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Recruit or Die Book Cover

On any fall Saturday afternoon, take a stroll through campus at Florida State, Notre Dame, or any other school with a great football program, and you witness a classic collegiate scene: masses of students, with school colors from head to toe, making their way to the stadium. The crisp air fills with the fans’ anticipation of the coming three hours, which they will spend cheering the home team to victory. In the night to follow, they will celebrate victory by doing what students do in college. It’s game day, and there’s nothing else like it.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), whose athletic teams are nonscholarship Division III, there’s no game-day atmosphere when archrival football teams come to town. However, when companies like Microsoft, McKinsey & Company, and Goldman Sachs come to recruit, it’s game day of another sort. But for the freshly pressed suits and leather résumé folders, you’d never know the difference.

On recruiting “game day,” the campus is abuzz: Even first-term students who barely knew enough to get into college are talking about how to get a job. Hundreds of them walk toward the nearby four-star hotel, where the recruiting will take place. On the way, students stop in my office to ask how they look. Good, I used to tell them. But that never had the same effect as what I say now: “You look great—good enough for McKinsey.”

Incredibly, each information session hosted by one of these bigtime employers may yield as many as 1,000 applications for only about 10 positions. When offers are extended by an exceptional firm like McKinsey or Microsoft or Goldman Sachs, students almost always accept them. The companies, content with their annual recruits, retire to their high-walled offices until the next year, when they emerge once again to coax the next batch of MIT’s best and brightest to join them. Every year, the same process is repeated at schools across the country. In a very real way, Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs are the big guys of college recruiting. My name is Chris Resto. After recruiting and managing new college graduates at Gemini Consulting (now Capgemini), a European strategy consulting firm, I returned to MIT (where I did my undergraduate studies) to launch a professional development and internship program for sophomore engineering students. It’s called the MIT Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP), and I serve as its director.

Here my staff and I have worked closely with more than 1,000 undergraduates since 2001—teaching them skills in interviewing, etiquette, and networking to prepare them for their first foray into the workplace.

We also work with employers to place our students in summer internships. We have engaged representatives from more than 1,500 corporations and nonprofits, developing relationships with people from all levels of college recruiting: frontline recruiters, HR professionals, hiring managers, direct bosses, intern buddies and mentors, and senior executives. We even visit many of these job sites to see how the students and companies are interacting.

This position, combined with my experience at Gemini Consulting, has given me unique insight into both sides of the war for young talent. And because I am in constant, year-round contact with students and employers, I serve as a trusted advisor and confidant to both parties, helping students win employment and employers woo young recruits—for both internships and full-time jobs, since they involve very much the same elements.

As I help employers navigate the waters of college recruiting, I find much of my time is devoted to explaining how things have changed: how today’s college students don’t simply feel lucky to have a job, as students did twenty years ago, but that their internships during college and their entry-level positions after graduation must be great and glamorous next steps in their already lengthy and accomplished “careers”; how they gossip about employers and the recruiting process as fast and furiously as cell phones and Facebook will let them; how the bar for world-class recruiting has been pushed so high that the traditional find-to-sign process is now only one of the four components of the recruiting machines run by the best recruiting organizations. And, most disturbingly of all, how the war for young talent has fast become winner take all.

While hundreds of students might attend events by employers like Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs, other firms often draw a mere 20. While the top firms may get as many as 1,000 applicants, other companies may get as few as a dozen. And when interviews roll around, students often simply fail to show up for companies second in reputation or size.

In this book we’ll discuss all that and more.


Why does college recruiting even matter? Why should any organization take pains to identify, attract, and hire today’s best and brightest—especially if they might leave after only two or three years? Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, has said that “young people are more willing to learn, come up with new ideas.” A number of Microsoft recruiters have told me that Bill Gates’s focus on recruiting is pivotal to the company. In fact, Gates believes recruiting top talent is so important that he personally scouts a few graduating seniors every year. Like Gates, most company recruiters are attracted to young prospects because of their contagious energy, fresh perspective, and abundant ambition.

David Cirnigliaro, a former senior manager in Capgemini’s strategy consulting division, says it’s even more concrete than that. Young talent helps the bottom line. “Very often, having bright, new college graduates . . . is what makes them profitable. Frankly, we can pay them less than half the salary of their MBA counterparts, and they often can do the same work. But not just every undergraduate has that kind of ability. That’s why we put so much effort into getting the top candidates we want.”

I recently spoke with the head recruiter of a large communications company about how she was doing at MIT. Extremely pleased, she said, “The 20 students who applied for this last round of interviews are really great.” While those 20 students were good, I knew firsthand that the best MIT students had not even bothered to apply. Like many employers I advise, she simply had no idea what she was missing. As more employers catch on, college recruiting is fast becoming the hottest area of the labor market today. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, entry-level hiring on college campuses increased nearly 13.8 percent in 2005–06 and another 17.4 percent in 2006–07. Across the country, campuses are seeing a 20 to 30 percent increase in the number of employers attending their career fairs and soliciting résumés. Last year when Rick Deodato, a recruiter for General Atomics, called career fair organizers at Virginia Tech one day after registration opened, he was turned away. There simply wasn’t any room.

The problem will drastically worsen. By 2014, the American economy will have six million degreed candidates fewer than the jobs we need to fill, according to the Employment Policy Foundation’s ninth annual workplace report.

The importance of human capital—of finding the best—sounds obvious, but we have spoken to dozens of HR professionals who are constantly fighting within their organizations for more resources to do the job right. Now, more than ever, recruiting strategies are critically important. In Recruit or Die, we’ll show you how the best seize the best—and how you can, too.


Many organizations do a fine job recruiting on college campuses.

What makes Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs so special? Few organizations have demonstrated as massive a commitment as these three to recruiting the best and brightest. Few other firms have engaged in such a systematic, nationwide recruiting strategy. And a remarkably small number of firms have achieved such stellar results through several economic booms and busts. Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman are dominant in attracting, recruiting, and hiring. In other words, they get the candidates they want.

How? You may think: They have a great brand, or They have so much money. You may even believe that these firms have become such superpowers that they don’t have to work very hard for success. It’s true that having a well-known brand, a healthy supply of resources, and a leading position in its industry doesn’t hurt the recruiting efforts of an organization. But the four keys to the recruiting prowess of Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs are entirely different. Understanding and using these keys can help any company unlock the secrets to successful superstar recruiting.

1. They won’t settle for anyone other than exactly the recruits they want.

They live and breathe the mind-set that talent is everything, and it is that fierce resolve that drives them to create the best recruiting teams, strategies, and standards—period. If Microsoft, McKinsey, or Goldman Sachs has an interview round in which no candidate really wows them, no one is hired. Even if recruits get through Microsoft’s rigorous screening process and work as summer interns in Redmond, Washington, there’s still a good chance they won’t be asked to return for another internship or full-time work. Microsoft keeps only the best.

2. They work harder and smarter than their competitors to know their target audience: the recruits.

It’s easy to point to dominant companies and shrug your shoulders in self-pity. But what these whiners don’t acknowledge is that Goldman Sachs calls every few weeks to ask about the latest campus buzz. And Goldman doesn’t care if the buzz is related to jobs or not. They’re constantly monitoring the student pulse on campus, trying to gain a competitive advantage through better intelligence about today’s top college graduates. When are midterm exams? What happened at the game last week? What are students on Facebook talking about right now?

This approach takes effort, although it’s not expensive; there’s room in your budget for a telephone call, right? That’s harder but smarter.

3. They sell themselves better than their competitors do.

In professional services, people are the only asset. If a firm’s staff can’t sell the firm and themselves to clients, the firm is dead. As a result, people from McKinsey and Goldman Sachs have more practice selling themselves than people from firms like General Motors or Boeing, where employees are trained to sell products, not people, leaving them at a disadvantage when it comes time to recruit students on campus. Still, this disadvantage can be overcome when a company becomes conscious of the need to sell itself. Just remember: Your company is always marketing, whether through the HR channel, your Web site, or through a chance interaction between a college student and one of your employees. And your potential recruits are listening.

4. They present a united front.

Because recruiting requires the involvement and coordination of so many players from so many different parts of an organization, inevitably, it’s infighting that holds most employers back. But when Microsoft, McKinsey, or Goldman Sachs hit a snag (yes, they do make mistakes from time to time), their people pull together to correct the situation and move on. I’ve seen it. I know it happens. And to outsiders? All they see is a singularly united perspective. Recruit or Die is not focused on only these three companies. We use Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs as marquee examples, but we draw from hundreds of other companies’ tactics to lay out the best ways to win the recruiting battle. We’ll show you how to use these best practices to understand the motivational psychology of your prospects, to beat your competition in all stages of the college recruiting process, and to create your own finely tuned recruiting machine, even on a shoestring budget.

To ensure that Recruit or Die provides you with the authentic student perspective that you absolutely must understand to transform your recruiting, I teamed up with Ian Ybarra and Ramit Sethi, two top recent graduates who understand this topic better than anyone.

Ian, a professional writer and MIT graduate, helped me launch UPOP when he was in college and has since helped hundreds of students discover the work they love. Ramit, a Stanford graduate, wondered why so many of his peers were being recruited to the same few companies. After interviewing with dozens of companies himself, he turned the tables and started interviewing them. Together, we’ve spoken informally with thousands of students and formally surveyed a thousand more. We’ll show you how to work harder and smarter than your competitors to get inside the heads of today’s top recruits. We’ll show you how to start selling your organization by selling your people like never before.

Once you put into practice the lessons in Recruit or Die, you won’t have to settle for recruits passed over by stalwarts like Microsoft, McKinsey, or Goldman Sachs. Your company is small? Unknown? Low on a recruiting budget? It doesn’t matter. Even you can beat the big guys in the war for young talent.

- Chris Resto

Now What?

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