Lately I’ve been thinking about how we got to be so adversarial in the recruiting game. Fun fact, I started my career as a college cheer coach. But because many, at the time, didn’t view this as a full-time job, I was titled a Manager of New Student Programs (or something like that). But in reality, I was coaching an elite, division III college cheer team. These kids were a whopping one year older than me and I was charged with not only coaching them, but you guessed it, recruiting them.
I got to thinking how different it is recruiting college athletes is from recruiting a marketing manager. I would send a lot of time watching video of cheer programs and identify the stars I wanted on my team When I was recruiting cheerleaders, I would blanket all the best high school cheer programs with letters and brochures. I was calling coaches, talking to families and kids. I was actively courting them and work with the financial aid office to get them the offer that would make them say YES to my team. Think about the high touch experience the top talent got from my small program. So, yeah, I have been doing recruitment marketing since my first job. The irony, I didn’t even realize it until like right now.
But think about how we identify, attract, and recruit college athletes and how different it is from recruiting employees. I mean, it is the same word, but the experience is worlds apart and I cannot figure out why. The best employees will make all the difference to a billion-dollar company. Yet, we don’t seem to be operating on the same playing field (mom joke intended).
Recruiting a college athlete is about planning. It’s about knowing who’s on your roster, their strengths and weaknesses. It’s about keeping the athlete and their family happy, engaged, and excited. My program didn’t have any black holes in it. I would personally deliver applications to the admissions office. I would call athletes and let them know their status (this was pre-internet, so, yeah, phone calls). But the key difference was essentially workforce planning, candidate, and employee experience.
When I talk to recruiters I am often gob smacked by their req loads. There is no way to manage 15 great candidates or leads on 50 reqs. We’d be talking about managing 750 potential cheerleader relationships. I was usually looking at maybe 200 kids every year. Not 200 kids every month, so, I get it. We are all underwater with no floaties and the sharks are coming. It’s so hard to give high touch to all the candidates on our reqs. All that being said, there are things we can start doing to deliver a better experience for our recruiting that can be learned from that recruiting:
Get better at planning
Recruiting cheerleaders was all about knowing who I was going to lost to graduation at the end of the year. I know how many people I was going to need to replace and I also knew if I wanted to expand the team. I could plan for that. Losing a kid to transfer mid-season was a bummer, but, it happened. But because we had so many good relationships with the kids who didn’t select us, we would call and see how they were doing at their current school, and before you know it, we had someone transferring into our program. Now, I know that this doesn’t always translate to our world, but why doesn’t it. We need to know if our leadership has a big expansion planned and we should be building relationships with talent well ahead of that need. We also know generally how many people we lose every year. Same story, we need to get ahead of that and start pipelining earlier.
Work harder on keeping people
What amazing things could happen if you cut your turn over rate by simply talking to your people to learn what they need. This piece was recently published on Harvard Business Review and it blew my mind. The number 1 thing employees want good air. AIR! That is what we call having the bar on the floor. As we continue to invent new perks, we keep forgetting to involve the people we are creating these perks for. You’d be surprised how many people you could keep if we could just do more listening to the people we want to keep. Each year at the college, we would sit down with kids we were trying to recruit to talk about what they were looking for. We listened. We implemented what we could and when we couldn’t implement things, we told them quickly and why. We tried to be open and transparent and it was helpful to everyone. The fastest way to cut the req load is to keep more people from leaving. We all should be accountable for this.
Automation is our friend, turn it on
Since I was only managing hundreds of schools and coaches and a few hundred potential athlete relationships in a year, it was not that unmanageable. It just took a good plan, but it was busy! If I had this job again, I would absolutely be using my automation to email parents and text kids. I would have video assets. I would have those assets plugged into drip and trigger campaigns and I would create content that felt incredibly personal even if it wasn’t. There would never be a “email@example.com” . I know a lot of brands right now are sitting on really capable CRMs. Turn. Them. On.
For those who are wondering, my team was 3rd in the nation at our peak and I was fired from the job after a public disagreement with the college president over recruiting. It all turned out for the best.