As Generation Z graduates from college and launches their professional career, it’s time to make sure you have the tools in place to recruit them. They’re tech savvy and they likely possess the skills your company is looking for. In fast-growing fields like data analytics and cloud architecture, being able to source entry-level talent isn’t optional — it’s essential. Unfortunately, if you’re a recruiter, you face a lot of competition for those entry-level professionals, so you need to be out there looking for them in the right places and spaces. The days of ‘post and pray’ are long gone, and today’s recruiting strategy demands assertive recruiting practices targeting employees at every stage of their professional journey — including recent college graduates.

6 Tips for Making College Recruiting a Part of Your Cleared Hiring Strategy

If you’re a government contractor or agency doing national security work, it may be easy to assume you simply can’t compete with Silicon Valley or Wall Street. But don’t forget — if you work for government or the defense industry, you have missions that matter. And that’s very appealing to today’s college graduate. While the unemployment rate of professionals remains low across the board, statistics still show that between 75 to 85% of college grads walk off their campuses without a job — and those who don’t have a job lined up will spend an average of 7.4 months looking for one, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That job search timeline means sourcing college students should be a part of building your talent pipeline. But wait, you say — you already have a recruiting program, you’re building your employer brand, and you’re aggressively posting positions online. What more do you need to do? Entry-level employees — and college students in particular — have different needs. Your recruiting program must be tailored to reflect that. Here are six tips to get your college and entry-level recruiting program on track.

1. Start Early

The best way to hire a college graduate may be to hire an intern. The benefit of an internship program is it allows both you and the candidate to give the position a trial run — and begin the lengthy security clearance process. Some companies hire interns as early as sophomore year. The benefit of beginning early is it gives you multiple summers or semesters to help the student learn both the hard and soft skills it takes to succeed in your company. Your reward is an entry-level hire who fits your company culture and has real industry experience.

2. Sell Lifelong Learning

When a college student is considering their first job, joining a company who will help them grow their skills and launch their professional journey is important. Despite reputations for being overly confident or arrogant, most recent grads realize they don’t know everything. They know they need to keep learning in order to get where they want to be in their career. And they’re looking to their first employer to help them identify their skills gaps and take their career to the next level. Salary is obviously a key consideration when someone accepts a new job. But company mission and professional development opportunities are typically the very next considerations. In fact, personal growth was the top priority for college grads when committing to a specific position, according to a survey by the LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm based in Chicago. When faced with a job description before them, entry-level talent wants to know how the position will help them grow their skills. How Does Generation Z Learn? YouTube is the most visited website by people ages 18-24, and 80% of teens say YouTube has made them more knowledgeable, and 70% say it has helped them learn a new skill, according to research by Google. If your company does not have a video presence, now is the time to start building a library of content to help college graduates learn about your company and its mission.

3. Embrace Social Impact

In many careers, it is difficult to know the social impact of the work that’s done. Defense industry and government employers shouldn’t struggle with this ambiguity. Your work has social impact because you work in service of the American citizenry. Make sure your job listings display not just the technical aspects of the work you do, but the social good conveyed by the work you do. You may not consider your social impact a benefit, but for college and entry-level hires, it is. When listing benefits available to employees, consider volunteer efforts, matching gift programs, and company sustainability efforts. It’s easy to assume that young employees will flock to the flashiest new tech company, the highest salaries, or the office that lets them wear their bathrobe to work. But in this way, entry-level employees are just like you: they want to know that their work matters. Don’t hesitate to show them how a job with your company serves something bigger than themselves.

4. Highlight Mission

Two in five (42%) of college students were very or fairly interested in working for government, according to a 2018 study conducted on behalf of the Panetta Institute of Public Policy — that’s a 5% increase over 2017. College candidates might not be attracted by the same things an older candidate covets, like healthcare benefits and job stability. But they are interested in making a difference and working for an organization with a clear mission — and no one does mission better than a national security career. A student graduating today with a software engineering degree has a pick of organizations to choose from. Why is the NSA touted as a leader in college recruiting, particularly for in-demand cybersecurity positions? Because it makes it clear — when you work a tech career with the NSA, you’ll get to work with the most cutting-edge tools of the data science and cybersecurity industry. And the work you’re doing today will shape programs across the government and private sector tomorrow. Your organization may not be “NSA-cool,” but if you’re supporting national security or defense industry missions, somewhere along the chain you are doing work that offers real, tangible impact.

5. Promote Your Location

Tech talent has its pick of job locations, but the good news for defense industry employers is not everyone wants to live in San Francisco or San Jose. A surprising number of them want to live in the mecca of national security careers — Washington, D.C. A Wall Street Journal study found Washington, D.C. attracts the second highest number of college graduates — right behind New York City. In fact, the diversity of locations means college grads are likely open to a variety of cities, whether you need cleared graphic designers in Boston, or cleared software engineers in Dallas. Remember, college grads are likely navigating the ‘real’ world for the first time.

Even if you can’t offer relocation assistance, sell a relocation package. Include lists of popular things to do in the city where the position is located, great apartments to live in, the best neighborhoods for young people, and other regional amenities in your conversations with college candidates. Similar to a mentor, pair them with a ‘relocation buddy’ before they start — someone who will help them navigate things like how to factor in cost of living, what commute times will really look like from their preferred neighborhood, and the best restaurants, hiking trails, and gyms near the office. It might be easy to assume recent college grads aren’t concerned about location in their initial job search. But next to salary and an exciting position, location is the critical factor driving college candidates. When it comes to in-demand tech talent, it’s actually to your advantage that not every tech grad wants to live in San Jose or Seattle (unless you’re hiring in San Jose and Seattle, in which case, location isn’t your problem — cost of living is).

6. Get Social

The average security clearance holder gets annual training that cautions about all of the perils and risks of being too active or transparent on social media. The average college student spends 8-10 hours on their smartphone (compared to 3 hours for the average adult). That is a lot of time spent consuming media. Even if your company has a robust social media presence, how connected is it to your recruiting efforts? When college candidates learn about your company for the first time (likely online) what impression will they get about the type of work they’ll do, the teams they’ll be on, and the missions they’ll accomplish?

The benefit of a college student’s hyper-connectivity is they may be more likely to see your job listings, recruiting messages, and connection requests. The downfall? If you’re not equally ready to engage candidates the moment they show interest, you may lose your chance. Speed is paramount, so when you see a college student has submitted their resume, responded to your social media post, or reached out at a campus recruiting event — connect early.

Need to fill contracts and stay competitive?

Then you need to play the field — in addition to hiring already cleared candidates, make sure your recruiting program includes a plan to reach out to college and entry-level candidates.

Related News, the largest security-cleared career network, specializes in defense jobs for professionals with security clearances. Search thousands of jobs from pre-screened, registered defense industry employers.