Aggressively Recruiting Gen Y? It Could Backfire

This month about 1.7 million members of Gen Y will graduate, armed to enter the workforce with a shiny, new bachelor’s degree. Many smart companies will be angling to hook the most talented of this group, sending representatives to colleges, advertising their brand and generally promoting themselves as a great place for the best of the class of 2011 to work. But will their efforts pay off?

Sometimes not, suggests a new study by a group of European academics published in Human Performance. The researchers spoke with more than 200 soon-to-be graduates at a job fair and asked which companies they were interesting in applying to, as well as how much they had heard about the companies and through what channels. Then they followed up with the grads six months later to see if they had actually applied to the companies they claimed to be interested in.

How to recruit Gen Y on campusWhat Works…

So what sorts of activities did the most to interest grads and actually motivate them to apply? The results showed that advertising and word-of-mouth recommendations definitely grabbed students’ interest. Publicity, whether good or bad, seemed to have little effect on grads’ intentions of applying, but when the researchers checked whether students actually acted on their intentions, bad publicity seemed to put them off finally making the effort.

… And What Doesn’t

So far, pretty straightforward, but the findings on one method of attracting grads may throw recruiters a curve ball. A strong on-campus presence would seem like a great idea to put your company in the path of the best grads, but somewhat perversely, the study found that being very visible on campus actually put grads off applying.

The study’s authors conclude that companies “should be careful with their on-campus activities as to avoid negative reactions among job-seeking students,” and note that “when a company is very present on-campus it may evoke a feeling of distrust and lowered credibility.”

Don’t Seem Desperate

Of course, this was a European study and maybe U.S. students have more favorable views of aggressive on-campus recruitment than their peers across the pond, but the results are nonetheless worth considering before you go ahead and put up that flashy pavilion at top college job fairs. And if you do decide to set up your stand, be careful not to oversell your organization or inundate students with excessive information. In recruiting, as in dating, a bit of playing hard to get may pay off.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user ben.chaney, CC 2.0)

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London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for

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