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Comprehensive College Strategy Strengthens NCR's Recruitment

September 1, 1993
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For the past four years, there has been a steady decline in college recruitment for most industries. According to Recruiting Trends, a study conducted by Michigan State University's career development and placement department, recruitment dropped off 13.3% from 1989 to 1990 and close to 10% each of the following two years. Although the decline from 1992 and 1993 was much less—2.1%—it continues the downward trend.

This, of course, has affected companies' relationships with colleges and universities. The study indicates that campus visits by corporations have become less frequent during the past three years. Between 1991 and 1992, for example, companies decreased their campus visits by 27.7%.

Despite the fact that corporate America isn't courting collegiate recruits as it did before the recession, Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp. refuses to pull back on its recruitment. Although it, too, is hiring far fewer people today than in years past (for example, in 1992, it hired 1,207 people for entry-level positions, only half the number it hired two years earlier), the computer manufacturer keeps a constant presence on campuses nationwide and internationally, and continues to offer scholarships and internships as a way to build a future work force.

"Even in tough times, we have to bring some level of entry-level talent into the organization to keep the business revitalized," says Andy Esparza, director of recruitment and college relations for NCR. "In addition, if you pull the plug on your relationships when the hiring numbers are down, the universities lose faith in you, making it difficult for you to come back when you're again ready to hire. It's a delicate relationship that needs to be managed very carefully. The schools want partnerships that are in it for the long haul, and for the most part, we've tried to do that."

NCR's livelihood depends upon these partnerships with colleges. "We have a philosophy of wanting to build world-class people," says Esparza. "Our first step in that process is to bring in the very best people we can find. For us, that source has been college campuses." To cut off relations with the colleges while hiring is down would be detrimental to the company's future.

NCR learned from its mistakes.
Ten years ago, NCR's commitment to college recruitment was minimal at best. The company was hiring people who had experience with other companies for 70% of its open positions, rather than promoting from its entry-level positions and refilling them. As a result, NCR needed college recruits for only 30% of its available positions.

Company executives determined how much money the company was spending for the quality of workers it was getting, and they didn't like what they saw. Finding experienced talent required using such costly recruitment methods as job fairs, search firms and advertisements. To make matters worse, many of the people whom the company hired were too specialized and were unable to adapt to changing technology and methods. Many of them left the company within a few years. "We were seeing the length of stay at NCR being a lot shorter than what we thought it should be for the investment that we were making," says Esparza.

The company executives realized that they had to develop a completely new recruitment strategy, one that would yield quality employees at a decreased expense.

The company analyzed the people whom it had been hiring up until that point to determine which type of recruit had been best able to adapt to the company and had shown the best retention. "We believed that the brightest people and the largest collection of talent for our business was represented on college campuses," says Esparza. "We decided to completely change the focus of our recruitment strategy and make it much more college-relations driven." (See "NCR Re-evaluates Recruitment Resources.") As a result, the company today recruits 75% of new hires from colleges. Although the recruitment department hasn't done any formal studies on the effect of this new strategy, Esparza estimates that the company is spending half the amount for recruitment that it did 10 years ago and has improved its employee retention substantially. Its work force also is much more adaptable than before.

Strong college relations support NCR's recruitment strategy.
Even when the numbers of new hires decrease, as they have for the last few years, NCR maintains its college-recruitment percentage. With operations throughout the U.S. and internationally, NCR takes a regional approach to recruitment. Each of the regional organizations takes the responsibility of establishing face-to-face relationships with people at two to six of its targeted schools. Approximately 50 HR people handle college recruitment in the U.S., and another 50 work internationally. Esparza and one other person in Dayton oversee the recruitment activities and provide resources.

Steve Lewis, who currently is an HR representative for NCR's Network Products' Division in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a recruiter until January for his operation's San Diego division. As a recruiter, Lewis was most involved with the company's minority scholarship program. The program recognizes high-school seniors who are heading into computer-science, computer-engineering or electrical-engineering curricula at major universities and colleges. For people in this and other scholarship programs, the company spends approximately $350,000 a year on college scholarships, both nationally and internationally.

In addition to scholarships, the company provides college students with approximately 600 paid summer internships each year at their domestic and international operations. According to Lewis, nearly all of the graduates whom the company hires were once NCR interns. "Because we haven't experienced a lot of growth in the past few years, our strategy has been to keep a strong presence on campus through scholarship and internship programs in lieu of bringing a lot of new people into the company," says Lewis. "As a result, when we do have opportunities available, we don't have to scramble to fill them."

Lewis was able to use the minority scholarship program to find strong interns. Each summer, he would hold a banquet for the top-ranking scholarship applicants and their families. At the banquet, he would inform the incoming college students about NCR's internship program and encourage them to apply.

"We believed that the largest collection of talent was represented on college campuses."
Andy Esparza,
CR Corp.

According to Esparza, NCR benefits most from identifying these high-performance students early on in their college careers and grooming them for its business. "By the time these students are ready to graduate," says Esparza, "they've worked for us, we've financed their education and, we hope, they've made the decision that NCR is the type of company for which they want to work."

Lewis also worked with some student groups on campus, such as the Society of Women Engineers, and students in the honors programs in engineering. He sought out strong interns from among their members. "We'd work through those student organizations to generate interest in NCR, and then to identify strong students who would be good candidates for internships," Lewis says. "Approximately 80% of our interns [in San Diego] the last couple of summers have come from either our minority scholarship programs or through student groups on campus."

The summer internships that the company offers are meaningful work assignments. NCR wants the interns to gain experience, and wants to benefit from the interns' involvement as well. The work assignments begin with a comprehensive orientation program. At some point during the summer, the company provides a career day in which engineers from different departments set up tables in a meeting room, and interns learn about areas in the organization other than those in which they are working. Throughout the summer, NCR provides such activities as manager/intern softball games and professional sporting-events outings. When the interns finish their assignments, they're required to give a final presentation to NCR managers, demonstrating products on which they've worked. They have lunch with the managers afterward.

Marketing reinforces college relations.
The scholarship and internship programs form the bones of NCR's college-relations strategy. Surrounding these programs are continuous activities that reinforce NCR's college presence. Recruiters attend job fairs to inform students about NCR and its internships. They play active roles in campus groups, organizing such activities as interview preparation and resume-writing courses. NCR representatives often speak at campus organizations about the computer industry and about their particular jobs. They provide tours of NCR facilities for student groups. Some operations offer shadow-an-engineer days, in which a student can go to NCR and spend a planned day with an engineer, following him or her around, attending meetings and going through the day as the engineer does.

NCR's campus activities aren't always the territory of recruiters. Line managers as well have embraced the college-relations concept. For example, an NCR director of management-information systems has worked with Indiana University to help it build its own MIS function at the school, and has worked with deans to help them reformat their curricula to meet business requirements. Other managers take personal time to work on campuses with such organizations as the Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. They provide information on what it takes to be successful in business today, talk about the career-development process and help develop interviewing skills. "There's just a whole range of things with which our managers have been involved," says Esparza. He says that the managers' direct involvement with the students fosters more credibility with the young people than just hearing from HR, because of the managers' hands-on experience.

Ironically, when NCR revamped its recruitment strategy, many managers were against heavy college recruitment because they were used to bringing in experienced hires. The executive managers, however, set objectives for percentages of campus hires, requiring line managers to make the percentages to qualify for their bonuses. "Executive management believed in this concept so strongly that they monitored it, held people to it and evaluated people on their performance in regards to it," says Esparza. Today, heavy college recruitment is an accepted standard practice at the company.

The executive managers continue to support and broaden the strategy. Each quarter, Esparza reviews each organization's hiring plan with the senior managers. The group evaluates the plan and discusses improvements. According to Esparza, the senior managers always are interested in learning what additional support they can give to the effort.

As a token of upper-management's support, the company's stakeholder-relations organization produces a publication titled Career Contact, specifically for use in college relations. NCR sends the publication to placement centers at the colleges with which it works. The publication targets students. As well as relaying information about NCR, the publication offers information for students who soon will enter the corporate world. "It isn't just an advertising and propaganda piece," says Esparza. "We really try to make it meaningful for someone who's trying to decide in which direction to go, what type of industry they might be interested in and what they need to do to prepare themselves for a career."

For example, the theme of one issue is going for it, and focuses on the importance of making oneself stand out. The cover illustration presents two horses of a similar color, and a brightly lit zebra. The editorial includes instructional information on writing resumes, and interviewing techniques that help one stand out. It also includes quotes from NCR workers on their experiences with job hunting, and things that they've learned on the job.

A passage in this issue of Career Contact states, "It's not difficult to master the techniques that can make you stand out." NCR has learned firsthand about the importance of standing out on college campuses.

Personnel Journal, September 1993, Vol. 72, No.9, pp. 58-62.

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