How to Recruit the Best of the Class of 2013

Photograph by Brian Finke/Gallery Stock

Question: I am a small business owner. How can I successfully recruit and hire the top 2013 graduates?

Answer: The best students from top universities usually feel they must take jobs with large brands in order to improve their future job prospects, says Paul Slezak, who has worked in recruitment for 20 years and is co-founder of The challenge for small companies is to promote their own strengths and position themselves as an exciting alternative to the big, corporate recruiters, he says.

Many new grads “don’t realize they are missing out on the wonderful breadth and depth of opportunities that smaller businesses expose them to,” Slezak says. “In a big firm, often they simply become a number and never really get the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in any particular role.”

Rather than telling top graduates this spring primarily about your products or services, cite the advantages that come with working in a smaller business. Here are a few ideas, along with some practical advice on how to connect:

Sell your size: Boutiques and midsize companies typically expose new hires to a variety of business areas, connect them directly to the leadership team, and provide access to mentoring from business owners and directors that they would never get at larger companies, Slezak says. “Depending on the size of the company, grads often get the opportunity to sit around the table with the decision-makers, and not five levels below them.”

Promote culture: Millennials currently graduating tend to prioritize meaningful work and connections, so let them know about your company culture and show a passion for what you do, says Kevin Kuske. He holds the title of “chief brand anthropologist” at Turnstone, a workspace design and furniture company. “It’s also important to provide a workplace where millennials are free to be themselves” and work with smart people, he says. “Emphasize the benefits of a small team, such as how workers are empowered to make decisions and take on different roles.”

Find grads before they graduate: Tap into your own college alumni network and into your local college career center, suggests Chris Graham, executive director of corporate and community involvement at San Diego State University. Rather than connect only when you are looking to hire, get involved in mentoring and internships year-round. “A lot of employers who are successful are providing internships, both full-time and part-time, and getting to know the students and assess them long before they are ready to hire,” he says.

Pay them well: Make sure your compensation is competitive and you have a good employee-review process in place, says executive search consultant Carolyn Dougherty. “You can be creative in how you structure compensation plans. Studies indicate that it is not always the salary that will retain people, but technology. Providing someone with an iPad or the latest mobile device is often enough,” she says.

Use social networks: Post engaging ads that highlight the fast career track at your small business, says Tom Gimbel, president and chief executive officer of LaSalle Network, a $35 million Chicago-based staffing firm with 80 employees. “Share the ad on all the social media platforms that these candidates are using,” he says. “Social media is great for screening applicants. It’s a perfect tool to not only get information about them, but get a feel for their personality and how they’d fit with your company culture.”

Make your company look good: Create a branded presence for your company on a network such as LinkedIn or Collegefeed. “Today’s millennials are extremely visual, so use pictures or videos whenever possible,” says Collegefeed founder Sanjeev Agrawal, a former head of product marketing at Google. “If you find someone you like, move quickly. To a 22-year-old, a month or even a couple weeks can feel like an eternity.”

Be realistic: The best graduates cost the most, and many small businesses can’t afford to hire them, says Peter Cappelli, a management professor and director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania. And just because they graduate at the top of their class, that’s no guarantee they will become your best employees, he says.