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Ten Tips to Recruit the Best Grads

Struggling economy or not, filling an entry-level position with top talent can prove a challenge. Here, we offer 10 tips your organization can follow to attract and secure the best graduates in your field.

1) Know who you really want. Create a comprehensive wish list of attributes a successful candidate will possess. The list should include hard skills, such as academic degrees and work experience, as well as soft skills, such as style, personality traits, the ability to work in a fast-paced environment, and flexibility.

2) Get students interested early. Don’t wait until they become upperclassmen before you start interacting with them. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges & Employers, nearly 40 percent of this year’s entry-level positions will be filled by former interns. PricewaterhouseCoopers has embraced this trend by expanding its recruiting programs to reach students as early as their freshman year. Nearly 90 percent of the interns PwC offers full-time positions accept and move on to successful careers with the company.

3) Play in their sandbox. Today’s graduates live, play, and job hunt on social media. In addition to establishing an interactive presence on Facebook, Twitter, and [stock ticker = "LNKD"]LinkedIn[/ticker], try conducting interviews using Web-based video technology such as [stock ticker = "MSFT"]Skype[/ticker]. A low-cost alternative to in-person interviews, online video technology will allow you to interview more candidates from a wider geographic base, all while appearing tech-savvy to top grads.

4) Diversify your approach. In an annual survey on recruiting trends at 4,600 U.S. companies conducted by the Career Services & the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, 36 percent of all companies surveyed said that they would consider any major for a position, a historic high. Graduates with a universal skill set, unique life and work experiences, or a global perspective have a high potential to succeed in any field, so don’t fixate on getting a candidate with a specific major.

5) Offer something unique. Not all companies can provide “wow” perks, like [stock ticker = "DWA"]DreamWorks Animation SKG’s[/ticker] free breakfast and lunch, movie screenings, afternoon yoga, and on-campus art classes. But grads will appreciate a posted salary higher than the national average or base benefits for all employees. Check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics for monthly wage estimates for some 800 occupations.

6) Leverage your employee network. Because your employees embody the qualities needed to succeed at your company, they know what to look for in candidates. An employee referral program is one of the best ways to recruit top talent to your organization. To get the most out of it, make sure the compensation conveys your company’s commitment to top talent, promote the program internally (social media have made employee referral easy money), entice employees with special incentives, such as a new [stock ticker = "AAPL"]iPad[/ticker], or even double the reward for finding successful candidates for hard-to-fill positions.

7) Cultivate a crowdsourcing relationship. Savvy employers gain advantage by inviting smart college students to join their crowdsourcing communities long before students are ready to join the workforce. Crowdsourcing is win/win for companies and students alike—companies see how candidates think and work, while students sample what the work will really be like. At our own firm, we use our crowdsourcing site, Mindfire, to generate ideas for clients. On Mindfire, hundreds of university students around the world contribute creative ideas to solve business challenges that we submit on behalf of clients. In return, Mindfire students receive incentives that include prizes, career coaching from Ketchum executives, and job notifications—all while developing an enduring relationship with the company.

8) Be visible. Top grads want to work at companies that are renowned thought leaders in their respective fields. Have senior leaders speak at industry events, guest post on industry blogs, or host potential hires at your company offices.

9) Recognize, and be recognized. Companies that individually recognize their applicants are much more likely to have candidates follow through on interviews and accept positions. As recruiting expert Dennis Wolff of Korn/Ferry Futurestep in Vancouver suggests, consider an automatic reply thanking applicants for their submissions and advising them on the next steps of the application process. Effectively communicating with applicants at each stage of the process—especially once positions are filled—will win your company a positive reputation among top graduates and future job seekers.

10) Be opinionated. Top graduates are the movers and shakers of the future business landscape; they want to work for a company that defies conventions and moves the needle in exciting ways. To situate your company at the forefront, have company executives or experts share opinions or insights on current topics with traditional media or through social media. Conveying a distinct viewpoint on anything from politics to the latest Woody Allen movie shows potential employees your company is unafraid to commit to a position, an attribute you hope new workers will emulate.

The recruitment process is like a first date: If your company makes an interesting first impression, top graduates will consider a serious relationship.

Karen Strauss is partner and chief innovation officer at Ketchum, and Ron Culp is independent counsel at the firm.

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