Recruiting Insights


Back to school: When does the University Recruiting season start?

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The Karat Team

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Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an industry-wide push to interview software engineers for intern and junior developer positions very early — even as early as July. Amidst an increasingly competitive technical talent market, we anticipate this  hiring trend may continue or even accelerate in the years to come.

In this blog we’ll explore key trends in software engineer University Recruiting (UR):

  1. Interview Computer Science students early
  2. Changes in candidate quality and offer acceptance rates
  3. Building long term relationships with future software engineers
  4. Measuring candidate performance over time

Interview Computer Science students early

In 2019-20, 25% of University Recruiting (UR) interviews were in August/September. This past fall, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 44% of interviews with Computer Science students were in August/September — a nearly 2X jump.

Contrast that with the 2018-19 and earlier seasons, where we saw fewer than 20% of technical assessments with university students in these months.

University Recruiting computer science students by year

We’re observing that the entire University Recruiting timeline has left-shifted. Fewer University Recruiting interviews are happening in October and November, and more are happening in August and September (or even July in some cases). Consistent with historical trends, we still see a significant drop-off in December as students take finals and recruiting slows down.

Last year, we still observed a Spring spike followed by a long-tail of technical interviews over the months leading up to summer. This long tail in the late spring is where University Recruiting programs make a handful of last-minute hires, backfill roles, or have new headcount opportunities open up.

University recruiting technical interviews in summer

Changes in candidate quality and offer acceptance rates

University Recruiting leaders are building their pipelines of technical talent year-round and engaging Computer Science students sooner. But what are the results?

We looked at two additional data points here:

  1. Candidate quality
  2. Offer acceptance rates (i.e. “close rates”)

Future software engineers who interview earlier in the season tend to perform better in their technical interviews. Over the last two University Recruiting seasons, candidates that interviewed in August/September scored an average of 7% better than those that interviewed in October/November.

There’s a natural explanation for performance declining later in the season — the highest performers likely have job offers in hand and are weighing their options. Meanwhile, lower performers from the summer months continue to actively interview to find their right fit.

This is also reflected in offer acceptance rates: those candidates interviewing earlier in the year are less likely to accept offers. Over the last two University Recruiting seasons, close rates for offers extended in August/September were 17% lower than October/November.

We see this inverse relationship for full-time/industry hires as well: the more competitive candidates are less likely to accept offers.

University Recruiting and technical leaders also need to factor in university deadlines — for example, candidates at Stanford have until November 15th when they have to make a decision on their offers. Other schools, such as Berkeley, are relaxing these standards, partially because many companies are not willing to abide by them.

For University Recruiting, this means that while you may be able to extend many offers in the early months of the Fall, you won’t necessarily have final hiring figures until November or December. Maintaining onsite interview capacity during those Winter months may be a challenge for software engineering teams.

There are pros and cons to starting your University Recruiting process earlier. While you may find better candidates, the close rates will be lower.

Regardless of when you start interviewing software engineer candidates, there are two strategies we recommend to all companies:

  1. Build long term relationships with candidates
  2. Measure candidate performance as they progress through school

Building long term relationships with future software engineers

Karat supports companies with this goal by giving them lists of Computer Science students to re-interview (namely, candidates that interviewed last season). This gives software engineering teams an immediate pipeline early in the season and helps ensure that lofty University Recruiting goals aren’t missed.

The University Recruiting team is also able to optimize strategy based on the results from last season – e.g. if a candidate declined your offer last season due to team fit, maybe this year you can find them a role that is more in line with their interests.

Building relationships with software engineering candidates can help improve close rates and helps move away from transactional one-time interviews.

Measuring candidate performance year over year

Another perk of interviewing candidates multiple seasons in a row is the competitive advantage you get from measuring changes candidate performance by competency. For example, let’s say a candidate didn’t do so well last year in your interview process. But you interview them again, and they perform way better in competencies that will be relevant to their success on the job.

Even though the candidate may still be below your company’s technical hiring bar, consider what their growth trajectory says about their potential as a future employee.

This is a hiring signal we’re continuing to explore as we work with organizations to build out “hiring for potential” programs and best practices.

Computer science students perform better over time


What’s your game plan for University Recruiting success this year? What other data would you like to see? Drop us a comment below! Or connect with us here.

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