Want Top Talent? MARKET Your Positions!

MARKETING PLAN concept words

The goal of any hiring process is to hire the best person for the position. The problem is that we hire the best person in the candidate pool and assume that we have everyone in the pool who would be interested in our position. That’s a bad assumption.

It has been my experience that most student affairs units do virtually nothing to market their positions. That is, they will advertise in the various higher education periodicals and on social media, but do nothing beyond that to market the position, or promote their units or their institution as a way to interest possible candidates in their position. The result is that our pools do not include everyone who might be interested in the position.

The main assumptions behind this lack of marketing and promotion appear to be:

“It is self-evident that people would want to work with us. All we need to do is post an opening and they will flock to it.”

“It is the applicant’s job to sell themselves to us, not our job to sell ourselves to them.”

“Anyone interested in a job like this will see our position announcement.”

I learned to think differently about this early in my career because I worked at a place where we did not have the luxury to have these assumptions and, in fact, we had proof that they were baseless. The place about which I speak was Residence Life at Stony Brook in the early 1980s. We had a terrible reputation and couldn’t get people to work there despite dramatic improvements that were made (Case in point: In my first hiring cycle we had 15 RD openings, interviewed 15 candidates, made 15 offers, and had ONE person accept!). We realized that we had to do things differently in order to get more people to apply for our positions and have positions accepted when offered.

We decided we needed to be assertive and intentional about letting people know about all the good things that were happening in the department and the changes that had been made. One thing we came up with was our “Resume.” We knew we had to sell ourselves to candidates, so we wrote a document that looked like and was formatted like a resume but outlined the reasons why someone would want to work in our department and the opportunities available to candidates at the institution. We brought this document to all conferences and mailed it to grad programs and departments of residence life. It worked and helped us recruit and convince professionals that we were a good place to work and Stony Brook ended up using that idea for more than 15 years.

The lessons learned at Stony Brook have stayed with me throughout my career, and so I have continued to market positions even at places that had decent reputations. I came to realize that marketing and promoting positions was a way to tell our story, promote our work, and improve our department through the hiring of top-flight candidates.

Before I share some basic tips regarding marketing, one first needs to challenge the assumptions about the need to market and promote positions, especially the three I mentioned above:

“It is self-evident that people would want to work for us.”

Other than for a handful of nationally known institutions, it is not self-evident why someone should apply to the position in your department at your institution. You may think it is a fabulous place to work, but how would anyone outside your institution know that? Without telling the outside world, it is merely a position in a department indistinguishable from positions and departments at other institutions. Top candidates have a choice as to where they will work. You need to let people know why working at your institution and in your department is the right choice.

“It is the applicant’s job to sell themselves to us, not our job to sell ourselves to them.”

Consider how arrogant this assumption is. A hiring process is a mutual selection process between the hiring institution and the applicant. Both have to be convinced they are right for each other. Applicants need to be wooed!! And one of the best ways to woo applicants is to run an effective and caring search process. The goal should be to have even those not receiving the job offer leave as fans of the unit and institution.

“Anyone looking for a job will see our position announcement.”

At least one problem with this assumption is that some people who might be interested in your position AREN’T looking for a job. There are great potential candidates who aren’t actively seeking a new job, but when they see an incredible opportunity may choose to apply. It is important to go beyond trying to attract those already looking for a job and try to reach those who are happy in their current position, but possibly open to something even better.

Once you are convinced about the importance of marketing, consider these tips:

Recognize that advertising is not marketing

Advertising is announcing and distributing a position opening. Marketing includes the activities and processes for creating, communicating, and promoting offerings (e.g., job openings) that have value to target audiences, the general public, and society at large. Marketing is also a mindset where individuals seek ways to communicate and promote their offerings through virtually everything they do, write, and say.

Get creative

When it comes to marketing positions, student affairs presents a wide open opportunity, because so few units and divisions market positions. There is very little marketing and promoting going on. For example, as far as we can tell, our video promoting the campus dean position at NYIT is the first time anyone in student affairs has marketed a specific position with a video (http://buff.ly/1RJi3We).

Borrow ideas from other industries. Analyze ads and commercials that catch your attention. Discuss your target audiences and ways of reaching them. Discuss ways to differentiate your position or unit from others in the field. Analyze what your competition is doing to attract top talent.

Don’t just market the position; market the unit, division, and institution

At Rutgers University each year the Student Affairs division developed a “brag sheet.” This was a one-page sheet (front and back) of accomplishments, awards, and milestones regarding the division that went out with every job announcement. The first year is was a Word document, but then we got creative. The next year we designed it to look like a Facebook page and the following year it was a Twitter page. Both the content and the format communicated about the division and why someone would want to work there.

Obviously, this is just a brief post and only begins to touch on a topic not often discussed in the student affairs search process, but there is so much out there on marketing in other fields that could be applied to our work. If you want to stand out and be different, this is one way to do just that!

Follow me at @pglove33!


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