When hiring recent college graduates, it can be difficult for small businesses to compete with large, corporate names. But many have been successful in recruiting by returning to their alma maters. 

From a variety of industries, many employers have returned to the same career services departments they visited during their college years to put on information sessions and set up shop at job fairs.

MarketBridge, a Bethesda, MD based consulting company, has found luck in recruiting from one of its employee’s alma mater’s, Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. Cary Comer, a 1997 graduate of Colgate and the senior vice president of technology and analytics, has made recruitment presentations on campus.

Comer recommends that presentations should be less of a lecture and more of an energetic dialogue. While handouts can be distributed, the presentation is more about the conversation and “having fun with it,” says Comer. 

According to Comer, the most important item to emphasize in a presentation is how much responsibility entry level employees will be given, unlike their counterparts at large corporations.

“We emphasize to applicants how quickly they can rise up the curve,” says Comer.

Who puts on the presentation is also critical to its success with students. Comer says that presentations should be done by one or two senior employees, preferably alumni of the college being presented at, and a few young junior employees.

Not only does MarketBridge hold information sessions, but the company has also set up a case interview workshop at Colgate to give students interested in banking and consulting the confidence needed to ace the case interview. The workshop consists of an unbranded discussion on how to do well in case interviews and is followed by mock interviews the next day, according to Comer. While the intent of the workshop is not to serve as another recruiting pipeline into MarketBridge, Comer says that he would like to think that it helps to further MarketBridge’s brand and attract more students. 

According to Chip Schroder, the associate director of career services at Colgate, 30 to 40 students across all class years participate in the workshop.

“Attending the workshop helps students in their interview process and their broader job and internships searches, whether they land at MarketBridge or another firm,” Schroder said in an e-mail.

Having a campus presence has certainly helped MarketBridge, as the company brings on one to two Colgate graduates every year, and has pulled 25 graduates over 12 years, according to Comer. 

“At Colgate, where alumni very actively recruit graduates, the alumni connection is often what makes a small business stand out to a student as an opportunity worth considering,” said Schroder in an e-mail.

While presentations and workshops take time and resources, there are other ways to connect with college students.

Mike Cahill, director of career services at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, recommends setting up an internship program. If they prove themselves to be a good fit for the company, interns can eventually be converted into full time hires after graduation, says Cahill. 

If you need to advertise your internship, look for a local university or college that is hosting a job fair.

For example, every fall, Syracuse University holds a local internship fair, hosting around 100 local employers that are looking to hire interns throughout the year, according to Cahill.

To compete with flashy, corporate names, small businesses can put together an attractive display table, using giveaways to attract students.  Cahill says that he has seen businesses passing out candy jars. 

Cahill also recommends staffing the table with young, extroverted employees who can connect well with students.