2002. Rocky economic times; companies were still in the midst of drastic headcount reductions. They slashed, and in some cases pretty much eliminated, their campus recruiting budgets. Call it a knee jerk reaction, overcompensation in response to over hiring, or just plain panic—what resulted was a bleak hiring climate for students. But they weren’t the only ones to lose out. Some companies washed away years of momentum with students that they worked so hard to establish thus severing their talent pipeline.
So, here we go again. The outlook for the job market and the economy in 2008 is spotty at best. But, unlike the dot com crash and the period that followed, this time it seems like companies got it right. They didn’t run for the hills at the first sign of trouble. And, as anyone who has ever worked in recruiting will tell you, that’s easier said than done.
Your business takes a hit. The pressure is on. Everyone goes into full cost reduction mode. People will undoubtedly be let go. And, when you let people go, the hardest thing to do is 1) attract candidates and 2) manage the internal public relations of hiring in a new batch of employees on the heels of massive layoffs. A few years ago, organizations over hired, and over hired, and over hired some more to meet demand. They didn’t think about what would happen when the growth screeched to a grinding halt.
Although the economic hiccup might not be of the same magnitude, this time companies have been smart about maintaining their talent pipeline on college campuses. With the MBA recruiting season starting to wind down, I think it’s safe to say that most organizations continued to maintain their presence at core recruiting schools. This time, instead of completely eliminating their university recruiting program, they looked to maintain a campus presence while decreasing their hiring numbers. And that makes a lot of sense.
Cutting out campus recruiting altogether can be costly. You lose out on a crop of intern and full-time hires. And, because you’re no longer visible on campus, you have to redouble your efforts to reestablish your brand once the economy turns. Students want to know you’re committed to recruiting on their campus. They want to believe that they’re not going to be let go next week or next year.
If you’re focused on building and maintaining an on-campus presence on college campuses, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water at the first sign of economic trouble. Think long term. Instead of eliminating campus recruiting, look for creative ways to recruit on a shoe string. Career fairs are usually a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck as is brining on an intern. Use those and other low cost/high visibility strategies to maintain your brand and talent pipeline. I know the undergrads and grads would definitely agree.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).