College Grads Shun Startup Jobs - and How to Hire Them Anyway

Join a cutting-edge new company, spend your days with an office full of hip people and your nights at rockin’ rooftop parties. Sounds like the perfect life for a newly minted college graduate, right? Maybe not.

The startup mix of an exciting lifestyle and the potential to strike it rich if the company hits it big would seem to be a big draw for young workers - especially as the overall economy continues to struggle adding new jobs. But the opportunitiy has yet to register with the class of 2012. And that could make it surprisingly difficult for startups to attract top talent.

A recent study of graduating job-seekers by job-search engine SimplyHired.com, suggests that this year’s college graduates are not particularly interested in going to work at a startup. In the survey, a measly 4% listed a startup as their ideal place of employment.

“When you see the hiring taking place in Silicon Valley, there really is a boom going on here,” says SimplyHired CEO Gautam Godhwani. “So to see a lack of enthusiasm for startups from new grads is not something we expected.”

Potential vs. security?

Apparently, what college graduates want most is job security. Some 33% listed that as their top priority, above salary (23%) and benefits (23%).

The popular wisdom holds that young people today are more entrepreneurial. But keep in mind that the class of 2012 entered college just as the recession hit - and they have been scared away from risky ventures. Economics 101 seems to have had a bigger impact on their career goals than “The Social Network.”

Perks like free sodas and a company kickball game sound cool, but today’s college graduates are more interested in their long-term future.

“While startups offer a culture that new graduates might enjoy, such as flexible hours and casual dress, this graduating class is looking for stability over perks,” says Godhwani. “And it’s no mystery why. Over the last four years, while they’ve been working on their bachelor’s degree, they’ve watched their friends and family struggle in the job market. The economy has been tough and the class of 2012 had a front-row-seat to witness it all happen.”

How to hire recent grads

So what can startups do to attract employees? Get funded.

“Employers need to understand why a lot of new grads are not interested in working for a startup,” Godhwani says. “And when you look at the numbers on success for venture-backed companies, it is significantly higher. When a new grad becomes convinced that a startup is well-funded and growing and stable - and they will have a job for the next several years - that alleviates a lot of concerns.”

SimplyHired.com offers a list of 10 Tips for Hiring New College Graduates (get PDF here), but it’s unclear how well many of them will apply to startups.

A couple that do make sense for brand new companies include demonstrating how your company makes a difference and choosing employees for their passion instead of their experience.

It can be hard for large multinational firms to show how they’re changing the world instead of maintaining the status quo, but many startups are laser-focused on filling needs and creative disruption. That’s an opening startups need to exploit.

As for hiring for passion, remember that passion doesn’t have to be for your company. At least not at first. The report gives this example of hiring for passion:

“A recruiter at a popular technology startup described a recent successful hire that was a new college graduate with little work experience. The thing that stood out? His leadership of his college comedy improv group, and several comedy training workshops he had attended each summer. The recruiter recognized the candidate’s longtime commitment to a passion and desire to learn and grow within the specialization, which proved successful for the employee now in a client services position.”