Breaking down University Recruiting for New College Grads

Swathi Sundar
7 min readMay 27, 2021



It’s almost a decade ago now, but I definitely remember those days when I was running around career fairs with a stack of printed copies of my resume, desperately applying to any job opening related to software development or IT, nervously opening up email responses only to find rejections, aggressively pushing out thoughts about student loans and survival and mentally preparing myself to become a secondary school teacher. After months of trying, finally when Microsoft offered a role, it was an emotional moment.

Fast forward to now, every time a college graduate reaches out to me on LinkedIn, I almost always accept their request and also agree to put in a referral, consider them for the roles I’m hiring or pass their resumes around in my network, hoping they would get an eventual breakthrough as well. In a way, it’s a small gesture on my part to give back to the community.

It’s tough to find a job as a new grad. You might need the right experience to land a good job but you need a good job to build the right experience. Being stuck in this catch-22 situation might make you feel helpless. I’m sharing some of the key points that I have learnt from being on the other side of recruiting, so that you can use that to work to your advantage.

Open “secrets”

Every company, big and small, receives tens of thousands of applications for an entry level position. Purely by virtue of the scale and the load of applications, each company has their own way of selecting candidates. Though most of the selection process is unique and confidential to the companies, below you will find some de facto operation modes which are well known in the industry but not obvious to the new graduates.

Timing is everything: Most companies have a University Recruiting (UR) season, a period of time where companies aggressively reach out to hire new college grads. Most of the time, the UR season starts almost 10–12 months before and ends 4–6 months before the actual hire/start date of engineers. So, timing is key. Outside of this season, it’s harder (but not impossible) to get through the UR process as most roles would be already filled.

College Affinity: Most (not all) companies have a curated list of colleges from where they bulk hire new graduates from. This is not something that is openly shared by companies but can be easily inferred from public information in LinkedIn [<companyname>/people/]. This statistics in LinkedIn tells you where employees in a particular company studied, which also can be extended to “which universities does the company generally hire from?”. Even though this is NOT ideal from a diversity perspective, there are some reasons why this happens, such as proximity to universities, college from where the company was originally incubated, historical hire rate and retention of engineers from a particular college, and organic in-network referrals of candidates from employees in the company.

Applying online vs Referrals: Most or almost all companies have an internal referral program for employees (most of the time incentivized monetarily). It’s a simple concept: “good people know good people”. In the ocean of unknown applications, it is easier for employers to prioritize applicants when someone can personally/professionally vouch for them. Furthermore, when employees act as brand ambassadors and recommend their workplace, it helps to build trust in the company with other people and also helps to retain employees longer. Hence, going through referrals is more effective than applying online.

University Recruiter: Most companies have a dedicated team or a person who is specifically in-charge of recruiting from universities. In addition to sourcing and screening candidates, University Recruiters also organize career fairs, campus recruiting drives and coffee chats. They are the best people to reach out to learn more about UR season, list of colleges they typically hire from and also understand what they are looking for in candidates.

Resume gotchas

Considering companies receive tons (literally tons) of applications, they get to be “picky” in their selection criteria. However, there are some general things that you might want to highlight in your resume. Please note that these are mere suggestions rather than rules.

  • GPA: Highlight your GPA and explicitly mention any recognitions like honors, cum laude, dean’s list etc. If GPA is missing, there is a non-zero chance that people reviewing it might assume that it is lower and pass on your resume.
  • Internships: Internship experiences or personal projects often take precedence over your college final year project, unless your project is in a niche field or you have publications under your name. If you have multiple internship experiences, highlight the ones where your work has been shipped to production. Make sure to highlight and put your interview experiences above all other sections in your resume.
  • Leadership Experience: If you have experience leading any of the student societies or clubs, or if you have been a Teaching Assistant in your college, make sure to add that to your resume. Most companies value these experiences as they look for well-rounded candidates.

Applying for the right role

Companies will either have a dedicated section in their careers site or they would have a specific role (named as UR or New Grad or entry-level) that is for universities and new grads. It is crucial that you apply specifically for these roles as the expectation here is that these roles (instead of other open roles) are purely for new grads without prior industry experience (other than internships). This also widens the chance of reaching the right recruiters (mainly university recruiters) and increases your chance of not being rejected due to “lacking skills or qualifications”.

Having said that, if you have a past work experience as a full-time engineer prior to your graduate studies, you might qualify for the industry role, so do check with the university recruiters to see which roles you should apply for.

“We’re Hiring!”: Reaching out on LinkedIn

Before moving to LinkedIn, I would recommend reaching out to your university’s career center if you haven’t already done so. Career Centers provide career planning essentials, conduct events and workshops, and have information about career fairs and on-campus recruiting events. In addition to that, they might also be able to provide you with insightful information about companies where the alumni are at and provide you a way to connect and network with them.

In the world of LinkedIn, make sure to keep your profile updated with an attached resume. It might also be useful to understand whom to reach out to via LinkedIn when you see a “We’re Hiring!” tagline in someone’s profile.

Whom to reach out?

  • Recruiters/Sourcers/Talent Partners: They are the best people to reach out to! However, please be mindful that they receive multiple connection requests and messages from everyone who is looking out for a job. They might not be able to respond to every single message.
  • Hiring (HM)/Engineering Managers (EM): In some scenarios, the EM or the HM will have an opening for a role on their team and can consider your application/resume themselves. In other cases, the posting might be for openings on other teams in their organization for which they can either refer internally or hand it off to a recruiter in-charge of the position. So, make sure to ask how they will be acting on your resume. However, please note that it might be impossible for the HM or the EM to do an introductory chat with everyone who reaches out to them due to limited time.
  • Engineers: By default, engineers will be able to refer you to a position internally and ping the recruiter or hiring manager about it. However, do note that, in some companies, employees may not be eligible for a referral if the applicant has applied directly to a role or if a recruiter/sourcer has already contacted you before. So when requesting for a referral, do let your friends/acquaintances know if you have applied previously for the role or not. This will help them figure out next steps on whether it is referral or reaching out to the HM.

What to say or write?

“I am truly excited about X and genuinely believe I am a good fit for a current job opening. It would be great if you could consider me for the role”. This is often the general template that I have seen students use to reach out via LinkedIn. This is good, but not great. What would be ideal is if you could follow this message with the following

  1. Link to the role from career site of the company you are interested in
  2. Attach your resume
  3. [Optional] add a blurb of why you think you are best suited for the role
  4. Let them know whether you have already applied for the role or not
  5. [Optional] why you are excited about the role

Please note that the person you referred might only be able to track the progress on the application. It’s generally the recruiter who will follow up on your application and reach out to you. So, don’t hesitate to follow up your recruiters after 5–7 days if you are really passionate about the role/company. This indicates that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity and people usually are responsive to follow-ups even if they had missed your initial message.

Where to apply?