Summer Recruitment

March 1, 2005

Every spring, the workforce is flooded with students, but don’t get fooled into thinking the influx of students means summer recruitment is easy.

Every spring, the workforce is flooded with college and university students hoping to make a buck over their summer holidays. But don’t get fooled into thinking the influx of students looking for summer employment means you will have a smorgasbord of cheap, plentiful labour from which to choose. Today’s students, the so-called “Generation Y,” aren’t necessarily interested in mundane, repetitive jobs with a huge learning curve and little pay, says Linda Galipeau, managing director of operations for employment firm Randstad Canada. In fact, today’s students, she says, “think that employment should be a little more win-win than that.” Even amid the many looking for summer employment, summer recruitment might prove to be more difficult than you think.

Here are five tips to help you with summer recruitment:

1. Start Early

“Starting early is absolutely the thing to do,” says Laura Boyd, an HR Representative with the City of Burlington. “There are a lot of people looking.” Galipeau agrees. “When you start [searching for a candidate] early, think of who you’re getting. You’re getting a pretty serious student.” Both Boyd and Galipeau recommend starting your summer recruitment in January, or even in December, when students are on their Christmas break. By posting your job opportunities well before summer, you’re not only going to attract students who are serious about finding employment, you also have a better chance of nabbing the best and brightest before someone else does. One thing to keep in mind, however, is if you hire a summer student in December or January, make sure you keep in touch with that person, says Galipeau. “I would keep in touch with them to make sure they don’t get a better offer,” she says.

2. Target Your Search

To find the right student, the most important thing to do is find out where students actually look for summer employment. Galipeau recalls placing an advertisement for summer students several years ago in a newspaper’s “Office Help” section of the classifieds, with lukewarm results. “I got a very poor response,” she says. “I reworked it a bit, but then the paper accidentally put it in the General Help-Wanted section.” Galipeau says she was then bombarded with applications from students. “When I would ask the students why that was, they would say, ‘I don’t usually apply for jobs in the administrative section.’ Knowing where they actually look and what words jump out at them makes a huge difference when you’re trying to pull them in,” she says. Galipeau also recommends posting jobs for students on popular Internet job-search destinations and through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Human Resource Centres of Canada for Students (HRCC-S) to attract the right students to your organization.

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3. Make The Job Fulfilling

“Students today are looking for meaningful assignments,” says Maureen Neglia, director of RBC Recruitment. “They’re looking at potential stepping stones for the ultimate job they want when they’re finished school.” If you can ensure your assignment has some value for students, Neglia says, students will want to work for your organization. Present the job as an investment in the student’s future, and you’re likely to get the student you want. For some students, the summer job is the first exposure they might have to a real workplace, says Boyd. It can also be a great chance for students to discover if what they plan to do in the future is what they actually want to do. “It’s really helped them to say, ‘I like this type of work,’” she says, “or, ‘this wasn’t really what I was expecting.’”

4. Pay Well

Sure, you might think that student labour is cheap labour, a chance for you to get some temporary help for little cost. “A lot of people say: ‘I can pay a student a lot less. That’s my cheap labour,’” says Galipeau. “[That’s the] wrong way to look at it. You’ve got to make sure the salary is competitive.” If the pay is unattractive, you might find students either looking elsewhere for summer employment or jumping ship the first chance they get.

5. Ask The Right Questions

Hiring an employee is always a bit of a risk, especially when you’re hiring someone who is only going to be part of your organization for a short-term assignment and may not be wholly committed to your company. Students don’t often have much of a track record with past job experiences, and sometimes it can be tough to tell whether or not a student is going to be reliable, prompt and committed to the job. “You don’t have a lot of past to go on,” says Galipeau. “Usually, if you’re going to hire someone who has been in the workforce for five years, you can check these things… The only thing that is a bit tricky about a student is that there is less history on which to base your decision, and you can’t verify it to the same extent.”

That’s why Galipeau recommends using a number of behaviour- based interviewing techniques before hiring a student for summer employment. “You’ve got to dig as deep as you can,” she says. Start by asking the student about attendance and punctuality, she says, including how many classes they miss per week. Ask them what their earliest class is and what are their feelings about it. Also, be sure to make your expectations about punctuality and attendance very clear in the interview, Galipeau says, so there can be no excuse for lax behaviour. In the end, those organizations who hire summer students say they find the experience to be overwhelmingly positive. Not only can you benefit from hiring a student who is enthusiastic and willing to learn, but having a strong summer employment program can be a great pipeline for recruiting future full-time prospects. “We spend a lot of time targeting students for summer programs, in the hope that not only will they return summer after summer,” says RBC’s Neglia, “but also so that when it comes time for them to make a life choice about their career, we are the first employer they think of.”

Subsidizing summer employment

Want to hire a summer student but just don’t have the cash? Check out Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s (HRSDC).

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