Playing Hard to Get: How Higher Ed. Institutions Can Attract Employees Who Become Brand Advocates.

This article is part of a series exploring how to leverage your brand to reach right-fit audiences. For more, read our thoughts on attracting students who are more likely to thrive at your institution.

When it comes to attracting the ideal employee, higher education institutions could take a page from the dating playbook. 

We’re not talking about courting every candidate who winks at you, Casanova. On the contrary. Your higher ed. institution should play hard to get.

If your institution has ever had to manage a professor’s misconduct; if HR is flooded with hundreds of applications for a single position; if you experience a high employee turnover rate, guess what? 

It’s not a coincidence.

You may not be attracting enough of the right faculty or staff who align with your institution’s values, vision and purpose. And it’s because your overarching brand isn’t embedded in the recruitment process. It must be, full stop. 

To attract the right candidates, decrease turnover, or prevent a public personnel crisis, you first need to put your brand’s best foot forward.

Put your brand first.
Put out fewer fires later.

Your institution’s researchers, leaders and faculty are highly visible. Some certainly more than others. That means if there’s any turnover, internal discord, or misconduct, your institution can’t hide it. Not for long, anyway. 

You’ve either seen it in headlines or worse, experienced it yourself: an institution releases a statement that addresses a rogue professor whose words or actions were less than exemplary. “These actions do not reflect the values of our institution” are words you never want to have to say, write, or Tweet.

Ultimately, internal-turned-public damage leaves a lasting negative impact on your reputation as a credible institution. It can influence fundraising efforts and enrolment numbers. 

If you think you can’t control everything your faculty or staff does or says, you’re right. But what you can control is the prioritization of hiring talent who pass the brand buy-in test at the outset of your recruiting process. It’s basically risk mitigation. 

Skills are teachable. Values are inherent.

It all comes down to this: When your brand isn’t introduced into the conversation until the second round of interviews, it’s already too late. Talent who have the resume but do not share the values of your institution’s brand can easily slip in when your brand is left as an afterthought. Then, when the challenges come (as they always do) what will they do? They’re no longer a flight risk. They’ve already taken off.

It’s easier for an employee to justify leaving when they’re not aligned nor invested in their workplace’s values. This is true in any industry. Those who don’t hold your brand in high regard will take the place of other worthy talents who do.

How to hire the right people for your higher ed. institution.

There’s plenty of fish in the sea. But if you’re casting too wide a net, you’re doing it wrong. 

Your institution doesn’t need to be generically attractive to every qualified candidate. You want to attract the just-right type of employee by plugging into the sensibilities that mean the most to you. Those sensibilities live in the DNA of your brand.

Simply put, to attract the right people who will be champions of your brand and values, you have to narrow your focus — and play hard to get. 

Here are a few things you can do to revamp employee recruitment:

  • Involve human resources. This may seem like a no-brainer. But oftentimes, your brand isn’t at the forefront of HR’s minds when they’re interviewing a candidate. Think about it: They’re the gatekeepers of it. Communicating your brand should be a part of everything they do as recruiters, not just sussing out the hard skills needed for a position. Therefore, your marketing and HR departments need to be on the same page when it comes to branding. While assessing the basic qualifications when screening candidates, there must be a “good feeling” about the person’s values, vision and potential for brand buy-in. If not, the gates might as well be left open.
  • Job listing communication. Get specific about who you are looking for and don’t be shy. Explicitly spell out your brand’s vision and purpose in your job listings and what you expect from a candidate beyond their hard skills. Offer a challenging “Only apply if this environment appeals to you” statement in your job listing. That’s how you play hard to get. It goes a long way in creating more desire for the right candidate, and makes the others second-guess if they are truly a good fit.
  • Values over qualifications. When you’re down to two candidates, you have some hard choices to make. If you choose the person with the stronger resume, no one would fault you. But when it’s a tie between a candidate with a better resume, and a person better aligned with your brand, pick the latter. Skills are teachable. Values are inherent. 

The right talent will build your brand with you.

Your recruitment efforts are hyper-focused on students, and rightfully so. Throughout each and every recruitment campaign, your brand takes center stage. It models what your institution is all about — without requiring a campus visit.

Your institution solicits support from alumni and donors with your brand voice as the siren song, too. After all, when your alumni proudly tout that they bleed the school colours, you know you’ve done something right. 

Employee recruitment efforts, then, need the same forethought and treatment. And too often, they don’t. Your brand should be infused into every aspect of your communications and messaging. Not just when they’re hired and receive a “Welcome to the ____ Nation!” swag package.

Your brand is more than graphic design and a carefully curated colour palette. It’s an expression of the purpose of your institution. Inherent in your day-to-day decision making, your purpose serves as a beacon to all who are called to identify with it. It’s a rallying cry for students, faculty and staff from all walks of life who want to raise their fists in camaraderie. 

This all-important brand expression, if displayed at the outset of your talent recruitment efforts, will not only attract the top talent you need, it will also attract the just-right talent who will seamlessly buy into your brand, uphold its values with reverence, and eventually bleed the school colours, too.

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