Small companies can vie against corporate giants for top talent—and win! The catch is having a real game plan for being attractive -- and for attracting.

These six steps can make you a pro in recruiting and hiring college graduates.

No. 1: Know that you are wanted. On-campus Career Centers welcome diversity in the companies featured at career fairs, job posting boards and other internal recruitment platforms. According to Susan Casson, Associate Director of Career Services at Syracuse University, who speaks with thousands of business owners and leaders annually, “Many students don’t want larger corporate environments, so smaller companies are especially attractive.”

No. 2: Build on-campus relationships. Phone calls are fine for striking up conversations with Career Center staffers, but true leverage comes with presence. Conduct an in-person meeting with college representatives to introduce them to your company, your brand, your culture and job opportunities. Start with your own alma mater, and then expand to nearby colleges or target schools known for specific academic disciplines, such as engineering or nursing. Educate your on-campus connections to be capable and enthusiastic salespeople for your company by sending them periodic updates about your clients, your staff, industry awards and other exciting news about your company.

No. 3: Have an exciting story to tell. What factors make your company attractive? Identify three and develop a story that you can personally tell. Career fairs—a staple on college campuses—are a great platform for spreading the word. Stage an information booth, but go beyond handing out pamphlets and logo pens. Excel in using conversations to create powerful impressions about your company’s assets. “Small companies have a real advantage here because they aren’t generally known and there isn’t a prejudgment in the student’s mind,” explains Casson.

No. 4: Define the skills you need. Create job descriptions that are meaningful—and remember titles matter! Casson says titles are the first discriminator by students. “If it looks hollow, you’ve lost them.”  Winning position descriptions cite the importance of the role to the company, identify reporting relationships, list specific, measurable responsibilities and include performance goals. “It is critical to have a bonafide job,” advises Casson. “If a new hire is getting coffee and waiting around for assignments after a month on the job, don’t expect to keep her for long.” Incidentally, bad news travels fast. Your bored new hire will spread the word—quickly, thanks to social media and the Internet.

No. 5: Be patient. Treat college recruiting like a process not an event. Interviews and hiring don’t have to correlate with graduation schedule. This really is a fluid process.  Casson points out, “Employers come to campus for the first time and expect more than they’ll get. It takes time to build a presence, reputation and relationship. There are many opportunities year-round to connect with students, and we’re set up to create connections for employers.”

No. 6: Establish a mutual learning exchange. As much as you want college grads to know about your company, you’ve got to want—even more—to know what these students want of you. After all, they are your target customer. There are scores of studies by professional and academic organizations about their career desires and employer preferences.  Sources are aplenty as well from your college connections. And don’t forget college-age family members and their friends back in the neighborhood.

Casson and her colleagues are armed with timely survey data that they gladly share.  

Like this: what do college graduates want in their first professional job?

Answer: There are several must-haves: responsibility and respect; a workplace that is fun and exciting; and, finally, not getting stuck in a job rut. 

“That latter point is where small companies can really excel,” advises Casson. “Generally, there’s more flexibility in smaller work environments for rotational assignments and leading projects. Having that kind of challenge and opportunity really excites today’s new grad,” sums up Casson.  

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™. In 2008, she founded the Dulye Leadership Experience at her alma mater,  Syracuse University, to help college students swiftly and successfully transition into the workplace.