Use a Recruiting Advisory Board to Improve Your Recruiting

Recruiting is a form of marketing where it is crucial to understand the unique needs of each of your niche customers. Unfortunately, it is difficult for most managers and recruiters to understand the unique needs and wants of certain groups of people. Since the workforce gets less homogeneous as each day passes, recruiters now need “insider” advice to better understand the needs of those whom they are recruiting. Developing unique and tailored messages that increase the quality and the volume of applicants is essential if you want to win the “war” for talent. For example, it’s quite a stretch to send managers to college campuses wearing “wingtip shoes” and driving their “father’s Oldsmobile”–and expect the students to relate to them. (I know several recruiters who think “South Park” is a park and “Ice T” is a drink!) Keeping abreast is especially difficult in certain areas, which I describe as “harder for outsiders to understand” interest areas. Such interest areas might include those of Gen-Xer’s, older workers, recent immigrants, and working women. The difficulty in understanding the people you are trying to recruit (or retain) is not limited to age or diversity. As little as a decade ago, it was possible for a recruiter to understand a majority of the jobs they recruited for. But times and jobs have changed. For example, knowing the terminology and relating to complex software “geeks” is not easy in a software world that changes at Internet speed. If recruiting (and retention) efforts are be successful in these “harder for outsiders to understand” interest areas, recruiters need to get “second opinions” before they implement a recruiting strategy. One of the best solutions to this problem is to develop a “recruiting advisor board” made up of both internal and external members of these unique groups. Some of the reasons that second opinions are becoming more necessary in recruiting include:

  • Free agents. Candidates have changed also. As the power has shifted toward the applicant, they have become more and more like free agents. As the job market tightens, applicants demand more control over their jobs, and understanding their changing “demands” is crucial.
  • Globalization. Seeking talent where it lives around the world means that recruiters must understand numerous different cultures and their laws. Recruiters must also understand the needs and expectations of workers from numerous countries.
  • Diversity. As diverse and special interest groups increase in numbers and power in the workforce, recruiters need to understand their unique needs.
  • New workers. As Generations X, Y, and Z enter the workforce, their unique perspectives and lifestyles must be taken into account.
  • Technology. In a world that changes at Internet speed, information changes so rapidly that recruiters can seldom understand the changing skills for most technical jobs.

Who else uses advisory boards?Universities, affirmative action offices, foundations, and product development teams routinely use advisory boards and focus groups to help steer their programs. Product development and marketing professionals in particular are experts in getting outside opinions. Three of the most effective tools used by market researchers to understand their customers are focus groups, surveys, and advisory boards. In this article, let’s focus on the last one of these: advisory boards. The goals of a recruiting advisory board might include:

  • Understanding the factors that cause an applicant to begin the job search
  • Knowing which media and messages to use in order to reach them
  • Understanding the factors that cause an applicant to seek out a particular company
  • Identifying the job acceptance and “deal breaking” factors of applicants
  • Providing individual help in recruiting and closing candidates
  • Developing unique and tailored messages that increase the quality and the volume of applicants and help maintain a competitive advantage over other firms

The basic steps in setting up a recruitment advisory board include:

  1. Get top management buy-in for the concept.
  2. Appoint a team leader to manage the process.
  3. Identify the areas of future job growth.
  4. Identify job areas in which you are having difficulty finding and closing candidates.
  5. Identify technical areas in which you have difficulty understanding the candidates and/or the jobs.
  6. Identify under-represented diversity or special interest groups.
  7. Develop a tentative list of the types of interests that need to be represented on the board.
  8. Develop criteria for selecting the board members. (Members may be current recruiters that are members of your targeted interest areas or they may be primarily employees from outside HR. On occasion, non-employees can even be used.)
  9. Draft general expectations for the role of each member (number of hours, the type of advice needed, whether any hands-on recruiting is expected, possible rewards, and a list of specific responsibilities).
  10. Either solicit volunteers or ask key managers to appoint representatives.
  11. Provide members with a basic overview of the board’s goals and any necessary training in recruiting. Team members can develop the board’s governing rules.
  12. Have recruiters “test” basic recruitment strategies during board meetings (usually monthly), and ask for advice on how to modify them.
  13. Ask individual board members to conduct focus groups, do informal surveys, or to assist directly in the recruitment of a candidate in their interest area as necessary.
  14. Have board members analyze retention strategies for current employees in critical jobs.
  15. Develop metrics to assess the impact of the advisory board on your recruitment and retention efforts.
  16. Modify membership and roles if needed in order to increase the board’s impact.

Possible problems Generally, recruiting advisory boards are not advocacy groups or substitutes for EE0 or affirmative action. Although there might be some overlap and cooperation between these roles, the primary function of a recruiting board is to help us improve the design of our recruiting tools and strategies, so that we can successfully recruit more individuals from these “harder for outsiders to understand” interest areas. Efforts to get “perfect representation” and to expand the role outside of the recruiting function are bound to fail. Conclusion As the workforce becomes less homogeneous, the role of the recruiter will become increasingly more difficult. As applicants in different “interest areas” like women, working mothers, gays, Gen-Xer’s and “geeks” become more unique and demanding, recruiters need to develop new ways to better understand their needs. In addition to market research tools like focus groups and surveys, advisory boards can play a major role in helping recruiters understand their target market. By involving members from these interest areas, recruiters can get the help they need, and avoid recruiting efforts that are out of alignment with the applicant’s unique “culture.”

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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