How Can Colleges Take Recruiting to the Next Level to Really Work for Their Students?

Last Tuesday at Gonzaga University I had a great opportunity to hear Dr. Phil Gardner present his latest insights about how organizations are bringing new graduates on board. Dr. Gardner is Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University and is probably the most sought-after commentator on what students need to understand about the world of work they are headed into.

Dr. Gardner told us that all across the country recruiting continues to accelerate, especially for graduates who are able to demonstrate that they can respond effectively to the constant disruptions in today's global economy. (I am proud to note that Dr. Gardner graduated from Whitman College, a private liberal arts college in Walla Walla, Washington, where I work.)

Walla Walla is a beautiful small community roughly equidistant to Seattle, Portland and Boise. Whitman graduates flock to these three (and other) vibrant metropolitan areas for economic opportunities, proximity to natural recreation options, and energizing cultural and night life. There they find satisfying roles in technology, government, social service, business, teaching, and the non-profit sector that let them put their education to service in the world.

As I've written, our small city offers countless opportunities for Whitman students to engage with the communities around campus in ways that are personally, academically, and professionally significant.

Yet, despite the energized recruiting trends Dr. Gardner described, the reality is that there aren't hundreds of recruiters from urban locations flying out to rural Walla Walla every year to meet our students. It may be surprising then, that from our somewhat remote location we've been able to support our graduates in achieving the kinds of professional successes that I mentioned.

How have we done that?

In short, we decided that distance cannot be a barrier for our students to learn about and connect with future employers and mentors. Using a variety of technologies we have been able to connect with recruiters so that our students can learn about their organizations and make contacts, and do so without the need for expensive and carbon-intensive travel.

First, we tested the waters by arranging a series of Google+ Hangout events with alumni to give our students an expansive look at employment options they might consider (Dr. Gardner '69 even helped us with one of these, which was titled "From College and Graduate School to the Professional World").

Then, after we saw the amazing turnout at these sessions we decided to go one step further, to not only inform our students about professional realms but to also put them in touch with individuals who have the power to bring them into organizations.

Under the leadership of our Director for Business Engagement, Kim Rolfe, a year ago we established a new recruiting effort which has been highly popular with both students and employers. These virtual sessions are supplemented by follow-up notes from us containing contact information, recruiting timelines, and alumni employee contacts as well as by adding postings into iEngage, our internship and job database where recruiters can then make their opportunities available to participants in their information sessions as well as other students.

And we're not just working with recruiters in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Rather, we've connected with organizations up and down the West and East coasts as well as with employers outside the United States. (To be clear, we do have recruiters who come to campus. This academic year we're at close to a 50-50 split between in-person and virtual sessions.)

Moreover, and reinforcing our connection with Dr. Gardner, we concentrate on inviting our graduates, and especially our recent graduates, to host these virtual information sessions so they can share stories with current students across the enormously wide range of industries they might choose from.

We know that our alumni are among the best sources of insight about professional options. Plus, our students tell us that they appreciate the fresh and "real" perspective recent graduates bring to these sessions.

While I've argued that rural colleges offer their students unparalleled opportunities for access and experience, through resources like our new virtual recruiting initiative we also help them connect with professional contacts around the planet.

As we look ahead into the next academic year, we are focusing on three significant ways to enhance this initiative to support even more of our students and serve our employers who want to hire them: increasing our outreach to recent graduates about resources to help their organization recruit at Whitman; expanding the schedule for these types of events; and publishing a structured recruiting calendar focused on key industry recruiting timelines to keep students informed.

A broad liberal education is a terrific foundation as college graduates head into their next stage of life. At Whitman, we are helping our students access the recruiters who can bring them into the organizations and offices so they can share their curiosity, passion and intellect with the world beyond Walla Walla.