From education to employment

The Early Bird Gets the… Best College Graduates?

Korn Ferry Executive Survey Shows Best Time to Recruit Grads is the Autumn of the Candidate’s Senior Year

     — Nearly Half Believe Grads are Not as Motivated as Those Who Graduated a Decade Ago –-
— Drive and Passion Beat Grades as Top Reason to Hire —
— One-Third of Respondents Say Their Companies Don’t Require Degrees for Professionals –-

Counter to traditional thinking, a new executive survey conducted by the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY) indicates that back-to-school time is the best time of year to conduct college recruiting. 

In the survey of nearly 1,500 professionals and executives, 64 percent said the autumn of a college student’s senior year is the best time to recruit top candidates. Zero percent said that waiting until after graduation is the optimum time to seek out the best candidates.

“In our experience, students who know what they want to do and are driven to pursue their career goals while still in school make the strongest employees,” said Adam Blumberg, vice president, Key Accounts, Futurestep. “Solid recruiting programs start early and focus on securing the most qualified talent months before they actually graduate.”

The survey showed that while the majority of respondents (61 percent) feel drive and passion are the top attributes they look for in college candidates (grades and university they attended came in last), only 42 percent say grads have the skills they need to succeed on their first job, and 42 percent also believe that compared to a decade ago, today’s college graduates are not as motivated to succeed on the job.

“Ten years ago, we were on the cusp of a major recession and graduate hiring was much slower, so it stands to reason that graduates back then had to fight much harder to succeed,” said Blumberg. “With today’s unemployment rate the lowest it’s been in years, it’s a candidate’s market, so employers need to work quickly and effectively to capture the best talent.”

The largest percentage of respondents (38 percent) say that social media (e.g. LinkedIn) is the best way to engage college candidates, followed by in-person networking at 28 percent. When asked why candidates would choose one job over another, the largest percentage (35 percent) said it’s because they like the people with whom they meet as part of the recruiting process.

“It’s critical that companies make the recruiting experience as positive as possible for candidates,” said Blumberg. “A big part of creating that inviting environment is training hiring managers and others in the organization on how to best communicate the organization’s employer brand and the positive culture of the company.”

College Degrees Not Always Required

The survey also reflected a growing trend when it comes to hiring professionals. One-third of respondents say that holding a college degree is not a firm pre-requisite when hiring professionals within their organization.

“Companies across a wide range of industries are now not requiring professionals to have college degrees,” said Blumberg. “While college helps teach skills and critical thinking for many people, several organizations realize that there are smart, driven, talented people who do not have degrees but who are valuable assets.”

About the survey

Korn Ferry Futurestep fielded the survey in May through July of 2017. It garnered 1,427 responses. Percentages are rounded to the nearest decimal. Totals may not equal 100 percent.

Survey Results

When is the best time to conduct college recruiting?


After the students graduate


0 percent

The autumn of the students’ senior year


64 percent

A couple months before the students graduate


15 percent

The students’ junior year


21 percent


Is a college degree a firm pre-requisite for hiring professionals in your organization?




67 percent



33 percent


To what extent do you agree with this statement: Recent college graduates have the needed skills to succeed as they enter their first professional job.


Strongly agree


5 percent

Agree somewhat


37 percent

Neither agree nor disagree


19 percent

Disagree somewhat


28 percent

Strongly disagree


10 percent


Compared to 10 years ago, how would you assess the motivation of today’s college graduate to succeed on the job?


Much more motivated


18 percent

Somewhat more motivated


16 percent

About the same motivation level


24 percent

Somewhat less motivated


32 percent

Much less motivated


10 percent


What top attribute do you look for when hiring a new college graduate?




1 percent



3 percent

University they attended


1 percent

Previous experience


11 percent

Drive / passion


61 percent

Fit with our culture


22 percent


Compared to one year ago, is your company planning on hiring:


More new college grads


22 percent

Fewer new college grads


32 percent

The same amount of college grads


45 percent


Does your organization have a college internship program?




63 percent



37 percent


If your organization has a college internship program, what is the primary reason?


To help identify the best students to hire upon graduation


88 percent

To get work done inexpensively


6 percent

To help with one-off projects


6 percent


Does your organization have a formal on-the-job training program for college graduates who are in their first professional job?




55 percent



45 percent


What are you doing to engage college candidates?


On-campus information sessions


23 percent

In-person networking/social events


28 percent

Online social events (e.g. webinars)


2 percent

Social media (e.g. Linked-In, Twitter)


38 percent

Host conferences


4 percent


What is the top reason graduates would choose one employer over another?


Reputation of the company


25 percent



10 percent

The people with whom they meet as part of the recruiting process


35 percent

The work they’ll be doing


30 percent


What would most incentivize you to make initial contact with acandidate when college recruiting?


A referral from someone you know


22 percent

Their persistence/enthusiasm


17 percent

Video resume


1 percent

Online (e.g. LinkedIn) resume


4 percent

Social media activity


1 percent

Previous work experience at my organization


4 percent

Examples that highlight leadership, drive for excellence


51 percent


About Korn Ferry: Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm. We help leaders, organizations and societies succeed by releasing the full power and potential of people. Our more than 7,000 colleagues deliver services through our Executive Search, Hay Group and Futurestep divisions. Visit for more information.

More information on Futurestep can be found here.

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