If companies want to attract the best undergraduates, they're going to have to do more than send a few employees on the milk round. Here are a few ideas …

The recruitment battle is escalating.

If industry statistics are anything to go by, recruiting the right people is going to get tougher. It will simply not be enough to get a few employees to make presentations at universities and occupy stands at careers fairs. Companies are going to have to promote themselves better to young people, and, in short, put themselves in their shoes. And that means different things at different times of university life.

First year: Sowing the seeds

The first term at university consists of a whirlwind of new experiences: new home, new friends, a student loan, copious amounts of booze and, of course, some study.

By the second term, the excitement is beginning to die down: your room at home has been replaced by a study, the loan is disappearing fast and the cupboard is stocked full of beans in preparation for the long, barren weeks until your next loan instalment. Coursework deadlines are nearing and exams are around the corner. Panic sets in as you really don't want to fail your first year and you begin to work harder.

My advice to companies here is not to waste time promoting themselves directly to young people at this stage of study, as it's probably too early to consider the notion of working in the real world.

However, inviting students and their parents (who would have no doubt funded most of their child's escapades throughout their first year) to a promotional day in the office could be beneficial. Lay on some food and drink (no doubt the student would be grateful for both!), and get some young graduates to talk about the good old days with the students while you set about impressing the socks off the parents.

Second year: Change of focus

Year two, term one: an altogether different and more serious experience. Following a summer full of counselling from parents, you are now a more mature and well-rounded individual. You've moved out of halls and your timetable seems to be occupied by lectures conveniently scheduled for the morning after the local student night out, so turning up a pale shade of green is the norm.

In my experience, by the third year undergraduates have already made the decision of which company to work for

A helpful hint here is for companies to start employing a gentle recruitment approach. Why not try appealing to students at this stage by convincing them that the world of work can be a fun and exciting place. Organise a sports or social event: full-time employees vs prospective young employees. It would be a great opportunity for students to network and relay to others how they met people at J Bloggs Ltd's promotional day. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool.

Year two, term two: the realisation that results from this year get taken forward and affect your final degree cause more focus to be placed on study. The need to get some sort of work experience has been driven home and thoughts turn to the summer or year-out placement looming later in the year. Most interviews for vacancies are due to begin and the milk rounds will be in full flow …

At this stage, the student will have a rough idea of what area they would ideally like to work in. So, promotional efforts should turn to catering for the individual in recognition that every person is different. A structured recruitment model that appeals to a diverse range of people is essential.

The following is a summary of other ways to appeal to young people at different stages of their university life.

Generate awareness of your brand by offering first years branded stationery, book tokens and subscriptions n Capture students' interest by promoting your company's strengths to second-year students be offering travel loans, flexible benefits packages and a friendly work environment. And then there's varied work experience, access to mentors and sponsorship and other support for final-year study.

In my experience, by the third year you've already made the decision of which company to work for. It is an exciting time for undergraduates, who have a number of options at their fingertips.

They hold the gold, you have to find out how to prise it from them and then hold on to it - but that is another article …