Recruitment lessons from universities

Last week, I attended an information session for post-graduate students held by my alma mater UTS, exploring if a PHD is a mountain I dare climb.

Information sessions conducted by universities are often slick marketing affairs aimed at winning new students. And UTS didn’t disappoint. From the day I received an invitation as part of my alumni club membership (How universities capitalise from their alumni network is a story for another day) to being entertained with drinks and food on the night of the event, the whole affair to recruit new students is a well oiled operation.

The evening event unfolded on time. Hundreds of potential students who turned up were herded into a conference room where an intense period of selling ensued. One by one, distinguished academics and current students took turns extolling the worth of a post-graduate education, mainly the UTS kind. Soon after, potential students were separated into different rooms where more intense one-on-one discussions took place. All staff were on hand to answer any queries attendees may have. All in all it was a pleasant experience; a useful platform for any new student to understand how life as a post-graduate student at UTS would be like.

I believe there are many recruiting lessons to learn from universities. Four points comes to mind.

First, I was impressed, not only by the smooth running of the event, but by the enthusiasm, cajoling and helpfulness of the UTS staff and faculty members. Years ago, a Director at my former workplace said something in the line of – ‘regardless of whether we hire someone or not, we ought to make everyone we encounter wished they’d work with us’. UTS did such a good job at canoodling and selling their story that I ended up wishing to enroll in a course, even though I found out a PHD is too steep a mountain to climb, for now.

Secondly, universities approach recruitment with deep respect for the fact that potential students have other options. UTS is acutely aware that it’s in a fight to win the hearts and minds of potential students. When was the last time your company felt this way? Alas, most companies have little respect for the fact that talented people have options. Much of UTS recruitment strategy is based on the fear that they could lose students at the drop of a hat. Fear makes one to have a sharp focus.

Thirdly, how often does your company organize one-on-one information sessions to engage potential new recruits? This is what escapes me. Companies poured money, time and resources to conjure a favourable employment brand. Most mediums – websites, newspapers, radio, TV and lately social media are utlised to attract talent. And yet, the most simple and powerful tenet of attraction – people to people interaction – is ignored. Universities go to great lengths to arranged face-to -face information sessions, because there is no medium more effective than human interaction.

Finally, armed with the knowledge that survival depends on maintaining a steady supply of new students, universities seldom rest on past laurels. UTS have over 32,000 enrolled students, and can be forgiven for complacency. Yet every semester, they up the ante, often trialing new strategies to reach out to new potential students. When the best institute of learning in the world, Harvard University, hardly rest on its laurels there is little excuse for employers to be complacent, or not try new things.

Of course, universities are far from perfect. The point is, doing the same in an increasingly tumultuous recruitment environment will not produce results. Reaching out is key. For a start, why not invite 100 local Twitterers to attend your company’s Friday night drinks.


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