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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Steven Rothberg, President & Founder, College Recruiter
Episode: 151
Air Date: February 5, 2016


Steven Rothberg is the president and founder of College Recruiter, which believes that every students and recent graduate deserves a great career. We believe in creating a great candidate and recruiter experience. Our interactive media solutions connect students and grads to great careers.

Steven grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and likes to say that he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the weather. He founded the company back in 1991 as a publisher of campus maps and employment magazines. By 2000, the business had morphed into the interactive, recruitment media company that it is today. In 2015, College Recruiter helped almost two million, one-, two-, and four-year college and university students and recent graduates find internships and entry-level jobs.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host John Sumser. Today we’re coming to you live from beautiful downtown Occidental California. It’s a sleepy little village of about eleven hundred people in the hills overlooking the ocean in northern Sonoma county. Today we are going to be talking with Steven Rothberg who is the president and founder of college recruiter. Steven’s been here before and he is one of the HR and recruiting industries long term players, a voice of consistent and continuous wisdom. Steven how are you?


Steven Rothberg: I am very good this morning. Thank you John. Good to be here.


John Sumser: Yeah, so why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself to the audience?


Steven Rothberg: Sure, no problem. I live in Minneapolis. I grew up in Winnepeg Canada, so one of my favorite jokes is that I’m probably the only person in the twin cities who moved here for the weather. I moved here way back in 1988. I came here for grad school, went into law school, graduated. I was practicing in my first year and then decided that I really wanted to get out of law, to enjoy my life, and I started a small business that gradually morphed into college recruiter.


  What college recruiter is today, is an interactive recruitment media company. One of our solutions to the job board where employers can advertise their jobs. We also do things like targeted banners, virtual career events, target email campaigns, [inaudible 00:01:57] college students and recent grads. About five years ago, my wife Faith joined the company full time and we quickly realized that it would be much better to have her in the CEO seat rather than me, so my role on a day to day basis is essentially kind of like a visionary where I set strategy, look for new solutions, tweaking the solutions that we already have, assisting our sales team and generally trying to make peoples lives as miserable as possible.


John Sumser: That’s great, so what you said is because you’ve been such a success, you’ve been able to find a CEO to do the actual work of running the business.


Steven Rothberg: Well the success part would be questionable. It’s more like, what’s the cliché? We all aspire to reach our level of incompetence, and I just got there a little bit earlier in life than some other people might have.


John Sumser: One of the best things about getting a chance to talk to you is that often people with your story and your position and your consistent success over decades, are very sure of themselves and very I’m the center of the universe. It always makes me smile to do business and get a chance to talk with somebody who is more modest than that. Thank you for that. Tell me a little more about how you got this way. Long term success, modest founder, this is different. How did you get like this?


Steven Rothberg: I think that one of the things that was very beneficial early on was because the business started off as a real micro business, it was essentially just me. I occasionally had an employee or two, I was occasionally contracting out stuff, it was a print business, so it was old world. It wasn’t started as a tech start up in San Francisco where the goal was to have an exit strategy in two years where you are bought out or go public or whatever. The thought of phenomenal growth, and who cares about profitability really was never there. I think that helped to make the business, me personally more grounded than what I see with some other organizations in the tech industry.


  One example would be, I think it was back in ’97. My wife and I had just had our second kid. She was planning on staying home and when we sat down and crunched out personal budget numbers, we realized that we could afford to have her stay at home, and we could afford to have a more sane lifestyle, where I wasn’t going to be traveling all the time and working fifteen hours a day. By bringing the business into the home and having a small number of employees to a handful, working remotely, I would enjoy my work a lot more, I could see the family a lot more, and so we did that.


  For a decade we gave up a fair amount of growth and opportunity in order to have a more enjoyable life. That’s just how we try to operate. It’s not to say that we don’t want to increase sales every year and increase profitability and really help our clients, but we are not willing to do that by destroying our personal lives. Unfortunately there are definitely people out there that are chasing after that dream and really are doing a disservice to themselves and their family.


John Sumser: That’s a really interesting and kind of sobering perspective. Do you think that this means you moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area because you belonged there? This is really a different sort of values you’re talking about.


Steven Rothberg: I do think that there’s something to be said for that middle of the country approach. Life on the coasts tends to be more frenetic and life in the Midwest or the center of the country tends to be a little bit calmer. There was a great book I read years ago, by I think it was Rich Karlgaard the publisher of Forbes and I think it was called Life 2.0, where basically he spend a month or two months or three months driving around the country and seeing what life was like in different areas. He went to Cincinnati and he went to Chicago and Minneapolis and different places and wrote about how different it is than San Francisco or Washington DC or Boston, and I think his thought was people on the coast would be priced out of living there and they would gradually migrate into the middle of the country. I haven’t seen that happen, but I do think that there’s a certainly different culture in different areas of the country and it is more laid back here than it would be in Santa Barbara.


John Sumser: There’s an interesting underpinning there and that is in order to have the laid back feel, you have to be extremely accurate and precise of the work you are doing. That’s the thing that people don’t understand about the middle, is that it’s not just a slower pace, but it’s a slower pace with a harder standard for quality of the work. The idea that you can involve yourself in a project that wastes by having perpetual failure as a tolerable value inside the organization is kind of foreign in the middle of the country where you get it done so you can have it done.


Steven Rothberg: It totally does and it’s very interesting. When I talk to people who are involved in venture capital, start ups, fast growing tech companies, especially in the San Francisco Bay area, there’s, and I admire it. I think it’s good for the country and even the world over all to have that center of innovation and that incredible group of people that are just not afraid of failure. In fact failure becomes a badge of success. They’ve learned from their failures and they keep building and building and building and it’s really quite remarkable. That culture is completely foreign to most of the country.


  If you were to live in Minneapolis or St. Louis or most decent size cities in this area of the country and say “Hey I’m a remarkable success because I’ve started five companies and blown through a hundred and fifty million dollars in venture money and there’s nothing to show for it.” People would look at you like you should be locked up someplace, where in San Francisco they would be like, “Wow, you raised a hundred and fifty million dollars. Here’s another hundred and fifty million dollars.” That leads to some pretty remarkable new startups that often really contribute a ton to our economy and really the way we do business. It’s not at all a criticism but it is definitely foreign to the way business is done here.


  The way business is done in most of the country is more methodical and people value more incremental success than they do that flash in a pan. The twenty failures and one huge success makes for a successful business person. In this area of the country, it would be quite the opposite.


John Sumser: I think that’s so interesting. I’m not from northern California, but boy when I got here, did I feel like I was at home. The cultural thing that I see is that reinvention is always possible here. Reinvention is always possible so from a … What’s it like to be a human being here, your reputation doesn’t have the longevity of a reputation in the Midwest or the east coast, where you are colored by everything you’ve ever done in your life from the moment you do it. It’s like being in jail.


  Here, your reputation depends … It’s because it’s closer to the frontier, right? Your reputation depends on the value that you contributed five minutes ago, not the value that you contributed fifteen years ago. It’s a much harsher reality. It’s very spartan here and you don’t really get a residual reputation. You are as good as your last gig, and that’s what technical development is like here. It’s why the culture is suited.


  I am a registered member of the Minnesota Sons of the Territorial Pioneers, because my great great great grandmother was just like you and walked across Canada to move to Minneapolis for the weather in the 1840s. She wouldn’t understand a world in which you could be nearly thrown in jail five years ago and end up at the top of the pile today. That’s just not possible and that’s a really hard thing for people to get. I think you’re one of the few who is comfortable in both settings.


Steven Rothberg: I enjoy it. Going to New York, for example, that’s one of those areas where I really look forward to going on, say, a business trip to New York and I really enjoy my time when I’m there. I also really enjoy leaving. The people who live there day in and day out, it’s exhausting, just the pace and battling through traffic and just walking down a sidewalk, you almost feel like you are going to war just to get from one end of the block to the other sometimes, but there is a ton of energy.


  You go into different areas of the country and if you are in downtown San Francisco … You just feel that creative energy and the vision that people are looking for the next best thing. It’s not just a bunch of dreamers that are talking, but they are doing, and they’re in a race to get there before the next person. That energy is really quite amazing.


  You are right that certain areas of the country, like this, people do look back and say oh you have been in business for, well for us it’s been twenty six years, and that’s something that’s admirable and that gives them a sense of trust that if you’ve been around for twenty six years, you must be doing something right. If there is a problem or something goes wrong, we know you are going to be here six months from now to resolve it. You are going to be able to stand behind what you do. I think that says a lot.


  When you are dealing with a startup that has been around for three months, it’s kind of hard to look at them and say we want to sign a one year contract with you and we need to be comfortable that you’re going to be there to support it in a year. I think that’s a challenge that start ups have in most areas of the country. Probably in the Bay area, people just don’t worry about it as much. They accept that as part of the risk of doing business with a startup. There are certainly rewards to doing business with a startup, but there is also a risk there.


John Sumser: Why don’t you take a moment; I’m going to shift back to the real conversation here. Give me a deeper understanding of what you do at college recruiter, what is college recruiter and what does it do?


Steven Rothberg: Sure, yeah no sweat. College recruiter is an interactive recruitment media company. We believe that every college student and recent graduate deserves a great career. What we do is we work with employers, most of them are fortune one thousand or federal government agencies that are trying to hire students and recent graduates of one year, two year, and four year colleges and universities. For us a recent graduate is anybody who’s graduated within a year to three years.


  Typically these employers are larger. They are hiring dozens, hundreds, and sometimes even thousands a year of students and recent graduates. Stereotypically young adults, but they definitely don’t need to be. There’s a significantly higher number of people who are forty, fifty and even sixty years old who are going back to college now than used to be.


  These employers are trying to hire interns, they are trying to hire seasonal help, part time, they might be a retailer, they might be a tax prep firm that really needs the staff up at this time of the year and come April fifteenth, their head count goes way down. It might be military, it might be a government intelligence agency. Some of the biggest tech companies are clients of ours that are hiring software engineers.


  It’s remarkable the number of different opportunities that are out there, and the opportunities that we have to work with different employers. Some of the employers that we work with have very broad hiring needs. Essentially if you have a pulse and you are not currently incarcerated, they want to talk to you. Others are really only willing to speak with the elite students at the elite schools, and only in certain majors.


  That former group, where the employer is really willing to talk to just about anyone, they tend to do things like post job openings on our website because those are fairly untargeted. Our audience is niche, college students and recent grads, but somebody in a healthcare major can pull up a retail associate ad and apply to it. Typically that retailer is going to be fine with that. If they are looking for somebody to be a cashier for the next six months, year, two years, that’s great, no problem.


  other employers, like a big floor accounting firm, they might only be willing to talk to juniors who go to any one of about seventy different schools around the country. They’re they Carnegie Mellons, the NYUs, the Stanfords, the MITs and in certain majors. Accounting, finance, maybe economics, and those students, they want them to be female because there is a gender imbalance in their workforce and they typically want them to be non Caucasian because they’re overstaffed by a bunch of white guys, and they are really trying to diversify their workforce.


  For that employer, the last thing that they want to do is post their job online, whether it’s with us or Indeed or Monster or career builder. They want to get their add in front of a highly targeted group of people. We do that through emails. We have permission to email about seventeen million students and recent grads and we can target them by school, major, year of graduation, diversity et cetera.


  One of the things we did a couple years ago that’s been … I think a really phenomenal new solution is targeted banner ads. They’re two different models of banner advertising. One is based on content, that’s kind of the Google model. The ad is delivered based on the content of the page that you are looking at. If you’re an accounting firm, you are trying to hire accountants, and somebody is looking at a blog article about whether their home office is deductible or not, that’s probably not the person you want to hire. An accountant is going to know that information and is not going to be looking at a blog article, although the blog article is about accounting, it’s about … Well let’s call it accounting for dummies and that’s not who that accounting firm wants to hire.


  The other model of banner advertising is more the Facebook model based upon demographics. That’s where you are going to deliver a banner ad based on who the person is. The problem with that is if they are on Facebook and they are looking at a video of a cute kitten, that is not a moment in time where they are going to be interested in applying to a job, looking at career information.


  What we did is we kind of overlaid the two. We look at the demographics of the user and then the content of the page that they are on. If that accounting student is looking at information about finance, that’s the moment in time where they are likely going to be interested in seeing an opportunity about an internship or entry level job opportunity and so we will deliver the ad to them at that moment in time, but we won’t deliver the ad to them when they are looking at a video of a cute kitten.


  For the employers that we work with that are more selective, that have more difficult hiring needs, that’s been a really great option for them, and we also think it’s in the best interest of the candidate. We are not throwing a bunch of noise and garbage at them, good information but at the wrong time. We are really focused on trying to bring the right opportunity to the right person at the right time.


John Sumser: You know, I’ve been around this stuff for a long time. That’s the most articulate explanation of how to do targeted recruitment advertising that I’ve ever heard. Do you think there are other people in the industry in general outside of the college recruiting market who understand how to do what you just said?


Steven Rothberg: There are. The folks that we’re working with that get it, tend to be some of the top level talent acquisition leaders at the organizations in the country that have the most difficult hiring needs, in a sense that they need to hire a lot of people and it’s very competitive. An example would be a big floor accounting firm that we work with, where they are very sophisticated, they really know what success looks like to them. If we are talking to them about their 2016/2017 media plan, they will come to us, before we make any proposal at all and they will say for this year, this is our goal. These are the people we want to reach, the schools, the majors, the diversity characteristics, and; This is going to be very different from most of the employers that we have an opportunity to work with; they’ll say right up front, this is what success looks like to us. If you can get our brand, our message in front of a hundred thousand of these people, then we will judge that campaign to be successful.


  Other clients might say that a campaign is successful if we can drive a thousand of those candidates to an employer’s website. Other clients will try to take it a step further, but one area that I think has really improved, and this is part of the benefit of having been around for a long time, is that employers are now, not only willing to use metrics as part of deciding whether an ad campaign has been successful or not. It doesn’t even have to necessarily be advertising, it could just be going on campus to do their recruiting. They are willing to look at that, but more and more of them are actually embracing that.


  When we have conversations with an employer now, we can say to them, what’s your average cost of hiring an intern. Most of them now know that, where five years ago, most of them didn’t even know what cost for hire meant, let alone have those numbers. There is definitely some question about how accurate their numbers are, but at least they know the value of it and they are trying hard to have that. If they come to us and they say our average cost of hire is a thousand dollars, then we know we need to design a campaign for them where we believe that our cost is going to be significantly less than a thousand dollars.


  If they come to us with five thousand dollars for a cost per hire, and they are looking at fifty people, well we know the scale of what that proposal should be, and we are not going to give them a proposal for them to spend five thousand dollars if really what they are looking for is something that is a hundred thousand dollars. We all want to spend less money but if it’s an employer that needs to hire ten thousand people this year, we show them how we can help them hire three, they don’t have the time for that. They don’t have the time to deal with three thousand, three hundred and thirty three vendors. We need to be able to show them that we can help them hire a thousand people.


  We have an expression internally, go big or go home. If you need to hire ten thousand people, we need to be able to make a substantial dent in that, because if we can’t, if we can’t show you how to do that in a cost effective way, then you are going to tell us to go home.


John Sumser: Thank you. Thank you, what a great answer. We have zoomed through our allotted time here, Steven. What didn’t I ask you that I should have asked you?


Steven Rothberg: I think one thing would be about the … I think that the pending transformation in how employers hire college students and recent grads. There seems to be, and I think it really started to take hold a year or two ago and it’s accelerating, a dramatically larger number of employers that are really questioning the value of physically going on campus to interview at specific schools and to have their hiring managers locked up in what most of the schools call interview rooms and most of the rest of us would call broom closets.


  The cost of flying a recruiting team around the country to interview at ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred schools, is staggering. These folks are on the road from the beginning of September to the middle of November. They are working twenty four seven, they are eating in hotel restaurants and grabbing food at Hardee’s and stuff like that, whenever they can. It’s not a pretty experience for most of them. Yes they get to have some nice dinners, and get to go football games at homecoming but it’s an incredibly inefficient process to be flying your team around the country interviewing candidates.


  What has really started to change is that more and more of those employers, now that they are looking at the actual metrics, that they can see that using other tools, interactive media, whether it’s a college recruiter or Indeed or LinkedIn or a career builder or whatever, that you can reach those same people in a more efficient effective manner and you can do it [inaudible 00:28:18].


  We were having a conversation yesterday with a consulting firm and they, for 2016/2017, they are no longer doing any campus recruiting. Two years ago, a hundred percent of their university relations was on campus. Next year, zero percent is on campus. They’re shifting hundreds of thousands of dollars from flying recruiters around the country and they are going to be shifting that into interactive media.


  One of the reasons is it used to be that the hiring managers would come to the recruiting team a year in advance and they would say we need twenty eight people that have these skills. Now because the pace of business has increased so much and the world has just become more dynamic, they can’t get that information a year in advance. They’ll get it two months in advance. You cannot plan out a college recruiting program and line up dates and get your recruiters out and go and hire the right people with only two months of advance notice.


  They’ve been forced into looking at other solutions and when they’ve done that, and they said this in a call yesterday, they said that they think their cost of hire is going to drop by about fifty percent, by not having to pay for as many hotel rooms and delicious MacDonald’s breakfasts.


John Sumser: Fantastic. I really really appreciate the depth with which you view the world in which you work. It’s delightful. Would you wrap this up and give the people who are listening a couple bullet points that you would like to be sure they remember?


Steven Rothberg: Sure. Absolutely. Certainly anybody should feel free to contact me. My direct dial is 952-217-0793. They can email me Steven, connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, @StevenRothberg. College recruiter is the leading interactive recruitment media firm for employers who are looking to hire college students and recent grads. Guiding us in every decision we make, hopefully, is that the underlying belief that we have, that every college student and recent graduate deserves a great career.


John Sumser: Its been wonderful to talk with you Steven. Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to come do this. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner radio, I’m John Sumser. It’s been great to talk with you and I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Bye bye now.


End transcript

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