Talent Attraction Tips from a Clemson Football Recruiter to Corporate Recruiters

School is back in full swing. Football season is kicking into high gear. Now is the time for talent acquisition teams to take a few pointers from college football recruiting. 

As a former Clemson University football recruiter, I saw first hand what recruits look for when considering a school and selecting a football program. Now, working in employer brand, I have noticed many parallels between the two. Here are a few ways recruiters can look to college football recruiters to up their game. 

The Relationship

In college football recruiting, it is important to start developing relationships early in a student athlete’s career. And it’s equally important to continue to strengthen them as time goes on. Potential recruits talk to dozens of schools, so at Clemson, we always made a point to reinforce relationships as early as possible. 

Alexis Cubit, writer at “The State” discussed one recruit, Robert Gunn’s, experience from this past season. “But before experiencing Clemson, he experienced Bill Spiers. The Tigers’ director of recruiting first took an interest in Gunn before his junior season last year. Spiers would check in about once a month to see how Gunn was doing both as a football player and a teenager.” This is how Clemson shows recruits they genuinely care about the recruit, and are interested in their lives on and off the field. 

“‘It just shows how much they care about you, how interested they are in you,’ Gunn said. ‘They’re not just like a robot, per se, just all business and recruiting. They just want to actually build a relationship with you and get to know you.’” 

This means building relationships with people before needing to fill a specific job. Who are the people in your network? How do you stay connected? Who are the candidates you’ve met who perhaps weren’t quite ready to commit to a job, yet would still be a great addition to your team? Are you staying in touch with silver medalist candidates? If not, why not? How do you nurture relationships with people in your CRM? 

Consider checking in on your candidates, asking them how things are going, and asking what you can be doing to help them through the process. This not only sets you apart as a potential employer, but it also sets you up for a successful relationship once they transition into the employee experience. 

Once you set a good foundation, make sure you continue to think about this relationship between employee and employer as communal, instead of transactional. For instance, once a recruit becomes a student athlete at Clemson University, they are expected to go to class, do well in school, and give 110% at practice every day. If they accomplish these things, they get to play for Clemson. These are the basic expectations that the coaches have for their players. 

For employees, the transaction occurs “when an employee provides a skill for the employer in return for a salary or a wage.” We want to think beyond this transactional relationship, to a communal relationship. Founder + CEO of exaqueo, Susan Lamotte, discusses this in detail in her piece, “Beyond EVP: The Future of Employer Brand.” In a communal relationship, “the basis of benefit is concern for the other's welfare. In other words, trading benefit for benefit versus benefit as a reaction to a need.” 

Clemson football’s program P.A.W. Journey is another great example here. “Passionate. About. Winning.” is a leadership program to develop Clemson football athletes through personal growth, life skills, and professional development. They take the extra step, investing in their players, helping them become better people, better teammates, and better prepared for their future. For employers this means caring for your employees, asking for feedback to improve their experience, and understanding that employees bring their “whole selves” to work, as seen in Harvard Business Review. This Whole Self Model explains that there are three additional components beyond just the “work” part of the employee engagement, including the internal self, the external self, and relationships. 

The Commitment 

Once a relationship is formed and it is time for a player to commit to a school, it is important to note that it is not just the recruit committing to a school, but the school is also committing to the player. This concept should be the same for employers. When the employee accepts a job offer, they are committing to the organization and the organization is committing to the employee. 

Clemson will not look at a recruit unless they think that recruit will be a good representative for the program. They want someone who will ultimately make the team and the university better. They want someone who will work hard, and someone who will push their teammates to be better every single day. 

The same should go for employers here. You want someone who will thrive in your organization. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a current recruiter at a national health and human services provider network and they said, “I don't settle until I find the best person for the position.” This is true for coaches trying to find the best talent, but talent who are good people that will not just fit in well with the program, but also make a commitment to better the program.

JP Priester at Fan Nation writes, “The coaching staff has prided itself on making an offer from the Tigers mean something and have been highly successful at finding players they consider to be the right cultural fit for the program.”

Employers should make it mean something when they offer a candidate a job at their organization. You want the candidate to feel pride in the offer, and to want to run and go tell all their friends and family about their accomplishment. 

For instance, when a school makes an offer to a recruit, the coach calls the recruit directly with the offer, not someone in the recruiting department. Oftentimes it's corporate recruiters who make these calls to candidates, offering them the job, not the hiring manager or even the department head. What if we flipped the script on who delivers the message, to show just how important the candidate is to the company? What if leadership was more involved? This would also help establish those leader-trust relationships earlier in the employment experience. 

Once the coach makes an offer to the recruit, the recruit will usually unveil which school they have chosen in a flashy and creative way. Wouldn't it be cool if someone who has always wanted to work for Google, Nike, Amazon, Apple, or exaqueo made a video like this one, expressing their excitement about finally joining their #1 overall (company) pick? 

The Expectations

Once a relationship is formed and a commitment is made, setting expectations is an important next step. JP Priester discussed the expectations that Dabo Swinney has when communicating with recruits and said, “that he and the rest of his coaching staff make transparency one of the highest priorities, even if that means having to be brutally honest with potential recruits.” A major issue in college football is the tendency for student athletes to decommit or transfer based on miscommunication of expectations, and by upholding a high level of transparency from the beginning, there is a better chance this can be avoided. 

The same goes for the candidate process. 

Employers need to conduct research to figure out the attractors, realities, and the detractors of working at the organization and communicate them to potential candidates from the get-go. The attractors being the reasons why it’s great to work at the organization, the realities being the facts of working at the organization, and the detractors being the reasons why that particular organization may not be the best fit for you. 

Now, think about all the places where you can share this information with transparency to set and communicate what to expect. 

The Parents 

Whether they’re “helicoptering” or not, parents have a huge influence over the college football recruitment process. It could be because they want their kid to attend their alma mater, to get the best scholarship support, or because they want them closer to home. There is always a reason for a parent to lean one way (or another) when it comes to their child attending a certain school. Parents also have a huge influence over the recruitment process for employment as well. 

Maybe not so much in the latter years of someone’s career, but for those who are just starting out or those who are considered the “early careerists,” parents absolutely have some influence. Our recent #exaqueoGenZstudy revealed that “one in four participants said parents are the most influential people when it comes to search decisions.” It’s important to take this into account when thinking about the candidate experience and even the candidate timeline, as it might slow down the process. 

The Future 

Another question that football recruits have to ask themselves when making the decision about where to play is: “What school will benefit me the most when considering my future career?” While considering this thought, recruits need to be asking themselves, which school will best:

  • commit to their future?
  • give them the resources they need to do best in school?
  • give them the best education possible? 
  • allow them to graduate on time (maybe even early)?
  • give them connections for their future career? 

Similarly, when considering new employment opportunities, candidates are asking themselves, which organization is going to best...

  • allow me to provide for myself and my family?
  • provide me with career growth opportunities?
  • provide me with learning and professional development?
  • offer the flexibility needed to balance work and life? 
  • provide me with financial opportunities? 
  • allow me to plan for my future? 

Even if you are unable to answer all of these questions directly, it is important to keep them in mind when trying to market and sell your company to a future employee. They want to know that there is room for growth and development within this new role, and they will be comforted to know that you are also investing in their professional future.  

Signing Day

Signing Day is the culmination of the football recruiting process. It’s the day that recruits look forward to most -- and also makes them feel extra special. This day is filled with big announcements, lots of media, tons of interviews, pictures, videos, balloons, DJs, and great food. It’s all about going the extra mile, celebrating big, and showing the recruit just how excited the school is that the recruit decided to come play for them. 

What if companies did something a little extra when a candidate finally becomes an employee? 

It can start with something small, like having team members send out welcome or congratulations emails to the new hire. Another small action could be sending the new hire some company swag or a welcome basket of goodies. Organizations can also create a welcome post to share on their social media platforms. 

If the new hire is able to complete orientation in person, take them and the rest of the team to dinner so everyone can get to know each other a little better. Although these suggestions are not as flashy as a big party with media and interviews, they can easily show a new hire that you are just as committed and loyal to them as they are to you. 

With lots of employees working remotely, it’s important to note that you can still achieve this kind of big “to do” virtually. Check out how some of these football programs pulled off a virtual signing day, using a website, graphics, photos, and different kinds of “live coverage shows” rather than requiring recruits to celebrate in person. 

By creating a relationship driven recruitment process, showing your commitment, creating loyalty, and setting expectations, you too could be recruiting and retaining top talent just like Clemson University’s football program. 

Go Tigers!

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