Tips for Recruiting the Best and Brightest Engineering Students


June 26, 2023


180 Engineering

When recruiting for entry-level positions, engineering students are critical for your pipeline. However, as Gen Z candidates increasingly complete their schooling and enter the workforce, it’s important for employers to reassess their recruitment and retention strategies.

Gen Z is a significantly different demographic when it comes to employment. As revealed in a 2022 McKinsey & Company article, there are marked differences between Gen Z and preceding generations, particularly regarding their priorities at work. This generation is coming to employers with a wishlist that includes:

  • A healthy work/life balance;
  • Flexible hybrid and/or remote work;
  • Robust benefits packages that include mental health supports;
  • Meaningful work for companies that align with their personal values; and
  • Workplaces that value diversity, equity, and inclusion.

If you’re already recruiting students, then you likely have a solid foundation of campus recruitment strategies in place. However, given Gen Z’s workplace priorities and the way they navigate life in general, you may need to do some fine-tuning in order to appeal to the best and brightest students.

Who Are Gen Z?

Gen Z is the generation born between 1996 and 2010. This generation is currently completing their education and filtering into the workforce. If they’ve chosen engineering as their career, some may have already been working for a few years. But, most Gen Z engineers will enter the profession over the next decade or so.

Each generation is unique and is shaped by the circumstances of the world around them as they grow up. Baby boomers (1946-1964) are known for being hard-working and self-assured, for example, while Gen X (1965-1979) are characterized as entrepreneurial and materialistic. But Gen Z is quite different.

They Are Digital Natives

The members of Gen Z are the first to have grown up completely within the era of the internet, social media, and mobile technology and, as a result, they’re often referred to as “digital natives.”

As pointed out in an article by McKinsey & Company, the prevalence of technology and digital information in their lives means that Gen Z is, “a hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences.” In other words, they often turn to online sources whenever they need any kind of information, and they navigate the online world with ease, moving between websites, apps, and their social feeds in order to find what they need.

They Are Idealistic

Additionally, Gen Z is coming of age in a volatile world. Social justice movements, climate issues, pandemic lockdowns, and economic uncertainty have had a tremendous impact on this generation. Another article at McKinsey & Company points out that while this generation struggles with an unprecedented amount of mental illness, it is also highly idealistic. Gen Z has big ideas about changing the world, taking action around climate change, valuing equality and diversity, and mobilizing themselves for other causes they believe in.

They Are Committed To Their Values

In general, when it comes to employment, Gen Zers want work that aligns with their personal values. Unlike previous generations, they don’t prioritize salary when it comes to choosing a new job. Instead, Gen Z is looking for employers who:

  • Provide meaningful work;
  • Offer workplace flexibility;
  • Encourage a stable work/life balance;
  • Include mental health supports;
  • Build in opportunities for growth and development; and
  • Hold values similar to their own, such as eco-consciousness and diversity and inclusion.

They Are Identity Nomads

One other key characteristic of Gen Zers is their resistance to stereotypes and the way they experiment with and shape their own individual identities. The piece in McKinsey describes this generation as being “identity nomads.”

There’s no question that Gen Z is significantly different from the preceding generations. As a result, it’s critical that employers and recruiters adapt and fine-tune (or overhaul) their recruitment strategies so that they can attract the best and brightest of this generation.

Recruiting Gen Z Engineering Students

Since university recruiting has long been critical for filling entry-level engineering roles, you may already have a campus recruitment strategy. However, because of Gen Z’s characteristics and preferences, you may need to tweak your existing strategy in order to attract the best and brightest Gen Z engineers.

Optimize Your Online Presence

As digital natives, Gen Zers are incredibly savvy when it comes to technology and online content. Not only are they comfortable seeking and consuming content across different devices and platforms, but they use their tech skills to vet out the companies they deal with, seeking authenticity and sincerity and, ultimately, trust. In order to appeal to Gen Z, it’s important that your online presence be tailored in a way that appeals to them.

Career Page

The career page on a company’s website has long been a cornerstone of recruitment strategies. It’s an effective and convenient way to advertise open roles and market yourself to potential candidates.

Gen Z will use your career page not only to search for job opportunities but to determine if they want to work for you. Appeal to Gen Z candidates by:

  • Telling your company’s story by sharing video and text content from your current employees;
  • Highlighting the benefits of working for you, especially those most sought after by Gen Z, such as flexible work arrangements and mental health supports;
  • Offering multiple ways to connect with you, including links for email and a chatbot; and,
  • Ensuring that your career page (and entire website) looks modern, with photos of your place of business and current employees; small easily-digestible chunks of text; and lots of white space.

Social Media

As might be expected, social media has a huge presence in the life of most Gen Zers. As Jackson Hille discusses in a terrific piece about university recruiting, effective use of social media can, “attract active and passive candidates, target your ideal talent pool, boost your employer brand and company culture, and save on recruiting costs.”

Social media is a terrific tool for promoting your corporate brand and demonstrating your authenticity. This can be accomplished by having your executives share personal stories so that Gen Z can understand who is steering your ship, and by showcasing employee influencers that can help Gen Z understand what it’s like to work for your company.

As well, compelling social media content can spark engagement and interaction, to create relationships with potential candidates.

Mobile Optimization

As digital natives, Gen Zers are adept at using different types of tools to access online content. It’s important to ensure that your website and application process are thoroughly optimized for mobile devices.

Craft Appealing Job Descriptions

It’s important to keep the key characteristics of Gen Z in mind when writing job descriptions. To recap, this generation are digital natives who are idealistic and committed to their values, and who are also identity nomads. With this in mind, craft job descriptions that:

  • Are brief, since Gen Z will have already done their research on your company;
  • Highlight the values your company stands for, including the social and community projects your company supports;
  • Outline the benefits of working for your company;
  • Avoid bias, especially gender-specific terminology, and emphasize your company’s commitment to DEI policies; and
  • Reflect your authenticity.

Go Virtual

Gen Z values face-to-face communication, especially in the early wake of the pandemic, when everyone is still hungry for in-person interactions. On-campus recruiting, including career fairs, information sessions, and pop-up booths, will continue to be a cornerstone of university recruitment strategy, even for this digital generation. However, virtual recruiting does offer some exciting new opportunities.

When you hold virtual recruitment events, you can reach multiple schools at the same time, cutting down on the resources you need to participate in these events. It also gives you the chance to expand your reach and recruit at schools where you wouldn’t normally go, effectively widening your talent pool.

For effective virtual recruitment events, that reach a wide audience, encourage engagement, and establish relationships with engineering students, make sure that you:

  • Select a platform that is widely used and intuitive, to make it easy for students to join you;
  • Promote the event widely across all your digital platforms, including your website and socials; and,
  • Follow up with the attendees, to thank them for attending and to solidify your relationship with them.

Highlight Employee Influencers

We typically think of influencers as celebrities or internet sensations who leverage their popularity to influence trends and consumer decisions. But at the base, an influencer is someone who shares opinions that others trust and act on.

Your own employees are important influencers for your company. Whether you harness this potential or not, they are already acting as influencers every time they tell someone what it’s like to work for you.

Gen Zers rely on online research for all types of decision-making. A large part of that research involves skimming reviews and testimonials from other people who have already made similar decisions. When you tap into employee influencers, you give candidates the chance to hear from real, relatable people what it’s like to work for you on a day-to-day basis. On the lookout for authenticity and transparency, Gen Z will highly appreciate this type of content from your company.

Focus on Evolution

One final note: in a piece at Deloitte, Tiffany Mawhinney and Kimberly Betts make an interesting point. The authors argue that, “To attract Gen Z, employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the external environment. That means developing robust training and leadership programs, with a real and tangible focus on diversity.”

Gen Z is used to the world moving at the speed of light. They’re adept at handling change. Demonstrating your understanding of the world and their generation, and shifting your focus and strategies as required to keep in lockstep with current realities, will show Gen Z that you are ready to navigate these volatile times alongside them.