Last year was my first recruiting year and everything was a mess. No one told me that applications had to be in to our grad school by January until the day before the deadline and that just started everything off on the wrong foot. I advertised a position on several listserves and the response was lukewarm, maybe even lukecool. I corresponded with a couple of applicants, but for various reasons those discussions dissolved and I ended up taking on a student from the pool of departmental applicants, who did not get accepted to a different lab in the department that they had wanted to go to. It's worked out well, but that wasn't exactly how I expected things to go.
This year has been totally different. I have several highly qualified applicants who have already contacted me. Some have experience in exactly what we work on and others have experiences that would help them take on the data from a couple of our projects. I could easily accept a few of the students who I will have to decide between and hopefully I will have the opportunity to take on more than one.
What's changed? In many ways not a lot. The lab hasn't published much of significant impact this year, so certainly it's not that students this year are suddenly exposed to our published brilliance in ways that students last year could not have been. We had a website up last year the same way we do this year and we don't have any more of a web presence.
But perception has changed. I think it has to be that it took the community here a bit to catch up to the fact that the lab was up and running. Most of the applicants (though not all) this year know someone doing research in our field who suggested they take a look at the lab. Last year everything was just getting established and it wasn't until the conference season this year that we were fully geared up and I had students presenting data at meetings. I think that was the tipping point in terms of other researchers fully recognizing that I had moved and established my own shop that they could suggest that their students check out.
It's great not to have to work to get students interested in the lab, but have them contact me. I already had one student in mind for this application cycle, but now it looks like I'll have a bunch to chose from.