Industry Trends & Research


We spoke with leaders from Intuit, BCG Digital Ventures, and Microsoft about what they learned when expanding their university talent funnel. Here’s what they told us.

The Karat Team image

The Karat Team

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A successful University Recruiting program can drive innovation, shape a culture, and set a company apart from its competitors. However, the path to get there can take many twists and turns. At URx 2019, we asked University Recruiting leaders Caroline Cunningham at Intuit, Paul Sledd at BCG Digital Ventures (BCGDV), and Brooke Simpson at Microsoft to share their insights and innovative approaches for creating world-class University Recruiting programs.

Interviewing a broader set of early career candidates is a growth strategy

Cunningham encourages University Recruiting leaders to see early career candidates as rich additions to a company’s talent landscape and advocates for the solutions and products the company builds.

“Not only is exposing candidates to Intuit a good thing for their careers, but we also think about how important it is to provide all candidates a great experience in the recruiting process no matter what the outcome. We see each of our candidates as not only candidates for today or tomorrow but also as future Intuit consumers.”

At Microsoft, Simpson focused on the industry-wide need to create the diverse workforce needed to accelerate innovation. This is why the company visited universities worldwide and hundreds in the U.S. in 2018 alone to increase diversity in its early career talent pipeline.

“We’re now seeing that our effort to broaden where we find candidates is being reflected in the composition of our employees,” Simpson said.

A core business development strategy at BCGDV includes unearthing talent in places beyond career fairs and looking to various community groups and student associations.

Sledd noted that in the context of BCGDV’s business model, the company sees widening the scope of schools as a growth strategy. “Our business is literally to launch new businesses from scratch.”

“We are regularly searching for talent in unexpected places — we practice widening the funnel to an extreme.”

Experimentation dramatically improves engineering productivity and candidate quality

When Intuit partnered with Karat to enhance the hiring process for early career candidates, the company saved thousands of hours of engineering productivity.

Cunningham and her team quickly learned that providing 24/7 access to interviewing was attractive to students. Cunningham said that “50% of Intuit candidates interview on nights and weekends.” And added that this means Intuit has been able to increase the number of students available to interview thereby increasing the number of interviews overall.

Sledd stressed that companies need to be willing to test their assumptions in order to attract great talent.

Before BCGDV, Sledd was a University Recruiter at Microsoft. There Sledd worked with a large number of candidates and discovered that many of his assumptions about hiring decisions were off the mark.

“Challenging our assumptions made us smarter. (When I was) at Snap, I thought that what made a great engineer would be the same across organizations. But because we were building something that hadn’t been built before — especially with (video recording sunglasses) Spectacles — we realized we were often wrong,” recalled Sledd.

“Expanding the funnel let us find the right talent. Last year, only 3 of our new interns were from the same school. A wider funnel helps us grow faster — finding the right talent in a sea of strong candidates is key to this.”

Before Microsoft experimented with filling the talent pipeline with students from more schools, many in the company thought that this would weaken the quality of candidates.

“It didn’t. (The quality) went up,” Simpson said.

Digging deep for talent is a complement to adding more schools

BCGDV found great success by exploring lesser-known majors, clubs, and societies at Ivy League schools.

“For example, we were looking for a computer science major who is also really into sculpture — and we found her,” Sledd said, adding that surveying emerging programs that don’t exist at many schools can generate great outcomes.

Simpson told us that by expanding the schools it recruits from, Microsoft uncovered lots of new talent emerging outside of the standard Computer Science and Electrical Engineering programs.

“We’re going hard into non-HQ locations. Engineering leaders are finding that a lot of great talent with strong business acumen is cultivated in unexpected places,” she said.

With the rise of social media recruiting platforms, talent is increasingly found in virtual space.

Virtual events reach more early career candidates

Microsoft has doubled down on virtual events, such as LinkedIn community groups and webinars. The investment has proved well worth it. It helped the company fill in the connection gaps with students at schools in which Microsoft lacks a robust presence.

“We’re doing topics like ‘How to leverage LinkedIn,’ ‘Meet Microsoft’ and ‘How to Ace a Technical Interview.’ It’s been great investment and the ROI is huge,” Simpson revealed and said that virtual events helped Microsoft reach more candidates and be more proactive.

Virtual events are a cost-effective way to keep candidates looped-in. This a great opportunity considering that extra funds aren’t always needed to yield great results.

Not all experiments require additional resources to be effective

Playing to BCGDV’s strengths has amplified results. Sledd offered this advice to others crafting or optimizing their University Recruiting programs, “Identify strengths that your company has. In our case, one of our many strengths happens to be very tangible: we have beautiful office spaces. They’re great for hosting events and just bringing candidates in to let them see life at BCGDV.”

Welcoming candidates in an informal way like this reinforces BCGDV’s image as a community builder that cares about culture and employee socialization.

“This also allows us to spend extra time with candidates so they can get to know us.”

Cunningham also noted the value of promoting more direct interactions with candidates. Through Intuit’s YouTube series, “Ask the Recruiter” students are able to ask questions of recruiters and connect themselves to Intuit’s intern and early career programs in a very high touch and authentic way.

“Both the students and the recruiters enjoy it.”

Expanding your funnel yields rewarding experiences

By broadening your funnel, you may hire the next wunderkind who ends up becoming quite notable, Sledd advised. He recruited a student who ended up becoming one of the foremost ethical hackers in the world.

Cunningham highlighted that being able to attract and recruit diverse applicants requires an understanding of each candidate’s unique needs and how to make accommodations which will allow them to thrive.

“We had one candidate who had no arms and typed with his feet. He knew all of the answers but just needed a bit more time to complete our process. Learning how to make all candidates successful in the interviewing and hiring process has been a fantastic journey,” she said.

Tips for starting a new University Recruiting program: Mentor, embrace new universities, and explore smaller schools

Cunningham believes companies that don’t have a presence at career fairs can still build a strong relationship with students and universities by launching mentoring programs.

“We’ve started a mentoring program with several of our San Diego, California area schools for early career women. At first it was just about giving back to the community, but the relationships have turned into questions such as ‘how do I apply at Intuit?”

She also advises starting small when approaching new schools.

“Fall in love with your early program and then build on it. Give students a warm experience. That’s what it’s all about.”

Simpson pointed out that the internal buy-in of a new school can be the hardest part, but targeting it will pay dividends later.

“When leaders see the focus on a new school, they may fear that their school is being neglected, or that the new school won’t be successful. But going to new schools works,” she said, adding that Microsoft visits thousands of schools to hire its interns.

Sledd said that BCGDV found great success with early candidate professionals by targeting smaller universities.

“Smaller schools and events can be such a great source for finding strong talent and improving brand awareness. This gives students more options and provides access to great talent. It’s a win-win for both parties.”

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