For Higher Ed Managers: Recruiting Student Employees

It’s that time again, when I start recruiting new student employees for the next academic year. So, I thought I would do a companion piece to the student job search post I wrote back in September. This one is for higher ed managers, those of us who supervise students on a daily basis.

One thing I’m known for, both in my college and outside is my ability to put together exceptional student teams. My student employees consistently perform at high levels, innovate in their areas, and generally do some pretty amazing stuff. One of the reasons for this is the effort I take when recruiting. I’d like to share the fundamentals of that process with you:

#1 Recognize that you are going to have to put time into it

Recruiting new employees is a lot like looking for a job yourself. The more time and energy you put into it, the more successful you are going to be. During a recruiting cycle, which happens at least once a year (and sometimes two or three times a year), I will often spend my whole day dealing with recruiting. This includes everything from putting out job ads, to communicating with potential candidates and leads, interviewing, etc. If you recognize up front that it is going to take some work, you can be patient and commit yourself to the process. This will lead to far better results.

#2 Know what you are looking for

Take time to put together your position descriptions and your job ads. Make sure you have a clear idea of what your minimum qualifications are and what type of employee you want. This will help you weed through your applicant pool so you don’t waste time interviewing people you don’t want to hire. Keep in mind that the soft skills are often more important than any technical skills or experience. I can teach a student how to use Photoshop, especially if he or she already has a good baseline. It’s a lot harder to teach that employee how to communicate effectively on the job, or how to be detail-oriented. Big tells are if the candidate is missing application materials, they have errors in their resume or cover letter, or use industry jargon incorrectly. Chances are, their probably not the students you want working for you.

#3 Student referrals

The first place to start when looking for new student employees is your current student employees. Students who are reliable, good workers, and skilled in their specialties tend to associate with other students of similar demeanor. They also tend to have a pretty good knowledge of the other students across the same major or program. If they are willing to recommend someone that is usually a pretty golden recruit.

However, I do tend to take a pretty hard line on these type of recommendations. I make it clear that students can recommend someone, but the performance of that person reflects back on the recommender. That usually keeps anyone from recommending their buddy’s boyfriend’s cousin or anything like that.

#4 Work your contacts and other university/professional sources

If you recruit students from a particular major this provides you with a built in source of referrals for potential employees. Start with that major’s department, talk to that area’s administration and see if they know of any qualified applicants. See if you can send a job announcement to their student departmental email lists and social media channels, or if they can do it for you. Then find out the major professors in that area who would be most likely to refer students and reach out to them. Finally, find out which student clubs would most likely align with the type of job you are hiring for and contact both the academic advisor and the student leadership for those clubs. Be courteous and professional. Use these interactions to cultivate longer term relationships. What you are offering is as good for their students as it is for you, so with a little time these sources will start sending you potential applicants without even having to be asked.

#5 Continue to use the traditional channels

While referrals and contacts tend to yield the best candidates, they do not replace the traditional channels for finding people. There have been times where my contacts haven’t yielded the results I needed, or when I have found a candidate through a traditional job ad that outshone a half dozen referrals. Some of the most common means are:

  • Your university’s job site: this is the most obvious and will generate the most hits. However, give yourself a strict criteria and minimum qualifications for eliminating applications. Depending on the level of skill and specialization you need for the job you will get a lot of underqualified applicants. So don’t plan on interviewing everyone who applies.
  • Social media: Some of you who have been doing this for a while might not think of social media as traditional, but its been around long enough where all of your potential student employees just think of it as a part of everyday life. Yet, for some reason, people tend to forget it. Post job ads on your area’s social media channels as well as any other appropriate channels for your university (like the channels for the clubs and departments listed in step #4).
  • School newspapers: I honestly don’t usually run ads in the school newspaper. It seems like it might be a good idea, but most of my applicant pools need to be specific in their skillsets and the cost doesn’t usually justify the return I get in terms of applicant pool. However, if it makes sense at your university or in your department, go for it.
  • Job Fairs: WSU has a yearly job fair every fall for on-campus employment. It is relatively new and I’ve done it for two years now. Each time I have found at least one good candidate. My advice with these type of fairs is to be aggressive. Don’t just sit behind your booth and wait for students to ask you questions. Commit for that few hours, be there yourself, and accost every student that walks by. You’ll generate a lot of buzz around your booth and you’ll probably find a few students worthy of an interview.

I hope this helps any of you who struggle with finding good student employees. I often hear people complain about having to use students for various positions, but I have supervised students for over fourteen years and I can say that it is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. They have great excitement and energy and we have been able to accomplish great things together. So embrace the challenge and good luck with your recruiting!

Tyson LivingstonComment