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There was another great tech event in Columbus last week- the TechColumbus CIOhio 2008 conference. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend this event, but I followed along thanks to @bblanquera, @8101harris, and others. According to Dan, one of the topics that came up was GradSourcing. BMW Financial's Jeff Haskett spoke about a program he's put in place to bring new talent into his organization directly out of school.

When I heard about this program, I thought back to my own experience growing a team in Green Bay, WI a dozen or so years ago.  Green Bay was (is?) largely a blue-collar town, and it really didn't attract a ton of IT talent, so when I needed to build a software development team, I found that I had to relocate people to Green Bay or develop talent locally.  Relocating people to Wisconsin, it turned out, wasn't especially easy or cost-effective, so I had to find a way to grow good developers locally.

Hiring developers straight out of school, of course, wasn't without its challenges.  You're not going to get a lot of "real world" experience, for instance.  If you're a glass-half-full sort of person, though, you're also not going to have to undo a bunch of bad habits someone might have picked up elsewhere.  Here's what I did to make GradSourcing a viable recruiting strategy:

  • Establish a culture that embraces new team members.  In my case, I was growing a team already.  I began by re-training some COBOL developers to do Windows development, so the team was used to bringing new members on board.  We had lists of things that needed to happen on someone's first day, first week, and so on, and we had a core of strong developers who became good at mentoring others.  Eventually, my team got good enough at embracing new team members that I knew they'd do the right thing automatically.  Nothing makes a new recruit feel warm and fuzzy like the feeling that they're wanted and valued.
  • Work with interns.  It's not always easy to effectively work interns into your environment, but if you're seriously considering hiring fresh grads, this is a great way to do an extended interview.  You'll also be fine-tuning your onboarding process - if you can't handle making an intern productive, you're going to struggle with a new grad once you've hired him.
  • Partner with a school.  I found that I had access to far better candidates when I was working directly with a school.  Call the school's placement department - you should find them eager to talk to you about your needs.  This is one of those places where you're going to get out of the relationship what you put in, so stick with one school unless you're Google or Microsoft (in which case, you're probably up to speed on all this anyway).  Let them know what sort of candidates you need, as well as how many.  Your best results will come if you can plan on taking a regular stream of candidates - even if it's just one per year.
  • Provide meaningful, actionable feedback.  One of the benefits of creating a real partnership with a school is that you've got an avenue to help them with their program.  If there's a skill you'd like to see in grads, tell them - just make sure you're looking for a fundamental skill (algorithms, languages, etc.) rather than asking for expertise on the latest beta product to roll out of Redmond.  Generally, Universities are interested in feedback like this, and strong partner relationship will help your voice be heard.

Personally, I'm glad to see that there are still companies out there who are wrapping actual plans around the practice of hiring new graduates.  When this is done well, I believe it's one of the most economical and sustainable ways to meet the needs of a growing company.

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