiring interns and co-ops. You can’t beat furthering your brand than hiring students, giving them good work experience, and then sending them back to campus so they can tell their friends and classmates about it.

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

Some employers may mistake their product brand or rely so heavily on product brand that they may forget what they really need to focus on with students, which is what’s in it for them, what’s the thing that will make a student want to work for a company.

An even broader mistake may be that employers don’t pay enough attention to what their perception is, and just assume that students know who they are, so not paying enough attention or seeking to identify what their perception is on campus is another big mistake.

How can an employer seek out information about their brand presence on campus?

There are several ways to seek out information about brand presence and perception:

  • Ask questions and gather anecdotal data
  • Set up as many meetings as you can with the career center, faculty, and administration about their perception
  • Ask what other competitors are doing—they don’t need to be direct competitors. Ask about employers that are well thought of on campus. Why do they have such a good reputation and what could you do to be more like them?
  • Make changes based on what you’ve learned. Some employers don’t really act on the things they hear. If you get the feedback, you have to be prepared to make changes to actually improve things. It’s funny for someone like me, who comes from such an analytical background, to start with qualitative and anecdotal sources, but there’s a lot of good info in the qualitative side.
  • You can also do surveys. This can mean participating in established third-party surveys to get student evaluations or rankings on how they compare your company to others. I really like having that data and monitoring it on a year-by-year basis so you can see how your efforts are having an impact.
  • You could do your own study (for example I’ve done one with a college professor as a third-party). This is the most intense way of identifying brand presence and what students knew before recruiters went to campus and how much it changed after your representatives were on campus. If you’re going to send people to actively recruit on campus events, the representatives you send are the most important cog in the wheel of on-campus recruiting.

What makes someone a good representative to send for on-campus recruiting?

Students want to talk to someone who is in that role, has been in that role, or really understands the people who are engaged in that role. I always wanted to send people who were in that role, even more ideally if they are alums or have been on the other side of the table in the past few years. Being passionate is the other important piece. If they don’t have the passion, they’re not going to fire anyone up about going to work at your company.

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

Of course there are companies like Google and Microsoft. They twist the traditional norms and do a lot of their own recruiting on their own time. It’s not like they’re not at career fairs, but they do the best part of their recruiting when they’re on campus just for Microsoft. This makes it easier for companies like that because the brand sells itself and students are so immensely interested in going to work for companies like that, so they’re the ones with the big long lines.

For companies that I worked with, a lot of the brand has to do with building relationships on campus, especially with faculty, working with faculty to help them send speakers to do seminars, work with them on case studies, and things like that. If you’ve got faculty members who know your company and are using some of the things you do as a company as part of studies in class, that’s the way to build employer brand on campus because you’re on students’ minds; they’ll start thinking of you as a company they’re familiar with when it comes time to start applying for jobs.

Ernst & Young, KPMG, those “Big Six” accounting firms also have a tremendous reputation, but they work very intently at college recruiting. They have a really good process and really good people that they employ. No huge secrets there.

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

When you go to a career fair and you have students strolling by and they have no idea who you are and what you do, it’s really frustrating. I got into the habit of always asking first, “What do you know about this company?”

There are some things you can do about that. For example, if you do some general info sessions, you can time them so they take place before the on-campus career fair.

The other thing we used to do for a really big school that we wanted to put a lot of emphasis on, was our own career day. In that case, we’d want to try to get the broadest range of degrees to participate. We’d set up individual booths, e.g. supply chain, finance, HR, along with engineering. We found that worked really well in overcoming big schools who didn’t know us.

How would you arrange that type of company-specific career fair on campus?

We always worked with career centers first and foremost, but sometimes our efforts would’ve focused more on engineering. In that case, we’d work with career services and the engineering department to decide where to put the event. You want to pick a place where engineering students frequent on campus. Location, location, location—you want to be in the right spot to catch the largest number of students, and the departments can help you to plan that.

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

A lot of companies are struggling with the ability to send people out on campus, but one of the best of ways of doing branding is through company representatives on campus. From an economic standpoint, take advantage of opportunities when you do go to campus. That may mean extending your stay to do more things on the front end or back end of your trip.

If you’re going on campus to do a career fair, for example, I’d try to set up one-on-one interviews the day after a career fair. I’d also add on another day to add visits with faculty, deans, department heads, student groups, career centers, giving talks in classrooms—everything you possibly could do. If you’re not able to do a lot of trips, you really need to capitalize on the ones you are allowed to make.

The next step: Jeff talks about the importance of maintaining your relationships with professors and faculty on campuses for many reasons. You can glean information about how your brand is perceived, arrange classroom visits and case studies based on your company, and maximize the time that you do spend on campus. If you’re already involved on a campus, how could you strengthen the relationships you already have? If you aren’t, start thinking of the schools you’d like to get involved with and find people to contact in the relevant departments there.

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