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This section was written by Viraj Mody.
Setting up a good campus recruiting program can create a pipeline of junior talent that pays dividends over several years. Interns and new grad candidates can bring energy and ideas that complement those of more experienced members of your team, and can help scale your team rapidly.
The university recruiting machinery works pretty efficiently at large companies with well-known brands. Typically, large companies have established relationships with colleges, have large college recruiting budgets, and employ teams who focus entirely on university recruiting programs.
startup Getting the university recruiting flywheel going for smaller startups is an entirely different ballgame. Smaller startups don’t have the budget to spend extravagantly on campus recruiting, nor do they have dedicated recruiters or established relationships with colleges to give them leverage. Lavish perks and fancy offices often aren’t a tool they can use to attract interns and new grads against the bigger companies. But perhaps the biggest challenge is the lack of brand name. Undergraduate interns and recent graduates are trying to build impressive-looking resumes, and getting a job at a well-known company is the most obvious way to do so.
caution For a startup, a foray into university recruiting would be a huge and speculative investment of time and money. Interviewing candidates, flying out your team to campuses, and closing candidates will take a toll on your resources. The key to success when it comes to recruiting is to maximize return on investment, and many of the tactics described below are articulated with this primary goal in mind.
So when should a startup begin investing in university recruiting? At early stages, it might be worth exploring one-offs like attending a career fair or posting to university mailing lists. At some point, when a company has achieved product-market fit, hired an experienced engineering team, and built an environment where engineers with less experience can thrive, it might be worth investing more in university recruiting.
The first step is to choose which colleges or programs to focus on. It’s tempting to focus your university recruiting efforts on the most well-known or impressive-sounding schools, the same way students think it’s in their best interest to shoot only for employment at Google or Facebook. But if you only look at Harvard and Stanford, it’s to your detriment. You will target a group that is largely homogenous, in a very expensive process. Instead, we recommend that you:
Focus on local universities with reputable engineering programs. Having easy access to campus allows for stronger, more frequent engagement without a lot of the costs. Home-field advantage matters.
Some investors might hold career fairs to bring university students and companies together. Check if your investors have a university program you can leverage (such as Greylock’s Tech Fair and Sequoia Campus).
Consider the alma-maters of engineers on your team, especially those with strong connections to the university (recent graduates, honor society members, employees who have kept in touch with professors, those with connections to the Dean’s office, et cetera).
Colleges with a reputation for entrepreneur programs. You’re likely to attract and close candidates who are more comfortable with the risks and challenges that joining a startup provides them.
Finally, it’s worth noting that new graduates and interns may require a different approach to attract and hire; while many of them may receive many offers, they may have limited understanding of the startup ecosystem. Here are some recommendations:
startup Attend startup-focused recruiting fairs, rather than the standard career fair, to attract students who are specifically interested in startups.
Reach out to reputable entrepreneurship societies or clubs at the schools you want to engage with, and work closely with them to organize events.
If you already know some students, ask if they can help you identify the super-connectors on campus, and establish a relationship with them that you can leverage to get introductions to the most promising candidates. Previous interns can also help serve as ambassadors.
Reach out to college’s career services center and talk to them about how you can get creative together.
Find unique, product-aligned ways to get students’ attention. One idea could be to hold interview-preparation workshops for students.
Invest time with candidates that you extend offers to, with a goal of helping them learn to navigate the startup ecosystem and learn more about your company in particular. Provide opportunities for face-to-face interaction with people on your team that the candidate is likely to work with or relate to.
In the past decade or so, several companies have sprouted up with the goal of making the hiring process more efficient. Each of these platforms has different theses and selling points, but the basic idea is to go beyond traditional job boards by using technology to generate a two-sided marketplace of candidates and companies. As these platforms grow, they have also started to experiment with novel methods of matching and evaluating candidates and companies. Some of the more well-known platforms include: