The biggest challenges faced by recruiters in university hiring (+ perfect solutions)
Hi! My name is Mark and I am an HR Generalist by profession. I have recently joined a SaaS company and I have been asked to hire fresh graduates for various roles from different universities. I have to take end-to-end responsibility of hiring students, right from selecting which colleges to visit to rolling out the offer letter. This is huge!
I am getting tips from colleagues, arranging childcare for my son, and even buying a new outfit (first impressions last, you know!)
I go through the entire recruitment process and manage to hire some really good candidates by beating all the challenges associated with university hiring. However, on the day of joining, I find out something really shocking and challenging. Almost 40% of the candidates that my team and I hired didn’t join even after accepting an offer.
This brings us to a few important questions—Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a university recruiter looks like? What are the challenges associated with university hiring? Let’s take a closer look (through Mark’s lens):
10 days to go for university hiring drive
I walk into the office. Go over to the coffee vending machine and grab a cup of cappuccino. I walk back to my desk, check social media—the Kardashians are trending again! (yawn)—and read my emails. I have to complete my first task today—shortlist the colleges we have to attend for hiring students.
Damn! There are so many universities around. How do I shortlist the best?
This brings us to the first challenge faced by recruiters in university hiring:
Challenge#1: So many universities, which one to choose?
Look beyond pedigree:
Over the last decade, there has been a significant rise in tuition fees. Also, student debt continues to be a persistent problem among new grads. Many students opt to attend other reputable, non-Ivy league institutions that offer more competitive tuition rates. Additionally, income levels come into play here. According to studies, more than 40% of students with good grades but low-income families do not apply to some schools that tend to have a higher tuition fee. However, we are not saying that ignoring the Ivy Leagues altogether is a good idea. They have their prestige and have always been sought-after for a reason. But as the economy continues to shift, it is important as a recruiter to broaden your horizons and target other schools to make sure you’re accessing the right talent for your organization’s needs.
Identify your needs:
Next, list down the type of skills you are looking for to fill out job vacancies at your organization and then match your target universities. For instance, consider the type of academic programs an institution offers, accreditations, post-grad placements, etc. This could give you better insight into the types of students a particular institution has.
Talk to your current employees:
The alumni factor plays a very important role when you want to target universities. Make sure you’re reaching out to the upper management to see which universities they may prefer to see on your list.
Consider the past:
When determining the list of your target universities, consider the universities you have visited in the past and the ones you already have a strong relationship with. Leverage the connections you have built over time, which will help you jumpstart your process and get your pipeline in action early.
Expand your reach:
What if the universities that you have listed out are out of your reach? Traveling across states or even the country to put on a career fair or visiting a number of different universities throughout the season can be time-consuming and expensive. In such cases, consider conducting virtual career fairs. Also, you could use social media to connect with university ambassadors.
1 day to go for university hiring drive
It’s another day at work. I am super excited because tomorrow is D-day! I open my laptop and start going through the vacant positions again. Instant panic takes over when I realize that most open positions are for technical roles and I am from a non-tech background. In that case, how do I assess candidates effectively?
This brings us to the second challenge faced by recruiters in university hiring:
Challenge#2: How to interview candidates for technical roles if you don’t have a technical background?
Steer away from leading questions:
When interviewing students for a technical role, it is tempting to ask a direct, leading question, such as “How many years of experience do you have using Django?” This happens especially when you have a list of skills to tick off. The best practice to follow is to avoid mentioning the names of technologies or frameworks and keeping questions open-ended. For example, you could ask, “What are your favorite programming languages/frameworks” or “Define a project you have worked on recently.”
Clear your doubts:
It may be impossible for a recruiter to know all programming languages, tools, and frameworks, whether he/she is from a tech background or not. Obviously, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of new tech trends. However, one should always remember that “the best people to explain the programming languages and skills to you are the ones that use it.”
Decide in advance:
We have already spoken under challenge#1 about listing down the type of skills you are looking for and then match your target universities. However, there, we were mostly talking about programming languages, frameworks, and agile methodologies. Here we mean thinking about what qualities you need from a particular candidate in order to get the job done—and done well. For instance, do you need an innovator or a technical whizz? Does your team need someone who is motivated by building products or solving technical problems?
Conduct skill-based assessments:
The next logical step is to create skill-based assessments. Trusted by 1,000+ companies, HackerEarth provides accurate technical assessments for more than 11 developer roles. It has an extensive library of 12,000+ questions, 100 skills, and 35+ programming languages. You don’t have to be a technical wizard to create these coding assessments. Just enter the job description or the job role and the platform will automatically create a test for you. This method will let you measure the technical competencies of candidates with ease. It is tempting to cover multiple topics, such as technical aptitude, logical reasoning, verbal ability, psychometric quotient, and so on. However, what works best are short and focused tests. Identify that one skill that’s most important to your hiring needs and conduct a quick, relevant 45- to 60-minute test.
Prepare a list of questions:
For face-to-face interviews, you can prepare a list of standard questions by researching the role. You can ask your CTOs, engineering managers, or team leads for tips related to technical screening of candidates, then write up your own list of developer-proof questions.
University drive day!
It’s 8 AM in the morning. I grab a muffin, a bottle of pulpy orange juice, and hop on a rental car. My team and I make it to the university at 9 AM sharp. With half an hour to go for the pre-placement talk, I start making notes and thinking about the type of questions students could ask us. I hope we make a good impression (praying silently!)
This brings us to the third challenge faced by recruiters in university hiring:
Challenge#3: What if you fail to make a good first impression among students (and they choose your competitors)?
The pre-placement talk is crucial in attracting the right talent. It is what sets the initial impression of your company. While geographical expansion, growth/outreach-related numbers, and stats are impressive, it is how a person can contribute or make an impact that’s interesting. Your pre-placement talk should cover the following points:
- How they will fit in as new college graduates
- How they can make an impact
- Work culture
- Hierarchy followed within the organization
- Types of projects
- Interesting market and technology trends
Build your brand:
Major organizations, such as Microsoft, Google, and Qualcomm, have been using the on-campus student ambassador program. You can appoint student ambassadors in colleges, and these students will represent your organization on their universities. Also, you can work with them to get your organization’s technical experts invited to events and conferences as speakers or for college projects. This will create a desire among students to be part of your company. Creating brand loyalty among students earlier on can prove to be of immense help and reduce the drop-off rate in the future.
Leverage social media:
The importance of a social media strategy cannot be overstated, especially if you want to get the best from university recruitments. In today’s digital world, students are bound to look at your organization’s social media page when deciding whether or not to apply for a position in your company. The best practice to follow is to post regularly about your work culture and the cool projects that you undertake to give students a sneak peek at what your company is all about. Have a repository of videos on your social media handle, detailing various aspects of your business such as perks, infrastructure, special amenities, and more.
Conduct a talk session with alumni:
If you have previously had a successful university drive, use it to your advantage. Identify a student, now working with your company, who can act as alumni and conduct sessions in colleagues you wish to recruit from. Having alumni represent your company will increase your brand appeal among students, therefore increasing your chance to have another successful university recruitment drive.
Spice up the job description:
A well-written job description can set the right expectations and help you connect better with the candidates. An extension of your brand, a job description needs to give a one- or two-line company overview, and mention the right job title, core responsibilities, minimum requirements, and compensation and benefits. During university-hiring drives, candidates have to choose between multiple opportunities from various companies. This is true especially during the first few days of the university hiring season. Interesting and crisp-yet-informative job descriptions can tip the scales in your favor.
It’s 2 PM—We have shortlisted 30 candidates out of the 250 candidates who had attempted the pre-employment test and took part in the group discussion. It’s now time to meet these candidates face-to-face. Even though the entire process took us a significant amount of time, I am thankful that we have managed to shortlist a very talented pool of candidates. But wait a minute! I think some of the rockstar talent that we have shortlisted have only been exaggerating their skills. What do we do now? We have already dedicated a lot of time and resources into it.
This brings us to the fourth and the most important challenge faced by recruiters in university hiring:
Challenge#4: How to save time-to-hire without compromising on the quality of candidates?
Know the industry scenario:
Review your last 6 months of hires to determine how your organization stands against the competition. Determine the time taken by candidates to move between all stages of the recruitment process (from sourcing to rolling out the job offer). This will help you diagnose where the slowdown is happening. You can then evaluate and eliminate the time-consuming factors associated with your recruitment process.
Have a structured recruitment process:
Grab a piece of paper and sketch your recruitment process out, from start to finish! What are the typical steps involved in a recruitment process, what does the candidate journey look like, how long does it take to fill a position, and more. Make things visible—that’s the only way you can exactly check where to improve and save time.
Build a candidate pipeline:
A well-built candidate pipeline can be extremely resourceful for your team. When managed effectively, it can drastically reduce your time-to-hire because you already have a list of candidates before the search even really starts. Also, look for speedy ways to source candidates by running paid ad campaigns, using social media to identify candidates in your industry, internal referrals, browsing talent databases, etc.
Use an ATS:
According to studies, 75 % of recruiters now use an applicant tracking system (ATS), with 36% reporting that using an ATS has saved them time. The primary purpose of using an ATS is to filter candidates automatically based on keywords, skills, pedigree, years of experience, etc. An ATS can also give you a sense of how many days it takes on average to close a position. Additionally, with an ATS, it’s easy to measure recruitment campaigns by other hiring metrics, such as the number of candidates interviewed and hired. The continual monitoring of results can also keep recruiters mindful of their recruitment methods.
- Leverage the power of recruitment tools:
With pre-employment recruitment tools, recruiters can assess a large pool of candidates, while utilizing minimum time and resources. You can create customized tests for different roles in a matter of minutes and shortlist candidates without compromising on quality.
A day after university hiring drive
My boss pats my back and tells me that we have done an excellent job. I am super glad that we could overcome challenges and make some perfect hires for our organization. I am now looking forward to welcoming the new employees to the future workforce. To set me on the right path, HackerEarth has created an employee onboarding checklist to make my journey a smoother one.
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