YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- It’s easy to convince a company to visit universities with enrollments of thousands when it wants to recruit employees.
“A lot of times, recruiters, because of their budget, are limited to only going to big schools where they can see a lot of kids in one shot,” says Jackie Meade, recently retired director of career services at Westminster College.
For smaller schools such as Westminster, with an undergraduate enrollment of 1,468, catching the eye of employers can prove challenging.
To level the playing field, the liberal arts college in New Wilmington, Pa., joined the Western Pennsylvania Career Services Association, a group of 44 colleges and universities that hosts two job fairs every year, Meade says.
With their students alongside those of larger universities such as Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh, smaller schools like Westminster, Grove City College and Carnegie Mellon University ensure that everyone has the same time to make his case to recruiters.
It’s not just students who reap the rewards of their efforts.
By taking part in a job fair put on by 44 schools, companies “have a chance to see high-quality students from all schools, including small ones,” Meade says. “That’s a plus for the employer because they aren’t being cut off from students who could be the perfect fit but couldn’t find them because of a limited budget.”
Having so many schools and employers converge at one site for the job fair helps companies, schools and students build relationships, something Jim Thrasher says is “everything in this realm.”
Thrasher is director of career services at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.
“It’s all about relationships,” he says. “I’ve been here over 20 years and some of these [recruiters] have become almost like personal friends that we see once or twice a year. It just builds relationships with all these folks.”
Thrasher has also started a seminar program for recruiters to learn how to address some of the issues they face.
“We invite our recruiters to come on campus free of charge. I brought in a nationally known author that I’ve done some writing with to help them with some of the issues and help them do a better job in their HR roles,” he says. “We’re trying to make an investment in our recruiters to show them how much we appreciate them.”
Grove City College has made regular appearances on the Princeton Review’s list of top-20 college career service departments, making the list three of the past seven years.
“We don’t have an ivory tower perspective here at career services. We have a business perspective,” Thrasher says. “We’re efficient and effective. We’re quick to get back to companies if they show interest in us.”
Last school year, Thrasher says, 220 companies from 17 states came to the Grove City campus. Career services at Grove City doesn’t “just go for the low-hanging fruit” of companies that want to visit, he says.
“When we engage companies and we bring them in, the great thing is they’re enthralled by what they see here at Grove City in quality of students: the work ethic, the communication skills, the leadership skills. And that’s what the marketplace is really looking for today,” he elaborates.
Larger schools, such as Youngstown State University and the University of Akron, emphasize making it easier for employers to identify the students they’re interested in and make contact.
YSU uses PenguinLINK, a system provided by Symplicity, to let students upload resumes. Employers can then search for any information relevant to positions they look to fill.
By expanding searches beyond just students’ majors and coursework, companies can identify candidates who surpass the minimum needed to perform a job.
“You may not be as concerned with a major. Maybe you’re looking for someone with certain experiences or was in a student organization that you can search. People may not know that applying for this job might be a good fit for them,” says Jennifer Johnson, “but if an employer can search those criteria, I can see that being beneficial.” Johnson is director of career services at YSU.
She adds, “Any tools that can be used to make sure employers can screen candidates and interact with candidates can help that process.”
At Akron, career services works with the engineering department to host two job fairs every semester, one specifically for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics College, and a general job fair the following day.
While companies that participate aren’t required to be at both, Christina Ross, director of the career advantage network at UA, encourages them to do so. Taking part in both, she says, benefits students and employers.
“Part of it is branding. Students want to see your company multiple times. You can’t expect them to return if you just do one big event every year because there’s a lot of competition [in the marketplace],” Ross says. “Money’s tight and … [companies] go to so many different campuses. We want them to spend their time where the best ROI is for their needs.”
Deanna Dunn, director of cooperative engineering education at Akron, says that to maximize the efficiency of booths at the job fairs, STEM students are required to register for both in advance.
“As much as students want a variety of employers, employers want a line [at their booth]. They don’t want to be there for four or five hours and have seven students come up to them. They want a constant flow of talent in that room,” Dunn says.
While most career services departments split between reaching out to companies and companies coming to them, Ross and Dunn explain that students aren’t limited to the employers that their schools are in contact with.
“A student is not restricted to the companies that call in and post their jobs. If you came in as an engineering student and you wanted to work for, say, Tesla Motors in Palo Alto – if you have a dream like that – we can take you separately and put you in contact with that company and do whatever we can,” Dunn says.
Ross adds that many schools use their alumni network to expand their reach.
“We had a student that wanted desperately to work at General Motors and we didn’t have them coming to our events,” she says. “Because we have connections to those employers, we were able to route their resume through to the hiring team.”
On the students’ end, Grove City College’s Thrasher says, it’s up to colleges to prepare them for today’s job market and what employers are looking for.
“Students graduating from college now are going to have nine to 10 jobs in a lifetime and four to five career changes,” he elaborates. “What we’re trying to do is teach lifelong strategic job search skills.
“My dad worked for the same company for 39 years. That just is not going to happen to college grads today. We’re into a four-year process that begins freshman year to help our students prepare for the job search in their senior year and beyond.”
Editor's Note: 'Recruiting the Best & Brightest' is a new focus of The Business Journal. To find out more, CLICK HERE.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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