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Fall recruiting season is in full swing. Every campus is buzzing with the excitement of back to school, new course loads, and of course, career fairs. As Director of Talent Acquisition at Karat, I’ve recruited dozens of students and new grads into our software engineering team over the years. Prior to Karat, I spent four years recruiting students and new grads at Microsoft. I always remember approaching the Fall recruiting season with a mix of excitement and intimidation. Upon reflection, I felt intimidation because I knew there would be companies competing with me using new and innovative strategies each year. But, more importantly, I was excited because there would be a new brilliant talent pool that I would get to develop a relationship with and hopefully onboard to my company.
As your team is hustling through Fall, I want to share some of the best practices I’ve gleaned from my time in university recruiting. If you want to secure top tech talent, here’s what you’ll need to do.
The interns of today are your full-time hires of tomorrow. Building a strong internship program for students at all stages of their degree program will help your company achieve hiring goals in the future. It may seem to make sense to focus exclusively on juniors and seniors, especially if you have limited resources. However, you can begin to develop relationships with freshman and sophomore students who will be your full-time hire candidates two or three years down the road.
Creating relationships with students becomes more difficult as they progress in school. This is because they end up getting internships with other companies and developing strong connections with them. The student who couldn’t get anyone to talk to them in their freshman will someday be a junior struggling to figure out how to keep up with classes because they have several interviews every week for the entire Fall.
Instead of waiting to be one of the many companies vying for attention, consider starting the conversation much earlier and accepting underclassmen interns. Sure, it seems like an investment into relationships that have a delayed or uncertain payoff, but it can come with many benefits.
At Microsoft, I had the good fortune of hiring two exceptional underclassmen from Penn State, both outstanding freshmen. Not only did they return for internships every summer, and ultimately accept full-time roles, but they brought in a steady stream of strong referrals. They often recalled that because we took a bet on them earlier it built an increased sense of loyalty.
I’ve hosted more company info sessions than I can recall (or would care to!), ordered more pizza than most will in a lifetime, and given away enough t-shirts to clothe a small country. In the midst of one particularly competitive season during my time at Microsoft, I recall observing a crowd at an info session at the University of California San Diego. I looked around and thought to myself, “I wonder how many people in this room are actually hiring targets?” To put it bluntly: how many of the 150 students who are attending this event will get hired if I interview them?
I looked at our sourcing data and was only mildly surprised to see that an embarrassingly small percentage of hired candidates met us at an info session. We were investing a lot into events that mostly attracted candidates who weren’t sure if they had an interest in the company. So, I ditched info sessions and refocused on the big problems we were trying to solve that required massive innovation.
The best software engineers are eager to learn how difficult problems are being solved. So we used our time on campus to discuss the problems they were working on. Not only did this attract a more focused group, but it was an effective way to identify whether or not their interests and aptitude align with the company’s challenges.
We all know that feeling: your team has a group of perfect candidates who are intrigued by your company and the role. Unfortunately, they have fast-approaching deadlines with other companies and your team has to find someone to interview them.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably shaken your fists at your laptop wishing this process could move faster. Most companies find that the lack of software engineers available to interview prevents them from achieving their hiring goals.
It’s time to rethink the approach. In order to win the competition for students and new grads, you will need to increase technical interview bandwidth.
This is a big ask for software engineering, but it is a must-have to meet your hiring goals.
If you aren’t tracking your university recruiting hiring funnel closely, you’re missing the opportunity to optimize it. You may struggle to make much forward progress (or even know if you have). Here are a few things you can measure to help create a more effective hiring funnel:
Your team will have to sort through hundreds of resumes during recruiting season. Without a doubt, they’re wondering how they’ll narrow the stack down to the few that you plan to interview. It’s tempting to fall back on the quick sorting tactics that make that huge pile less daunting. We might look for students in certain classes, TA groups, or from the hottest internships. Unfortunately, this simple sorting often overvalues a rather mild signal and continues to favor the same homogenous profile, over and over. We want to hire great software engineers, not great resume writers.
If you’re serious about hiring more inclusively and creating a more diverse talent pipeline, it’s time to consider allowing the technical interview to play a much more significant role in identifying talent at the top of the funnel. Establish how much time you have to conduct technical interviews and then commit to filling a portion of that time with candidates who didn’t meet that overvalued criteria. So long as your interviews are structured, consistent, and focused on ability and not pedigree — I’m confident you’ll be surprised by the results.
P.S. If you’re a university recruiter powering through the fall and know what it’s like to feel the fall coming, shoot me a message and I’ll send you some of our sweet Karat swag. 🙂
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