Lessons From the Field: 5 Recruiting Strategies from College Athletics

May 26, 2015 - Joe Matar
As the backbone of athletic programs at almost every university, college athletes know what it means to be in demand. Whether it’s for the field, the court, or the pool, college athletic recruiters have to do whatever it takes to entice — and retain — the highest quality talent that will last for four years. If there’s anything that college athletics and companies have in common, it’s the need to be aggressive when it comes to recruiting. In today’s increasingly competitive market, job seekers have the power — and companies are in serious need of talented, skilled employees. The same goes for college athletics: the expectations for athletes have never been higher, and colleges want the best of the best. Whether it’s scholarships, early class registration or even free swag, college athletic recruiters have an array of tricks up their sleeves. But they understand that recruiting is about more than just perks: relationships matter more, from start to finish. As company recruiters, we stand to gain some much-needed insight from these athletic powerhouses. so get in the game with these recruiting strategies from the field: (Click here to tweet these recruiting strategies.)

1. Build your starting lineup

A winning team starts with the right players, so college sports teams are always on the hunt for their next superstar. It makes perfect sense: between sponsorship opportunities, personal networks, advertising opportunities and alumni groups, first-string athletes bring increased attention (and don’t forget monetary support!) to athletic programs. As a company recruiter, it’s your job to consider every employee’s impact on the bottom line. No matter the role, in today’s data-driven market, it’s essential to tie individual contributions to departmental ROI. Any new hire should be metrics-minded, with clear ideas on how their role will impact a company’s overall success. So pay attention to an employee’s potential weight at your company, because every employee should be a strategic addition to the starting lineup.

2. Athlete engagement = employee engagement

Over the years, college recruiters have learned a tough lesson: not every athlete wants to play college sports. For whatever reason, some players plan on ending their athletic careers after high school — meaning it takes a lot of extra work to attain the best talent. For company recruiters, it’s not so different: as it turns out, not every quality candidate is actually searching for a new job. Today, 45 percent of job seekers are satisfied in their current job, according to Jobvite’s latest report — but are open to a new one. But passive candidates can be excellent potential employees; they’re clearly already in demand. Recruiting passive candidates starts with strong relationships, so make a point to nurture them no matter the immediate return. Offer informational interviews with company leadership to help sway potential candidates, but understand if they’re not ready to make the switch just yet. You never know where they’ll show up in the future, and a little goodwill is never lost.

3. There is no “I” in team

Athletic recruiters understand how important the team dynamic can be when choosing a college. To make sure an athlete has the full picture before they decide, athletic recruiters often invite potential team members to participate in team practices, alumni events and even social hours. For both the athletes and the recruiters, this experience helps determine culture fit and sheds important light onto the potential team dynamic when adding a new athlete into the mix. As companies today are become more team-oriented, recruiters should take note of this strategy. It’s impossible to determine how a candidate will fit with your company if they can’t experience the culture firsthand. Invite potential employees to shadow a team member for a day, or host a networking event or happy hour that brings candidates into the office and gets them interacting with your staff. After all, the most successful teams must be able to work together, on and off the field.

4. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

When it comes to an athlete’s college career, engagement is key — and not just at the beginning. Let’s face it: the demands of playing a college sports would wear on anyone, so keeping athletes excited, interested and invested is arguably the most important part of a recruiter’s job. College recruiters make sure to check in with athletes regarding progress, expectations and personal success, ensuring that players are fully engaged with their teams throughout their tenure. At a company, this practice is even more crucial. With skilled talent constantly in demand, employees could easily jump ship if engagement starts to wane. Our Job Seeker Nation report for 2014 revealed that 38 percent of job seekers say work-life balance is a major factor in accepting a new job, and 35 percent cite growth opportunities as important — so make sure you’re catering to what matters most. Employee satisfaction requires almost constant maintenance, and priorities change as employee tenure lengthens. Keep tabs on what employees need to stay engaged, and work with them to achieve it.

5. Go the extra mile

College recruiters will pull out all the stops to woo a great player. Scholarships are just the beginning: many schools entice talent with free food (Division I student athletes receive unlimited comped meals), customized clothing and private exercise facilities. One University of Oregon football coach even sent prospective players hand-drawn portraits! Clearly, college recruiters aren’t afraid to offer a little extra — and company recruiters shouldn’t be afraid either. After all, 61 percent of job seekers consider compensation the most impactful reason for accepting a new job. Some companies already offer signing bonuses, dog-friendly offices and work-from-home privileges to seal the deal on a great candidate, so don’t be afraid to up the ante if you can afford it. While relationships are the cornerstone of recruiting quality talent, perks can help seal the deal on a must-have candidate. Kimberley Kasper is the Chief Marketing Officer at Jobvite, responsible for all areas of marketing including marketing communications, programs, and operations. She has spent over 20 years working for SaaS and cloud technology companies.