Relationship Building Is the Future of Recruiting

As spring break rolls around at campuses across the nation, many students head for the sun and surf, while others are ditching volleyball and partying for volunteering or professional projects. Not only does this offer them a chance to rub shoulders with established professionals who may one day become their colleagues, but it also allows companies to assess and form relationships with strong candidates in a more informal setting.

Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, has said recruitment is increasingly more about building relationships with potential candidates early via opportunities such as summer jobs and internships. Then when it’s time to hire, the company is basically just making a boundary decision — bringing the known individual into the boundaries of the organization.

“Relationship recruiting is a term a lot of people use,” said Diane Borhani, national director of campus recruiting for Deloitte. “We really believe that they get to know us, we get to know them, so there’s a lot of exchange. It’s a much more in-depth connection point than you would ever have at a campus event.”

One example is Deloitte’s Alternative Spring Break program, which targets 88 college sophomores who go out into the field to volunteer with about 30 to 40 Deloitte employees representing its various businesses across the country.

“We partner with United Way and Teach for America and the focus is predominantly around education, so they’re doing a lot of things — whether it’s working with students on the importance of getting an education and providing guidance and coaching to them and/or even doing some refurbishing and cleanup in various schools, education systems in the community where we’re hosting these programs,” she said.

One of the primary goals of such a program is to identify future leaders early in their academic careers and form long-standing relationships with them, Borhani said.

“[The students] can really find out who we are, what it’s like to work at Deloitte and really get a firsthand glance into what life at Deloitte would look like for them,” she said. “Students are very educated consumers today and they are gathering information and figuring out interests in professions and organizations they’d like to work for much earlier than they were.”

Not that frolicking on a beach somewhere doesn’t sound appealing to these educated consumers.

“When most students think of spring break, images of the beach and the sounds of waves are among the first things to come to mind — and honestly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a beach chair in Mexico was not my first thought,” said Joshua Carty, a sophomore at The College of New Jersey who participated in the program this spring in Memphis, Tenn.

But at the end of the day, Carty figured that his break would be better spent on a more meaningful experience — such as engaging middle school students in academic lessons and conveying to them the importance of a college education. Not to mention it would give him a chance to connect with and work directly with a potential employer.

“While looking for potential employers, I want to choose a firm that … encourages you to give back and lift up your communities with you,” Carty said. “I want to work for a firm that … gives you the opportunity to develop and advance as an employee, as a teammate and as an individual.”

Igniting the Spark Is Just the Beginning
Employers need to be able to build on that initial enthusiasm and keep the relationship going beyond the span of the internship or program or summer job.

“If you start with a program to connect with freshmen [and] sophomores and you’ve got nothing in place to build a bridge when they’re juniors, that’s a long time just to talk to someone and not offer them something — whether it’s an internship, a co-op, a leadership conference,” Borhani said.

Deloitte maintains active communication with interested participants in various ways without seeming intrusive. Things like sharing a cup of coffee or inviting them to a Deloitte event are stepping stones to internships.

“Now, doing this program over several years, [we’re] seeing the fruits of our labor because it’s something you have to do for the long term to see the long-term benefits,” Borhani said.

Since the program’s inception in 2008, 127 individuals who have engaged in these efforts have gone on to join the company — a win-win for both parties. But, again, follow-up is essential.

“Back it up step-by-step to ensure you really do have sound touch points throughout their academic careers because otherwise you’re going to lose their interest and you’re going to not be able to keep the momentum,” she said. “That takes a commitment from your leadership — both time and some degree of financial resources — otherwise I don’t think you can be really successful at it.”

Deanna Hartley is an associate editor at Talent Management magazine. She can be contacted at