How to get close to universities (and why you should)

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You probably know why you need relationships with universities (a smorgasbord of savvy students, for starters!). And if that’s already a big push in your graduate recruitment strategy, you’ll know all about the benefits.  

But many organisations don’t actually know what industry engagement is

And we get it. Because even if you’re across the whole idea, where do you actually start? So many departments, courses, campuses and students.

 

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That’s why Elena Holland from UNSW is here to help. As part of the Career Accelerator team at UNSW’s Business School (AGSM), she’s been happily engaging with industry for 5 years. Before that, Elena spent many years in agency recruitment, where she found her passion for employability and getting people into jobs. 

Elena laid it all out for us: how organisations can engage with universities, why going with the flow helps and what you can do to grab students’ attention.

Developing hard and soft skills (before grads even start work)

The earlier a student starts honing their workplace skills, the better. Knowing the nuances of communication, emotional intelligence and time management make life easier for everyone. And, developing a few technical, job-specific skills doesn’t go astray, either.

It’s really important for students to be able to start to collect soft and hard skills as they go through university life,’ Elena says. ‘It helps them better integrate into the real world – and the job market – when they leave university.’

Want your new grads to arrive race-ready? Start engaging with universities (like, now).

How to engage with universities (and knowing what you want)

There’s no shortage of ways to throw yourself into uni life (and we’re not talking about daytime drinking at Fresher Week). Internships, networking events, integrated learning programs, honors programs…the list goes on.

Whatever you do, Elena advises to be as specific as possible in your approach. Universities are big, with multiple entry points, and it’s easy to get lost if your intentions are too vague.

‘For anybody looking to engage with a university, [I recommend] having an idea in mind of what they’re looking to achieve,’ she tells us. ‘It’s really helpful for us to collect as much information as possible. Then, we can identify which courses, programs, faculties and people could be the best to have a more detailed conversation with.’

Ensure you know who you’re targeting and what you’d like to get out of the experience. You’ll walk away with a far better result.

Building talent pipelines and relationships

Hunting for top-notch talent? Course you are! 

Keep your pipeline running hot by fostering student relationships early on. It’s an excellent opportunity for organisations to see what a potential employee is made of – while also giving students an insight into corporate life. 

For example,work integrated learning programs (where work placement is actually part of the curriculum) are becoming the norm at places like UNSW. It’s the perfect way to tap into emerging talent and get a headstart in seeking out high-quality candidates.

‘Students are undertaking work to give them some experience and exposure within an organistion, maybe even before internships – and certainly before graduation,’ says Elena. ‘That’s a huge focus at UNSW.’

Elena also points to industry projects. While lesser known than the more traditional internships, they give students an opportunity to work on a real-world business problem within an organisation. They get units of credit for their work, while the company reaps the rewards of a cost-free (and often creative) solution.

‘It’s a win-win: a great option to create brand awareness and start building a relationship with students – while they’re still at university,’ Elena explains. 

And there’s your flowing talent pipeline right there. 

Flexibility is key

After close to 3 years of remote learning, you’d assume students would want more of the same work-wise.

Not necessarily, says Elena.

Students do tell us they really value that in-person interaction,’ she says. ‘The general consensus is that going into an office and having face-to-face time with a mentor or a supervisor is…preferred over online.’

Of course, it’s a case-by-case basis and they’ll always be people who prefer more of a hybrid way of working. And, according to Elena, that can be a real positive for employers.

‘When we were looking at how to deliver industry projects in 2022 more flexibly, [we realised] the online [element] can really facilitate that in terms of having good engagement – without it necessarily being in person.

‘This can be great for employers because it’s not that traditional internship model with X amount of hours a student needs supervising,’ Elena explains. ‘And, students do enjoy the flexibility of being online.’

Think fluid, not fixed. 

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Getting noticed by students

Elena confesses there’s no magical answer to grabbing a student’s attention. But, she does have a few ideas:

  • Get your message out via as many means as possible (UNSW, for example, has a newsletter and a Microsoft Teams channel for the different groups of students, including MBA, postgrad and undergrad)
  • Don’t forget the traditional job board. This is perfect for any opportunity – paid, internships, casual or grad roles
  • Be open to guest speaking slots. Getting in front of students is an effective way of inspiring them, building brand awareness and providing real insights into what your organisation and industry is like.

Cover all bases, get your name out there – and never stop looking for emerging talent.

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Establishing, nurturing and maintaining university relationships

Engaging with universities is more than a nice-to-have. Reality is, it should be part of your graduate recruitment strategy throughout the year. Not only will it get you up close and personal to top talent, you’ll also give students the experience, insights and skills they need to succeed.

Want to know more about navigating the graduate recruitment realm? Check out our Emerging Trends in the World of Emerging Talent podcast series. No rubbish, just real people sharing real experience, advice and ideas about the wonderful world of talent management.

Get involved here!

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