5 Lessons from the Frontlines of Talent Attraction

June 06, 2022

While “frontlines” is a military term that is often borrowed by the civilian sector, I am using it here as originally intended.

I spent four years working in talent attraction marketing for the United States Army and learned a few lessons about attracting a skilled workforce.

1. Work Backwards

Don’t imagine what your potential residents would find appealing; ask your current ones. In the Army, I was told to promote two primary motivators in our advertising: money for school and availability of STEM jobs. While those are good reasons to join the Army, I had little success. Why? Once I started reading new recruit surveys, the answer was clear. I learned that most 18–24-year-olds don’t worry about how they will pay for school or how they will find a job. Instead, they wanted action, adventure and the ability to travel. Once I advertised for those motivators, I saw a significant increase in leads and ultimately contracts. A survey or testimonials from people who have recently moved to your community can be a powerful means to uncovering talent trends and motivators that you can use to create your talent attraction marketing campaigns.

2. Motivation is Half the Story

Once you know what your current and future residents want, you can begin to sell your location. However, this is only half of the story. Why would someone NOT want to move to your area? In the Army, these are called barriers. These can often be more powerful influences than the motivators to join. For example, if a potential recruit doesn’t want to be away from their family, there isn’t a bonus that can overcome that obstacle. Instead, we’d offer a job in the Army Reserve where they could serve close to home. The most common barrier to joining the Army is fear of being injured or killed. In that case, the Army could offer a job that is unlikely to see combat, like a cook or a supply specialist. Addressing barriers and correcting misperceptions about your location can be a powerful tool in talent attraction.

3. Get Creative

In the military, the pay scale is set. There is no room for negotiation; it would literally take an act of Congress to change it. While your destination isn’t directly compensating talent, you can still offer something to make each potential resident feel like they have “won.” The Army offers benefits like choice of their job, choice of their first duty station and going to basic training with a friend. Can your location be creative and offer a unique incentive too? For example, some locations offer free housing to interns and host events to create ties to the local community. A positive experience like that likely leads to some of those interns retuning as residents after graduation. Whatever the scale of your talent attraction program, there are options to implement that don’t go directly through payroll.

4. Find Out Early

In the Army, there is a long list of reasons why a candidate might not qualify to join. Each person must be medically and physically fit, in good moral standing and between the ages of 17-35. These questions are sometimes uncomfortable, but a little discomfort early in the process is better than a let-down at the end. Nothing was more demoralizing than spending a lot of time with a candidate only to find out later in the process that they don’t qualify. As a community, what subsets of talent are you going after? Is it certain industries? Certain levels of experience? Design your talent attraction marketing program with these goals up front.

5. Make an Ally Not an Enemy

There will inevitably be individuals that don’t fit your target skillsets. Beyond human decency, there are reasons to treat these people well. For example, the Army is always on the lookout for community partners. When potential recruits are unable to serve, they may still have influence over prospects who can. If your friend or colleague told you that they had a negative experience with a certain community, would you want to move to its location? The most vocal individuals tend to be ones with negative opinions, but turn that into a positive and you will have a force multiplier. Let your current and former residents recruit for you by helping them have positive experiences to share.

If you are interested in learning more about DCI’s talent attraction consulting services, please get in touch with [email protected]