Recruiting students on campus can be a daunting task—and it can get expensive quickly. Between the costs of travel to university career fairs, lost productivity from being out of the office, and higher-ups who may not see the full value of a robust campus recruitment program, it’s crucial to build a strategy with a clear purpose and set a campus recruiting budget to avoid hiccups down the line.

Our recent webinar, ” College Recruiting 101: Budgeting Basics,” broke down the components that every successful university relations program budget should — and should not — include. Here’s what all employers should know about building a campus recruiting budget:

Start with a strategy

Is the goal of your campus recruiting program to build a long-term talent pipeline, find interns for a summer project, or fill entry-level positions? Simply deciding to hire more college grads isn’t a strategy. Establish a long-term vision for your university relations program to ensure your campus recruiting efforts have specific goals in mind. In the long run, it’s okay to re-assess and adjust these goals when necessary, but operating with a plan in mind is critical to success.

Key components of a university relations program

  • Vision
  • Department + business unit utilization
  • New Graduate Program
  • Intern/Co-Op Program
  • Marketing + communications
    • Branding
    • Social Media
    • Company website
  • Campus sourcing and recruiting
    • Target campuses/universities
    • Student associations/organizations
  • Metrics/measurements
  • Budget

Involve the right people

If you’re a campus recruiter, you’re well aware that building a university relations budget is primarily your responsibility. But who else should be involved in the discussion before you finalize the numbers?

Hiring managers and human resources leadership should be consulted for their input — and you should include them earlier than you might think. Campus recruitment planning generally starts at least six months before fiscal year budgets are finalized. Recruiters need to accurately account for how many university events they’ll attend, how many candidates they’ll need to source, and how many new hires they’ll be responsible for — well before their budget for the next year is approved.

That’s why it’s important to involve hiring managers and other decision-makers early. Ask about estimated headcount increases for the next year, which departments are most interested in adding new hires, and what types of roles are most needed. Does your company need interns, entry-level hires, or contract workers? Seek as much information as possible before you build a budget to ensure your spend accurately reflects business needs.

Factor in the right metrics

Identifying and measuring the right campus recruiting KPIs is not only crucial to proving the ROI of your efforts, but is an important factor when building a recruitment budget. Think about how your recruiting process will affect your budget, and vice versa. Measure every step of the recruiting funnel and how your budget might account for the goals you’re aiming to achieve:

Step in hiring funnelMetric
Candidate poolEmployer brand
ApplicantsApplicant interview rate
Applicant-to-hire ratio
InterviewsInterviews-per-hire ratio
Interview-to-hire ratio
OffersInterview offer rate
AcceptsOffer-accept rate
Progress to goal rate
HiresHire rate
Co-op/intern conversion rate
College net-hire ratio

Know how much you have to spend

Before you start allocating your recruiting budget to specific initiatives, have a ballpark estimate of how much you have to spend overall. Keeping a general number in mind will help when you’re building a strategy and figuring out which specific tactics you’d like to accomplish throughout the year.

Once you have a general idea of how big your budget will be, decide where to allocate your resources.  Make sure you account for every little detail, not just the obvious travel and career fair expenses.

What questions should you ask before allocating your campus recruiting budget?

  • How big is your budget?
  • Which areas will require the most expenses?
  • How will you allocate resources month by month?
  • Which steps in the hiring process are most expensive?
  • How many recruiting events are you attending?
  • What non-recruitment event initiatives will you invest in, like virtual information sessions or care packages for potential employees?
  • How long is your recruiting season?
  • How many new hires are you responsible for?
  • How will you account for soft expenses, like loss of office productivity during travel season?
  • How can we account for unexpected expenses?

Save where you can

No matter how big your campus recruiting budget is, it’s always smart to save wherever possible. Travel can be one of the most expensive parts of any budget, so think about ways to decrease travel by investing in a digital campus recruitment strategy, complete with virtual campus information sessions and ongoing candidate communication.

If you’re recruiting on campus with a limited budget, find creative ways to cut back on your on-campus events spending:

If not tchotchkes, what else?

It might seem fun to give college students phone cases, stress balls and whatever swag-of-the-moment is available to make your recruitment brand more memorable, but do these giveaways actually go the extra mile in gaining more recruits? Instead of dedicating a portion of your budget to Happy Meal toys, find a more creative solution that keeps candidates engaged for the same cost.

For instance, invite candidates who stop by your campus recruitment booth to vote on a charitable cause to receive the amount of what you would have spent on swag. After your event, follow up and share the winning cause. It’s a win-win: not only will you have an opportunity to authentically engage with interested candidates, you’ll also demonstrate the positive value of your employer brand.