by Kelly Laraway, North Carolina State University and Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines
In the last decade, career centers at institutions known for robust STEM programs have worked closely with industry employers to meet the need for qualified STEM interns and graduates. Career centers, as part of their mission, partner with employers interested in having a presence on campus, as well as a relationship with internal campus stakeholders. Because the many industries served by STEM schools are cyclical in nature, efforts vary widely, from managing aggressive early fall recruiting schedules to launching lighter branding initiatives during challenging economic times.
The challenges of a recession and slow-growing job market are now behind us. The new challenge for career centers at STEM-focused institutions is managing the needs of STEM employers in a competitive market, while facilitating other activities to sustain the STEM programs throughout the year. In addition, STEM and other institutions of higher education are becoming more proactive in their employer outreach and recruiting activities. In order to remain competitive, some STEM-focused institutions have either increased or are considering increasing their employer relations teams.
Going forward, stronger partnerships with employers, solid collaborations across campus, and clear communication, are the keys to managing the relationships and recruiting needs of STEM employers. This commentary describes some of the strategic initiatives in place on campuses today, including trends and best practices in recruiting, branding and employer engagement, challenges to career center resources, needed growth in employer relations, and connecting with campus partners.
There is good news for employers whose primary purpose is recruiting STEM talent—most of the contributing STEM institutions state that their recruiting is centralized on campus. Centralization provides companies with inclusive, far-reaching on-campus connection to students and graduates through the career center. The institutions reported that employers access STEM students through career fairs, information sessions, industry networking events, externships, campus recruiting systems, and resume books.
Career centers tout the benefits of centralized services to employers—the ability to reach more students (versus a small, select population), diversification of activities, sustainability of the recruiting program, and protection from discriminatory recruiting practices. A spokesperson at Carnegie Mellon offers an illustration of the attraction: “Employers know that we promote all positions equally to all students and not to ‘hand-picked’ students.”
Branding and Engagement
To be effective in recruiting efforts on campus, career centers must educate companies about looking at both short- and long-term goals—and they can do so through a branding meeting. Asking simple questions has been shown to be effective in developing these partnerships: “Are you interested only in keeping your name strong on campus, or do you have an immediate need for interns or new hires? If so, do those needs align with your long-term recruitment goals?” These answers can guide career center staff in developing the next steps for the partnership.
There is an emphasis on proactive engagement across all institutions. A spokesperson at Montana Tech noted that recruiting teams change frequently, making it important to keep contacts up to date. To that end, the school uses its alumni network and recent graduates to keep current on company changes.
Career centers are also staying engaged with STEM employers in a variety of ways. Common trends include connecting with employers during the holidays with cards and mailers, sending surveys, and with a monthly employer newsletter.
Working With STEM Employers: Trends, Challenges, and Best Practices
Many career centers provide STEM employers with specific advice and training to help them meet their recruitment goals. Georgia Tech offers an annual employer drive-in workshop focused on how to recruit. MIT hosts an employer symposium every other year. Most career centers provide recruitment guidance for employers on their website and meet with companies individually as needed to develop strategies.
One major trend is how early employers are now recruiting. Capital Technology University and West Virginia University Institute of Technology, among others, are holding their career fairs earlier in the recruiting season to accommodate STEM employers. Some campuses, like MIT, have had to develop guidelines for employers regarding offer deadlines and will even go as far as suspending an employer’s recruiting privileges if these guidelines are violated. Employers are offering jobs and internships earlier in order to edge out competition from non-STEM employers, such as those in finance and consulting, who are also recruiting STEM students.
In response to the increased demand from STEM employers, several career centers have developed employer partnerships programs. At North Carolina State and West Virginia universities, for example, employers can invest directly in the career center in return for exclusive opportunities to recruit talented students and build their brands on campus.
STEM schools face another challenge from the cyclical recruiting seasons, which can result in overbooking and cancellations. Career center staff become frustrated with the constant changes requested by recruiters as well as their reserving too many rooms—this is especially disruptive on small campuses without interview rooms. Many schools have expressed the frustrations summed up by spokespeople at Harvey Mudd College and the Georgia Institute of Technology. According Harvey Mudd, “We get quite frustrated with the constant changes requested by recruiters on our small campus, since we don't have designated interview space.” Georgia Institute of Technology reports that, “... limited interview space and no-show companies equate to lost opportunities for students to be recruited by other companies.” Some STEM schools have started charging cancellation fees or charging for next-day interviews after career fairs end.
While pipeline programs like internships and co-ops are not new, many campuses report a dramatic increase in the use of this strategy, particularly by STEM employers. Mirroring the trend of early offers, recruiting interns and co-ops earlier is another way to secure the limited pool of STEM students long before graduation.
Growth in Employer Relations and Connecting With Other Campus Partners
Due to the increased demand for STEM graduates, many career centers, including the Missouri University of Science & Technology, have expanded their employer relations staff and services to facilitate connecting campus partners for employer development, through multi-department corporate relations teams, and has allowed for more of a group focus and better efficiency in campus resources with stronger ROI as STEM employers seek strategies to engage with students outside of traditional recruitment events.
A common trend among STEM institutions is encouraging open communications and partnerships with student organizations. Michigan Technological University takes a holistic approach: In early August, they host a "State of Career Services” breakfast that maps out the coming year’s activities, including student-employer engagement.
Professional student organizations work with career centers to bring employers to campus as guest speakers and to student members before career fairs and interviews. At Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, the career center provides a list of related professional organizations to employers and helps facilitate connections. Colorado School of Mines partners with underrepresented student groups to host customized professional development programs, industry career panels, and other activities—sponsored by employers—around career fairs.
Career center staff at many institutions develop relationships with faculty that allow them to speak to classes. At smaller schools like Montana Tech, career center professionals meet with specific professors and deans on a regular basis. At Carnegie Mellon and at North Carolina State University, employers sponsor projects in junior and senior capstone courses in order to network with and meet students.
Managing the relationships and recruiting needs of STEM employers in the current labor market is challenging. Companies are aggressively hiring new STEM graduates and college career centers must manage the expectations of employers while serving the best interests of students.
Kelly Laraway, North Carolina State University; Jean Manning-Clark, Colorado School of Mines
Jolie Woodson, The Cooper Union; Jennifer Bingham, North Carolina State University
Contributing university contacts
Sarah Alspaw, Capitol Technology University
Patricia Bazrod, Georgia Institute of Technology
Judy Fisher, Harvey Mudd College
Margo Jenkins, Clarkson University
Deborah Liverman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Raymond Mizgorski, Carnegie Mellon University
Steve Patchin, Michigan Technological University
Julie Pittser, Missouri University of Science & Technology
Sarah Raymond, Montana Tech
Candice Stadler, West Virginia University Institute of Technology
Laura Yale, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott Campus