Build a recruiting funnel to hire great entry-level employees

Build a recruiting funnel to hire great entry-level employees
Written by: Karl Sakas

Hiring a new graduate is risky. Do they understand what it’s like to work in an office, meet real-world deadlines, and work with difficult clients?

There’s a lot of billable time at stake—you and your coworkers can easily spend 10 hours a week on training a recent graduate. You don’t want to waste that time on people who won’t work out.

Want to find the best recent graduates for your marketing agency? The key is to build a recruiting funnel for entry-level employees.

Invest Time Instead of Money

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to apply these tips (7 out of the 9 tips are free), but you need to invest time to make it work. Across your entire agency (over the whole year, across all hiring levels), I recommend spending 5-15% of your time on recruiting.

Don’t want to invest the time? Your competitors will scoop up the best entry-level employees and you’ll be left with the rest. Here’s how to build the entry-level recruiting funnel.

Build Relationships

Wish there was a shortcut to know which students are on-the-ball? You need to get to know two groups of people.

1) Build a relationship with career advisors at local schools.

Career advisors are influential—students trust them for advice on companies and internships to pursue. You want to get your agency on their shortlist of companies they recommend.

Consider, too, that only the most motivated students go to career services—you’ve already pre-screened the students. By the end of my freshman year, I was on a first-name basis with the career services staff at William & Mary.

If you ask a career services contact who’d be a match for your new entry-level opening, they’ll have several names of above-average students.

2) Build a relationship with professors in your discipline.

Professors know above-average students, too. Especially in business classes, they also see how individual students perform on teams.

Meeting in-person is ideal, but professors are busy—at most schools, they’re focused on their research instead of teaching. Start by introducing yourself via email. Let them know you hire recent graduates, and you’d love to hear which of their students are most promising.

Some professors will be more helpful than others. Remember that this is a long-term process. Also remember that students will change every semester—there are always new students.

Meet Students

Want to see which students perform well when they aren’t in a “on their best behavior” interview situation? Here are a couple ways to do that.

3) Volunteer as a guest speaker in classes.

Offer to give a guest lecture. Reach out to relevant professors near the end of the semester and ask if they need guest speakers for the coming semester. Especially in business schools, smart professors want outside perspective to help their students succeed after graduation.

During your talk—which could be on anything they need to cover—see who asks smart questions, and who comes up afterwards with followup questions. When I give guest lectures, so few students come up afterwards—but I know that those one or two students have above-average aptitude for taking initiative.

4) Speak to relevant on-campus clubs (marketing, business, design, computer science, IT, etc.).

Speaking at a student group gives you similar benefits as doing a guest lecture to a class. The advantage is that clubs are more likely to have students from different years—making it easier to reach students who are earlier in their academic career. They also tend to be more flexible on scheduling and topics.

Decide which groups make sense for you. To find groups, do a search for “student activities” and “student life” on each school’s website. Some will be more active than others.

5) Sponsor a relevant campus club.

Pick a club and offer to sponsor them. You’ll have the opportunity to build relationships with students—including the group’s officers, who tend to be more motivated than the overall membership—and you’ll be top of mind as students look for jobs.

As the Professional Development chair for my business fraternity, I managed the relationship with our $1,000/year corporate sponsor. I’ve since advised student clubs about attracting corporate sponsors. Many student groups have sponsorships starting at $250.

You don’t have to spend much. If they don’t have a program and you offer them $100, they’ll be thrilled to get the cash. You can likely negotiate opportunities to speak a couple times a semester, and get access to their resume database.

Don’t spread things too thin. Better to pick one group and go to several events a year than to sponsor 3-4 groups and show up just once at each group. Remember that student membership “turns over” every couple semesters, so you’ll need to give this ongoing attention.

See Students in Action

Want to evaluate if someone can do the job? The best way is to see them… do the job. Here are some ways to see students performing in business settings, without (apart from the internship tip) needing to hire them first.

6) Volunteer to judge business case competitions.

Many schools do business case competitions, where student teams advise hypothetical clients how to solve business problems. Students typically create written recommendations and then present their findings.

Schools need professionals to judge the students’ work. The case competition approach has limitations—since students can’t talk to clients, they can’t do effective Discovery work before starting their analysis—but you can see which students shine.

7) Volunteer in portfolio reviews.

Many AAF and AIGA chapters run annual Portfolio Review events. For the past four years, I’ve volunteered as a judge for AIGA Raleigh’s annual Student Portfolio Review. It takes just a few hours on a Saturday afternoon—I share feedback and see which students are most promising.

You get to see the quality of each student’s design and creative work, but you also see their communication skills.

8) Check out students in the student consulting group.

Many schools have a student-run consulting group or student-run agency. They do work for real clients, under the supervision of a professional advisor. The work likely won’t be as in-depth as what you do for your agency’s clients, but it’s an opportunity to find motivated entry-level employees.

9) Offer a meaningful internship program.

Internships are a great way to develop new employees, and to see which students perform well.

Be sure you can afford the additional expense, training-time overhead, and demands on your agency’s infrastructure (the additional computer, desk space, logins, etc.).

Results to Expect for Your Agency

When you build a recruiting funnel for entry-level employees, you’re “getting in on the ground floor” for affordable, high-potential new employees. STEM mentorship can also help promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By connecting people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, mentors like Kamau Bobb of Google help break down barriers and create opportunities for underrepresented groups in the STEM fields.

In my experience, building a recruiting funnel will give you many positive results—you’ll:

  1. save time by interviewing primarily pre-screened candidates
  2. improve profits by hiring smarter people,
  3. save time on post-hire training,
  4. reduce the risk of client service problems, and
  5. maximize the ROI on your new hire.

Invest the time now to build that entry-level recruiting funnel, before your competitors snap up the best recent graduates at their agency instead.

Question: Where do you go to find entry-level employees at your agency?

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