Recruitment Marketing Strategies for College Students and Grads #SHRM18


“It’s an increasingly tough marketplace out there on both sides, and that customer understanding can go a long way for the company’s recruiting and all these applicants who want to land a great place to be.” That is from Nancie Ruder, owner of Noetic Consultants, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in brand strategy, research and training. Ruder will speak at SHRM 2018, presenting “Unlocking Marketing Strategy to Optimize Recruitment.” I spoke with Ruder to get her insight into effective recruitment marketing to college students and recent grads. We chatted about measuring success, what Gen Z wants, and non-traditional student recruitment. Here are the takeaways from our conversation.

Recruitment marketing today must be culturally relevant

Ruder says recruiting needs to be about “keeping your customer front of mind.” That is both timeless and ever-evolving, she says, because what your customers (candidates) want is always changing. One additional change she has seen is an increase in attention on culture. As entry-level talent acquisition shifts from recruiting Millennials to targeting Gen Z, Ruder says employers need to work hard to be culturally relevant. “Culture matters all the more” to this generation.

Today, recruiters need to convey their workplace culture clearly and authentically to students and grads. They should be transparent about what will enable candidates to excel at their organization. In being transparent, says Ruder, recruiters will also succeed in discouraging candidates to self-select out if they sense they won’t fit. It’s as much about who you want to attract as it is who you don’t want.

Ruder often sees employers take a misguided approach to selling their culture, thinking they have to show how fun it is to work there and demonstrate how often they socialize after work. That’s a misunderstanding of this generation, and Ruder encourages employers to be true and authentic to who they are. You must “understand what these recruits want. It’s less about having beer on tap at the office. It’s far more about growth opportunities and a career path, and being mission based.”

Gen Z is a savvy generation that has become cynical of marketing messages, and they will filter or block messages that don’t appear authentic or genuine. So in forming a recruitment marketing strategy, Ruder says she always asks employers to figure out the “who, what and how.” Always start with “who,” she says. Before anything else, know the answer to “Who do we want to attract and who don’t we want to attract?” After answering that you can figure out “what” to communicate, such as your mission, and “how” you live that mission at work.

What to consider when marketing to non-traditional student candidates

More employers are expanding their reach to include more non-traditional students in their recruitment plans, and Ruder is glad to see that happening. “Non-traditional” students include those studying at online colleges, vocational and technical schools, and older students who have gone back to school.

“There hasn’t been nearly enough attention” on non-traditional students, and Ruder thinks that employers have been missing an important candidate pool. She sees many non-traditional students as “quite focused” and as having a good sense of what they’re looking for in their career. “If you’re talking to somebody who has started and stopped [school], they might feel they’re a little bit behind” and they want to know they can do a good job at your organization. They want to know what they’ll be measured against, Ruder says, and that’s great for employers. Recruiters should listen carefully to these students goals because it will be very informative of whether they will fit.

Ruder sees “a lot of uniqueness” among non-traditional students and grads, and one of the key things she’s learned about this talent pool “is that there is a lot of emotion.” Don’t assume, for example, that someone who has taken a less traditional path has the same high level of confidence as a graduate who sailed through 4 years at a traditional undergraduate school. Ruder suggests to recruiters that they do a lot of listening, and take that emotion into account as they determine whether that candidate can succeed.

There is a lot of uniqueness among non-traditional students and grads, and one of the key things Ruder has learned about this talent pool “is that there is a lot of emotion.” Recruiters should do a lot of listening.

Effectively measuring the progress and success of your recruitment marketing campaign

Ruder encourages employers to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) for their recruitment marketing campaigns. Find out what you want to achieve, then articulate it as a SMART goal, she says. Then break that down into “digestible metrics”. She doesn’t think they all have to be hard numbers, however. You can have qualitative data as long as its measurable.

“You might have a metric around a specific number of new hires, but it might be just as important to have a metric of how many people you want to interview […] or how many significant conversations you want to have.” Those are diagnostic measures that will show whether you’re on track. For example, Ruder says, if you want to hire 15 people you might want to know that you’ve spoken to more than just 15 people.

If you want to increase diversity, Ruder suggests adding a diagnostic metric such as attending related conferences that will help you achieve increased diversity.

At the end of the day, your metrics must be aligned with your goals. It’s easy to collect all kinds of data but to justify its analysis, the data set must tell a story that informs whether you’re on track to achieve your goals. Ruder also encourages employers to always try new marketing channels. If you keep recruiting through the same channels you will always get the same results, and you’ll likely be recruiting the same candidates as everyone else. She has seen employers consider new channels such as attending a new conference, getting involved in hack-a-thons on campus, or doing a case competition.

What should recruiting leaders do right now to attract college students and grads?

Reach out to your candidates. Recruitment marketing should be as “just in time” as possible, says Ruder. “The more you can be very high-touch and very quickly respond to them, the better chance you have of retaining that best talent,” she says. The best talent goes quickly, so “you want to be the Johnny on the spot.”

Students and recent grads are especially sensitive to the experience of a hiring process “that goes dark,” says Ruder. “That customer experience really becomes the brand.” She says the best way to attract talent is by “moving quickly and being high touch, and really listening to what that applicant has to say,” and also looking for the intersection between what the applicant is looking for and what the employer needs.


Two examples of successful recruitment marketing campaigns

Ruder saw Nestle turn around their recruitment marketing to gain traction among college students. They created an ambassador program to “create more buzz.” They did a lot of on-campus promotion, including street teams who promoted events and distributed Nestle chocolate. They also became more active on social media. “While they did it in a grassroots way, it was very replicable. They were able to take it from campus to campus.” If you are a young person and see other young people who are excited about their employer, says Ruder, that can be very powerful.

She says LinkedIn also got creative to recruit college talent. They held “career weeks” with various events targeted to different populations throughout the week. They included events for women, events about technical skills, events advising students in improving their LinkedIn profiles, etc. “They did it in bite sized chunks, which is very apropos especially in how Gen Z likes to digest content, as opposed to committing to a whole day. They were also able to get in front of a more diverse audience because they parsed out [their content] by a need” or a specific demographic.


Originally published on College Recruiter blog.





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