In January, the tech industry’s unemployment rate sank to 2.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; that’s about half the national rate of 4.9 percent. Such numbers reiterate what recruiters already know: Words like “challenging” barely begin to describe the task of attracting skilled tech candidates at all levels.
Even new graduates have become a tough catch for employers. Companies have to make personal and detailed pitches if they want to land the best young candidates. If your game plan includes only booths at college jobs fairs and postings in their career centers, you may as well stay home.
“You’ve got to be really bad not to get a job in this market,” and candidates know it, said Tom Borgerding, president and CEO of Campus Media, a Minneapolis-based recruitment-marketing agency that focuses on the college market. Graduating students have numerous options to choose from when it comes to both internships and full-time jobs, he added. In fact, some of his clients have gone so far as to hire STEM grads even if they don’t have a specific role for them. “My guess is they’re holding onto them so they can have a pipeline to fill positions as older workers move on,” Borgerding said.
This may not be a pretty picture for tech employers, but it is a manageable one—so long as they’re willing to engage candidates with more personal contact and a more detailed look at their opportunities, all based on an understanding of how students operate today and what they expect to get out of their first job. As you plot your recruitment strategy, here are some things to consider:
Use Peers as Company Evangelists
In Borgerding’s experience, the most successful campus-recruiting efforts involve employees with two to four years of experience. While recruiters open the door, “the peer becomes the key contact,” he explained.
This is especially important at a time when candidates are asking more questions about companies and their culture as well as the technical stack and every business’s long-term technology plans. Recruiters say such conversations are more satisfactory when they take place between candidates and peer technologists rather than candidates and recruiters or HR.
Because “these students have grown up in a way that lets them smell marketing,” authenticity is vital, Borgerding said. During interviews, presentations or any type of communication with candidates, companies should be honest about any negatives in their story rather than ignore them.
For example, an organization might rely on older technology, something that might dissuade certain tech pros from coming aboard. That downside can be countered by a commitment to give candidates exposure to new tools. (It goes without saying that you have to keep those promises if you want to maintain your reputation.)
Every company has its foibles, such as a cumbersome bureaucracy or a decision-making process that is the antithesis of agile. Don’t sweep those things under the rug. Rather, demonstrate how the energy of teams, the long-term vision of managers and the excitement of customers collectively overcome any frustrations that current employees may experience from time to time. Here again, candidates tend to listen more carefully when they hear the message from their peers.
In addition, you have to be on campus, building relationships with professors, career center staffs and student groups. “Don’t wait for a job order to go out and meet candidates,” Kelly said. “Get out there in the community, talk to kids and share advice.”
Make It About the Candidates—and Their Code
Today’s young candidates “grill you,” observed Kelly. “People coming out of college are much more in control than they were 10 years ago.” Rather than fight that dynamic, embrace it.
“Invest in understanding what the kids want to do,” advised Borgerding. “Ask questions about what they want to do rather than tell them what the company does.”
Kelly notes that both employers and candidates are emphasizing code prowess over academic credentials nowadays. “Pedigree is still important, but it’s not as important as it once was,” he said. One hiring manager he knows recently focused on “graduates who had middling GPAs because they skipped some classes to build something.” If a student has good code to show, “it will get them in the door.”
And candidates like that. “Employers who get this are the ones getting the kids’ attention,” said Kelly. “Focus on their code in your outreach.”
Kelly believes recruiters should always how enthused young candidates are about technology today. “A new grad’s first job is like letting a dog off the chain,” he said. “They’re excited because they’re getting paid to code.”