Three key employer branding strategies to recruit college students
April 19, 2017 by Matthew Kosinski
In today’s competitive talent market, successful employer branding strategies go a long way toward attracting top college students and grads to your organization.
However, the particulars of your employer brand – what your message is, how you deliver it, the aspects of the organization you choose to emphasize – will depend almost entirely on the segment of the talent market you wish to attract. If you are trying to engage entry-level workers in the media industry, your employer brand should look very different from an employer who wants to engage mid-career professionals in IT.
When it comes to attracting college students and recent grads, what should your employer branding strategies take into consideration? We talked with a few experts on college recruiting to find out.
- It’s More Than Lip Service – You Have to Genuinely Care
At the very basic – and most crucial – level, employer branding strategies aimed at college students and recent grads need to be genuine. If you’re simply paying lip service to the concept without actually taking the time to explore what student talent wants, young candidates will see right through the ruse.
“You hear a lot about the ‘candidate experience’ and ‘employment brand,’ and it reminds me of how big tech companies used to talk about their small business customers in the ‘90s,” says Kristen Hamilton, CEO and cofounder of student-focused predictive hiring solution Koru. “[There is] lots of talk about systems and programs without a focus on understanding and empathizing with the experience of the customer – or the early career candidate in this case.”
Instead of “treating candidates anonymously,” Hamilton suggests employers leverage technologies and techniques that allow them to “measure which candidates will align with their organization before a hire is made.”
Employer branding should always start with identifying what kind of talent thrives in your organization and then tailoring your message to the talent in a sincere and truthful way. This is doubly true when it comes to students and recent grads.
Tom Borgerding, president and CEO of college marketing firm Campus Media, notes that many of today’s college students are “cynical about the messaging, marketing, advertising, [and] promotions of just about everything.” If your efforts to build relationships with and market your brand to them are not genuine, they won’t be interested.
“A clear, honest, direct message will go a long way with this audience,” Borgerding adds. “Even better: Give them proof behind what you are saying.”
- One Size Does Not Fit All: Customize Your Messaging
Speaking of the need to be sincere and truthful in your employer branding messages: Students and recent grads will be much more receptive if your branding is tailored to a specific audience rather than a general slice of the population.
“Customize your messaging on your website, your presentation, and conversations to the unique personalities of your target market,” Borgerding says. “If your typical computer science student is introverted, concerned about learning new programming languages, and [wants] access to a mentor, then make that key to your messaging to computer science students. Alternatively, if you are hiring someone in marketing/advertising and [they are] more extroverted and concerned with advancement and social engagement of the company, then present those messages to your marketing/advertising students.”
It can be tempting to craft messages meant for a wide audience – after all, what’s so bad about attracting more candidates? But the problem with a broad appeal is twofold. First, as mentioned above, today’s students and recent grads tend to be cynical about marketing, and widely pitched messaging smells a lot like old-school marketing to them. Second, great employer branding strategies don’t simply bring in more candidates – it brings in more qualified candidates. Your brand messaging should aim only at those audiences who are likely to be good fits for your organization.
Fortunately, data analytics, drip marketing, programmatic advertising, and other tech-enabled strategies have made it relatively easy for recruiters and employers to target their messages to well-defined segments of the talent market.
- Growth Opportunities Matter. A Lot.
While it is true that your employer branding efforts should be tailored as much as possible, there is one thing that seems to appeal to students and recent grads across industries and roles: professional development opportunities.
“It has always been the case that college graduates are interested in career development opportunities,” says Faith Rothberg, CEO of College Recruiter, which connects college students and recent grads with jobs and internships. “Young professionals value being able to make an impact on their employer’s business. Therefore, they see career development opportunities as a huge benefit when it comes to choosing an employer. We have seen our large employer customers with leadership development programs leverage this in their employment branding and have great success at recruiting amazing college grads!”
Chris Motley, founder and CEO of college-focused inbound recruiting platform Better Weekdays, agrees. That’s why he encourages employers to adopt “strategies that engage college students” by emphasizing their needs over the company’s needs.
“College students love great experiences and learning new things that will help them be more successful in school – not just academically, but socially,” Motley says. “The extent to which companies create and distribute content aligned with the values and motivations of college students – or even address their fears – creates a lift in overall engagement and differentiates those companies among competitors.”
Motley recommends that employers focus on answering two questions in their employer branding efforts: “How can I grow?” and “What will I work on?”
When it comes to practical implementation, Motley also has a few suggestions:
- Create media-rich content that can be consumed in less than three minutes.
- Give candidates a taste of actual projects they will work on if hired.
- Share employee testimonials related to what the job, company, and culture are like. Motley says that testimonials from alumni of the same college you’re targeting are especially effective.
The takeaway here is that any successful employer branding strategies targeted toward college students and recent grads should be rooted in genuine care, customized for a specific audience, and centered in part on growth opportunities. There will be finer points to iron out as well, as each employer’s strategy will depend on their unique needs, but as long as you take these three ingredients as a starting point, your campaign is likely to be a success.
About Matthew Kosinski: Matthew Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of Recruiter.com, where he writes about technology, trends, and tactics in the HR and recruiting worlds. He is also a grad student studying poetry and an avid fan of hip-hop.
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