Recruiting outside London? Follow the US Army’s lead

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It is party conference time and I’m at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

I am not a party member, but running an executive search firm that takes a lot of candidates from those who are involved in politics means we need to attend all three of the main party conferences.

The spikes in employment, hotel-room occupancy and traffic that these pop-up events produce is dizzying. But that is all it is – a dizzying spike in activity. These cities – Manchester, which has just hosted the Labour party, Glasgow, where the Liberal Democrats will gather soon, and other places such as Leeds, Newcastle, and Bristol – have so much more to offer.

I know filling roles in the UK regions can be challenging. But London is an expensive place to live, and the quality of life for those starting their careers could be better elsewhere, so working outside the capital can be an attractive proposition.

So how can companies attract great talent to the regions? I was struck by a recent podcast by Sanjeev Agrawal, cofounder of Collegefeed. He has four suggestions for companies looking to nab the best graduates, wherever the job.

1. If you put on an event, or host a virtual information session, showcase your fastest risers and the interns or graduates who have done well. This sends a simple but powerful message: “If you come work for us, you will get to work with awesome people like these.”

2. Go online, it’s where the students are. Mr Agrawal encourages companies to invest in an attractive, content-rich website from which students can learn about the organisation. If you want to recruit engineers from Imperial College, find an Imperial alumnus among your staff, interview them on the site, and use social media as well. However, be careful. Mr Agrawal points out that most online communities do not like being marketed to, so “be authentic, add value to users, and be cautious of blatant self-promotion”.

3. Make the application process easy and engaging. Is your application form complicated and lengthy? Maybe that should be reserved for second-round selection. In the first instance, making the chance to express interest in your company simple and quick may pay talent dividends. And don’t forget, engagement is key, so stay in touch after meeting would-be employees (online and in person). Even if they don’t want to apply now, they might do so in the future.

4. Prioritise meaning over giveaways. Lots of companies give things away at careers fairs, but Mr Agrawal says what matters is their mission, and that: “Whatever you do, you should be able to get the message out online – in a 20 or 30 second video.” He cites the US Army’s recruitment videos, which indeed impress.

If you get this right, it won’t just be you doing the talking, because it will get forwarded all over the place – even to distant parts of the UK.

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