Get paid up to $18,750 for your referral to ExtensisHR!   Start Referral Close

Recruiting College Graduates: How SMBs Can Succeed

college graduates with diplomas

Quick look: Millions of college students graduate each year – but that doesn’t mean recruiting them is easy. The working world as we know it has changed drastically and employers are planning on hiring 26% more graduates this year compared to last. With so much talent up for grabs – and even more competition – here’s what small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to know as they enter graduation season.

It’s that time of year again: the weather is warming, flowers are blooming – and college students are graduating.

Roughly 4 million college students receive their diplomas each year, and this fresh pool of talent is ripe with opportunity for SMB employers. But times have changed and what attracts graduates to work for your organization has, too. If you haven’t recently refreshed your strategy for recruiting college students, it’s time to do so.

With employers planning to hire 26% more graduates this year compared to last, the competition is fiercer than ever. Here’s what SMBs can do to ensure they have a fair chance at recruiting today’s top college graduates.

New grads in the “new normal”

Recruiting college graduates is different today than it was just a few short years ago. Today’s grads spent the better half of their college career coping with a global pandemic and are now entering a predominately virtual workforce. These rapid changes mean SMB employers have lots of adjustments to make, fast – but with that challenge comes the potential for high rewards.

In 2021, nearly two million U.S. students graduated with a bachelor’s degree and entered the labor force – yet less than half of companies have specific training programs for new grads. SMBs that have programs tailored to recent alumni will have a leg up when recruiting them.

In the tightest labor market since World War II, focusing on recent graduates can be a fruitful venture. Grads fill just 58% of entry-level jobs, so while your competitors are busy chasing experienced talent, targeting this new wave of the workforce can increase your chances of making a great hire. Additionally, 89% of talent professionals say a multigenerational workforce makes a company more successful.

10 tips for recruiting college graduates

With 60 million young people expected to enter the job market in the next decade, now is the time to tailor your recruiting strategy and business operations to the emerging influx of fresh talent. Here are 10 suggestions that will help you snag the best students.

1. Lean in to learning and development

Today’s college grads belong to Generation (Gen) Z, a group of people who value learning and development more than previous generations. In fact, Gen Z spends 50% more time watching online courses than other age groups, and 76% of Gen Z employees associate learning with career progress (more than other generations).

Learning opportunities are a must, and human resources (HR) departments are noticing – 67% of HR managers planned on increasing their 2022 learning and development budgets, 85% find training beneficial for organizational growth, and 57% have boosted their learning and development budgets since the start of the pandemic.

However, not just any learning and development program will do. Gen Z are digital natives – they are the first generation to come of age with smartphones in their hands – and to accommodate that, SMBs should adopt an intuitive online learning platform with a variety of courses ranging from soft skills to role-specific abilities.

To complement a learning and development platform, SMB employers can consider implementing a reskilling and upskilling program. By offering employees the opportunity to reskill (learn how to do a new job) or upskill (learn new skills to expand their current role), you’ll not only have a better chance at retaining them because you’re giving them the chance to grow, but you’ll also strengthen your company’s institutional knowledge.

2. Establish a mentorship program

Because many Gen Zers joined the workforce during the pandemic, many of them began, or are beginning, their career behind a computer screen without the same in-person networking opportunities older colleagues experienced. This is where a mentorship program can be extremely valuable.

To recent grads, having a more seasoned coworker guide them, introduce them to others, and teach them new skills can be very valuable – and the benefits extend to more senior colleagues, too. New alumni just spent multiple years studying their field’s best practices and can offer fresh perspectives to veteran employees.

3. Provide a path upward

Career advancement is important to college grads – in fact, 76% of Gen Z believes they should be promoted within a year of starting their first job.

As you recruit and interview recent graduates, be sure to clearly define the career trajectory that your organization can offer. And once the candidates transition to becoming employees, trainers and managers should help the new hires outline potential career paths at the company, with definitive steps on how they can get there.

4. Craft a relevant benefits package

The top career goal for Gen Z is job security and stability. SMB employers can show they understand this desire by tailoring their benefits packages to cater to a multigeneration workforce.

Benefits for recent college grads should include things that will help them pave a solid path into the future. In addition to medical, dental, and vision insurance, employers should consider offering a 401(k) retirement plan with a company match and a student loan repayment program. Young Americans are more likely to have adopted a pet during the pandemic and one-in-four Gen Zers feel mentally distressed, making ancillary benefits like pet insurance and mental wellness apps a must, as well.

5. Always be on brand

Before you can hire talented new alumni, they must first know your business exists (and have a positive, professional view of it). A robust employer branding strategy is how you can achieve this.

An employer brand is how a company markets itself to job seekers and its own employees, and involves employee engagement tactics, presence on social media, attractive benefits packages, company awards, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, and more.

When it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, employer branding is a must. In fact, 95% of candidates say that the reputation of the company they’re considering applying to affects their decision on whether or not to move forward with the application process. According to the 2021 Job Seeker Nation Report, job seekers research potential employers’ cultures on job boards or review sites (37%), social media (33%), and the company’s website (32%). It’s important to make sure all of these are up-to-date and on-brand to have the best chance at hiring new graduates.

6. Focus on DEI

Gen Z is the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation, so it comes as no surprise that another major item on the list of things they care about is diversity. You should be transparent about where your business is today in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and what you’re doing to improve.

To strengthen DEI efforts, SMB employers should be cognizant of recruiting first-generation college graduates, or alumni who are the first in their immediate family to attend college. This underutilized talent pool – which is more likely to include people of color and those from lower-income families – has strong skills but may lack guidance on navigating corporate recruiting.

Unfortunately, first-generation grads are 15% less likely than other students to receive an internship or full-time job offer by December of their senior year, but SMB employers can help level the playing field by:

  • Ending “pay-to-play” internships which require interns to either temporarily live in or commute to a different area – something that can be expensive and set them up for failure considering 70% of interns receive full-time offers from their employers.
  • Reconsider what counts as “relevant” experience by focusing on skillsets instead of specific experience.
  • Provide mentorship and career coaching that first-generation candidates may be less likely to receive on their own.
  • Don’t only target top schools – you may miss out on top talent by not casting a wider net.

7. Share the ways you give back

Recent grads care about a variety of social issues including civic engagement and the environment – and they want to work for socially responsible companies.

When it comes to discussing your business’ CSR strategy, it’s critical to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You should highlight the tangible ways your organization gives back – whether that’s through volunteering programs, volunteer time off (VTO), sustainability efforts, charitable donations, or something else.

8. Pivot to virtual

Many employees are working either on a hybrid schedule or remote – and for maximum employee satisfaction, it’s important to ensure every corner of your organization can smoothly pivot to operating virtually.

While a seamless employee experience is important across the board, when it comes to recruiting college graduates, SMB leaders should pay particular attention to how best to effectively virtualize their recruiting and onboarding processes, company culture, and mentorship program.

9. Build your pipeline with interns

A successful strategy for recruiting talented new grads should have an eye on the future. In addition to recruiting fresh alumni for full-time roles, SMB employers should also prioritize operating an internship program.

Hiring temporary – yet talented and motivated – interns can be one of the most effective recruiting techniques as it helps businesses build relationships with potential hires early on, before they officially enter the job market. An internship program can also boost employee retention rates – employees who previously interned at a company are more likely to stay there than those who interned elsewhere.

10. Measure and improve

The key to success is improvement, and to improve you need detailed data to shed light on your situation and support your future actions.

SMB leaders should measure their total number of hires, and interview-to-offer, offer-to-acceptance, and retention rates. Then, after they’ve completed recruiting college graduates for the year, they should analyze the data and identify ways to improve during the next graduation season. An HR platform with detailed reporting capabilities can simplify this process.

Team up before you reach out

Recruiting is one of the biggest challenges facing SMB employers today – but partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) can help ease the burden.

Many PEOs offer recruiting services designed to help SMBs attract and secure highly qualified talent. ExtensisHR offers these services at no additional cost to its clients, as well as access to a recruiting platform that includes information, tools, and resources to make recruiting simpler. The platform allows users to:

  • Automate job postings
  • Communicate with candidates
  • Create offer letters from templates
  • Run reports
  • Transition applicants to employees (all in one system)

PEOs can also enable SMBs to offer multigenerational, Fortune 500-level benefits packages, and can provide access to a DEI Dashboard that provides actionable data on pay equity, salary trends, employee turnover, promotions, and previous hires.

Recent graduates are the future of the working world. Contact the experts at ExtensisHR to discover how to best attract this newest wave of talent.

Our expert advice, direct to your inbox.