To find talent, you must create, invest in and nurture it; you must be willing to assume the risk that the talent you grow and nurture may sometimes benefit others, even your competitors. Still, companies that take a broader view of talent acquisition benefit in the long run. It is a law of nature: The more you give, the more you receive. The idea that the primary function of hiring managers is simply one of matchmaking—that is, finding the right person for the right job—is antiquated. Instead, forward-looking companies understand that talent acquisition also entails participating in the development of talent, particularly for entry-level positions.
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Such companies play an active role in defining, creating, shaping and nurturing talent. Progressive companies understand that paying close attention to how talent is developed and grown is itself a rewarding experience, one that mutually benefits both institutions of higher learning and corporate America. This is particularly true for entry-level positions.
Across companies and industries, there is a frequent cry about the shortage of entry-level technical talent. Hiring managers and other executives often complain that today’s graduates fail to meet the expectations of hiring managers. Graduates of today appear to be unprepared to become fully functional the first day on the job, and their critical thinking and problem-solving skills are often subject to criticism. Finding a graduate with technical knowledge, business acumen and a sense of professionalism appears to be a huge challenge. Yet it need not be this way. A small investment of time and resources on the part of CIOs and hiring managers can result in significant rewards on the talent acquisition front for managers.
Here are 10 simple ways to nurture, develop and recruit entry-level technical talent:
- Get to know the colleges and universities in your area. Although this may sound like a simple idea, many hiring managers do not have a strong relationship with their local institutions of higher learning. It is worthwhile to review these institutions’ program offerings and take time to understand the skill sets of graduates from their programs. In particular, pay attention to programs that have an interdisciplinary focus. For example, some programs may emphasize computer science with a business minor or a combination of information systems and liberal studies.
- Host key individuals from select schools. Host the dean, the department chair and faculty from programs that are important to your company’s recruitment plan, and get to know these individuals, their needs and challenges. When these decision makers get to know you, your company and its needs, they will happily recommend that good students consider your company as an employer. In other words, they will do the preliminary marketing for you if they believe in you.
- Serve on advisory boards of colleges and/or key programs within the college. Most good institutions of learning have advisory boards. There are advisory boards for the university or college as a whole, advisory boards for schools or colleges within the university (like College of Natural Science or College of Business) and advisory boards for specific programs within the school (such as programs in computer science, finance and so on). Serving on these advisory boards is not only prestigious but also gives you excellent insight into the inner workings of the university. Further, such advisory boards are wonderful platforms to influence the curriculum of programs that interest you.
- Provide internships to outstanding students. While many companies provide internships, unfortunately this is often handled by HR departments. It is worthwhile for hiring managers to get engaged in creating internship opportunities and being actively engaged in all aspects of the internship. While most IT staff has little or no time to spend with interns, being actively engaged with interns will produce good results. Give them challenging projects and guide them along the way. The good ones will definitely rise to the top.
- Provide real-world projects for senior classes. This is a wonderful opportunity for companies not only to get some work done for free, but also to assess the creativity, innovation and perseverance of graduates. More important, class projects demand teamwork, and a team that delivers a good product is essentially ready to join the workforce. Many faculty establish high expectations for their senior projects and make it an invaluable and mutually beneficial opportunity for companies to make use of new talent.
- Invite students on a field trip to your company. Most hiring managers think that there isn’t much to show off to students in their company. After all, most IT shops look like a showroom for cubicles. You don’t need fancy gadgets or control rooms to invite students on a field trip. Many students may have never been in an IT shop or in a business environment and will greatly enjoy the experience of a field trip to your company. As a hiring manager, you can make a presentation about your hiring needs, the kind of talents, skill sets and attitudes you look for in entry-level graduates. Follow with a brief introduction to key individuals in your company, a description of some of the projects your company is working on and some challenges that you face as a hiring manager. Top this off with a few handouts, and students will remember your company when it is time to look for a job. If nothing else, they will be grateful that you helped them to skip a classroom lecture!
- Be a guest lecturer. Faculty are always on the lookout for guest lecturers. They are well aware of the impact guest lecturers have on their students: A business or IT leader always seems to deliver the same information a teacher does with greater punch and pizzazz! After all, corporate America is the real world, and faculty—well they are just faculty, according to many students. There are many benefits to being a guest lecturer. First and foremost, it compels you to prepare and collate your knowledge on a subject; second, it challenges you to present complex information in a way that is easy to understand and absorb for the layman; and finally, it is a perfect opportunity to give back to an educational institution in your area or your alma mater. Often it is the beginning of meaningful relationships with faculty in programs that interest you and your company.
- Host a regional competition. Want your company to have an edge in the hiring marketplace and be remembered and recognized year after year? Host a regional competition for senior students or at the very least, participate in an existing regional competition for students by offering attractive prizes, or serve as a judge. This is a good and meaningful way to understand and evaluate the local entry-level talent pool and to provide feedback to faculty about the strengths and weaknesses of specific programs.
- Participate in college career fairs. Job openings and career fair timings do not always match. Still it is always a good idea to participate in your local college fairs. It gives students an opportunity to meet you and to get to know your company. In turn, you receive résumés and have informal interviews with graduating students. When the need arises you have a pool of talent available at your fingertips, even if some graduates have already found employment. Also, participating in career fairs may give you special access to graduating students and other benefits offered by the institution’s career services.
- Engage with alumni. This wonderful resource is often overlooked by companies eager to recruit talent with some experience under their belt. An easy way to gain access to alumni is to sponsor one or two alumni events. Even better, sponsor the alumni from programs that are of special interest to you. Attendance at these events is not always stellar, but if you persist, it will be well worth your time.
Talent acquisition is a difficult and challenging assignment that requires both short-term and long-term focus. While every effort may not always yield immediate results, companies that are in it for the long haul inevitably attract the best talent.
Uma G. Gupta is the president of Global Cube, a management consulting company.