Ernst & Young’s “Your World Your Vision” campus competition, which asked college students to submit proposals for education and environment community projects, made quite an impact on Samantha Ma, a new graduate of theUniversity of Calgary . “[It] was attention grabbing, and it made me think, ‘This is definitely the firm for me,’” Ms Ma says.
Traditionally, campus competitions have proved an effective way of attracting talent. Such promotional efforts may seem unnecessary in the current economic climate as graduates fight for a reduced number of places – Ernst & Young, the professional services firm, has cut the number of graduates hired by 11 per cent compared with last year.
Employers expect to hire 22 per cent fewer new graduates from the college class of 2009 than the previous year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the US. Hiring for new MBAs is also expected to decline 50 per cent compared with last year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the industry body for business schools.
Yet, while hiring of college graduates and new MBAs may be down, companies such as Ernst & Young are coming up with creative ways, such as campus competitions, to build their brand in the minds of potential future employees. Previous downturns have taught companies that if they halt graduate recruitment altogether, they will have an insufficient talent pipeline when the economy improves.
Master Burnett, managing director at Dr John Sullivan and Associates, a human resources advisory company based in California, says: “After 9/11, a lot of companies cut their college recruiting budgets entirely, and today there is a big empty space in those organisations [where middle managers and future leaders ought to be]. They don’t want to make the same mistake again.”
Companies will also risk falling behind on innovation because they will have a dearth of employees who understand new technologies, younger consumers and emerging trends, says Ronald Wilcox, a professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
“There is just no substitute for hiring young people,” he says. “A 25-year-old’s experience is going to be different from a 60-year-old’s experience. They know how the younger demographics think.”
In the past, companies hosted networking receptions on campuses. But with recruitment budgets slashed and fewer jobs available, they are more likely to build a presence through educational club events or on the speaking circuit.
Wendy Tsung, executive director of MBA career services at Emory University’sGoizueta Business School , says: “Even though the company may not be actively recruiting, they can be in the classroom. They are getting the company name out there. They are doing it to continue their presence in the minds of students so they don’t have an uphill battle when the economy improves.”
In lieu of full-time jobs, companies are offering internships and contract work. These positions come unpaid or with a stipend, and the company saves money by not paying benefits.
Would-be employees benefit as well as employers, according to Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at Winter Wyman, the Boston-based staffing firm.
“In a tough market, a company will try to hold off hiring as long as it can, until it can’t hold off any longer,” he says. “There are certain spots it needs to fill and candidates who are already interning there [will have a good shot at those jobs].”
Employers are also staying in touch with prospective hires via social media, such as Facebook, and LinkedIn, the professional networking site.
Adrienne Graham, who runs a recruitment consulting firm based in Atlanta, says: “Companies are using social media to engage candidates they want to hire but can’t because of budgetary constraints.”
Rebecca Brooks, who owns a PR agency in New York, has taken to “tweeting” job advertisements to her followers on Twitter, the free mini-blogging service. “Usually, I’d go to a recruiter, but in this environment I don’t want to pay $10,000 plus,” says Ms Brooks, who has been inundated with responses to her tweet. “Yesterday, I got 30 résumés at lunch.”
Other companies keep in contact with job candidates the old-fashioned way: a phone call or a meeting over a cup of coffee. Marie Artim, assistant vice-president for recruiting at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which historically has been one of the largest recruiters of college graduates in the US, says the company will this year hire 8,000, down 500 from last year. “We’re not without jobs, but it’s more competitive this year,” she says.
Enterprise has a “high touch hiring process”, she says. “If we want to hire someone we meet through campus recruiting, every time we’re back on that campus, we invite them to coffee, or to an event [even if there is no position open at the time].” she says. “We are trying to engage them and get them excited.”
Although some companies are still trying to cultivate candidates for jobs in the downturn, it is an employer’s market – and will be for some time. Emily McLellan, vice-president at Glocap Search, which specialises in financial services recruiting, says: “Ultimately, the onus is on the candidate to stay in touch.”