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Fall Semester Best Time to Attract College Grads

A group of people laughing around a table.

The best opportunity to recruit top candidates among college graduates is at the start of their senior year, according to new survey results from the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry.

The Los Angeles-based recruitment process outsourcing firm fielded responses from nearly 1,500 business executives, the majority of whom said that back-to-school time is the best time of year to conduct college recruiting.

Sixty-four percent said that the autumn of a college student's senior year is the optimum time to attract the best candidates, followed by 21 percent who said the student's junior year was the best time to seek out talent and 15 percent who said waiting until a couple of months before graduation is best. No one responded that waiting until after graduation is the ideal time to recruit college grads.

"In our experience, students who know what they want to do and are driven to pursue their career goals while still in school make the strongest employees," said Adam Blumberg, vice president for key accounts at Futurestep. "Solid recruiting programs start early and focus on securing the most qualified talent months before they actually graduate."

Tom Borgerding, CEO and president of Campus Media Group in Minneapolis, which advises companies on recruitment marketing to college students, recommends HR start its campus messaging and recruitment efforts in September, especially now that the labor market squeeze has increased competition.

"Employers who compete for limited numbers of degree-specific students are first to be on campus, and many have well-organized university relations teams in place to have access to the students during their sophomore and junior years," he said. "In those cases, the very best of those students already have full-time offers in place after summer internships between their junior and senior years of college. For nontechnical jobs, there is more flexibility around hiring timelines."

Candidate Engagement Should Be Multifaceted

The largest percentage of respondents (38 percent) said that social media is the best way to engage college candidates, followed by in-person networking at 28 percent and on-campus events at 23 percent.

"Using social media to engage students is certainly the easiest and least expensive option," Borgerding said. "But if LinkedIn is the social media of choice for recruiters, then they are likely missing the majority of college students." He advised employers to look past a reliance on social media as their main engagement tool. "An integrated plan to reach more students is required to have the greatest impact and to reach the greatest number of students," he said. "If students do not know who an employer is, their social media or in-person presence will not automatically engage students. Students need familiarity with the employer to engage."

When asked why new-graduate candidates would choose one job over another, the largest percentage (35 percent) said it's because they like the people with whom they meet as part of the recruiting process. "It's critical that companies make the recruiting experience as positive as possible for candidates," Blumberg said. "A big part of creating that inviting environment is training hiring managers and others in the organization on how to best communicate the organization's employer brand and the positive culture of the company."

Do College Degrees Matter?      

The survey also reflected a growing trend toward placing less emphasis on college degrees as a prerequisite for gaining a professional job. One-third of respondents said that a college degree is not a firm prerequisite when hiring professionals within their organization.

"While college helps teach skills and critical thinking for many people, several organizations realize that there are smart, driven, talented people who do not have degrees but who are valuable assets," Blumberg said.

In Borgerding's experience, the reality is more nuanced. "We are seeing a decreasing requirement of employers targeting specific institutions—as qualified candidates can come from most any institution—but the degree and education that the institutions provide is necessary," he said.

Employers that are looking for science and technology, accounting, finance, medical, legal and other degree-qualified skill sets will require candidates to have a specific university degree, he added. "For jobs that are more motivation- and personality-based, like sales, retail and customer support, the specific degree matters less."

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