Academic recruitment

How Well Do You Know Your Target Candidates?

3 min read · Advice & Insights / Academic recruitment · Published 2 years ago

Academic recruitment has become more complex and competitive, which has made it more difficult for universities to fill their vacancies. The applicant pool is the foundation of your hiring process, so how do you make sure the candidates you want end up in yours?

When you have to fill a vacancy, your first priority is probably to ensure that a large number of academics see your advert and are motivated to apply. If your university is looking for a new professor, for example, you might make some quick edits to the advert you used that last time you hired and share it as widely as possible. While this might get you applications, they might not be from candidates you’re interested in. In order to attract your target candidates, your advert needs to be tailored to them. So, if you’re not getting applications from the type of candidates you’re looking for, it might be time to ask yourself how well you really know your target candidates and what they look for in a job. 

Who are your target candidates, really?

Whenever you sit down to write anything, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Who am I writing for? Who is my audience?” The same applies to writing job adverts and recruitment marketing content. In order to create the most suitable job adverts, you need to know who those candidates are.

Do you know, for example, what motivates them? Sure, they want a job, but what pushes them to do their best work? What kinds of opportunities excite them? Would they be enjoy being one of a handful of basic scientists in a department of clinicians? Would they thrive in a small department at an institution focused on undergraduate teaching? Would they want to play a crucial role in developing a new flagship research centre?

You should also think about the factors that might influence their decision making. Are they going to be looking for a high salary and big start up package? Do they want to live closer to friends and family? Do they want to work alongside world leaders in the field? Demographic factors are also important factors to consider when looking at decision making. Might your target candidates value your institution’s family friendliness and flexible working hours? Are they looking for an institution where they will have peers that look like them?

Don’t just rely on your gut

When you go about answering these questions regarding your target candidates’ preferences and values, your answers need to be based on data and facts, not merely your own impressions. This becomes especially important when you aim to target diverse candidates, as many institutions do. Simply assuming you know what a specific kind of person might value in an employer is a grave mistake. It is therefore vital to seek out reliable sources to base your insights on. Your recruitment partner or applicant tracking system is a great place to start. Through this data you can gain objective, valuable insights into who actually visits your adverts.

And, why not also talk directly to the people who actually made it all the way through your university’s recruitment process? Surveying your colleagues (especially your recently-hired colleagues) will give you valuable insights about their motivations and preferences. You might also ask them about their time as a job seeker. Where did they hear about your university or find your vacancy? What motivated them to apply? Why did they choose your institution over other offers?

Your university probably already uses candidate insights to attract students for their undergraduate programs. In the private sector, hiring teams oftentimes take these insights a step further and create entire candidate personas, fictional characters that embody their targets’ characteristics. They use these to create highly targeted job ads that attract job seekers who will thrive in their company.

Gathering these candidate insights shouldn’t be a one-time activity. You should make it a habit to frequently reevaluate and update your candidate insights. Bear in mind that society is constantly evolving, and so will candidates’ priorities. The pandemic, for example, has made many employees question what they’re looking for in their careers.

What candidate insights can do for you

Candidates are not one-size-fits-all. A certain type of content or communication that motivates one candidate may do nothing to pique the interest of another. During any recruitment process, you should always have in mind what kind of candidate you are trying to attract and ultimately hire. The more you know about the candidates you’re targeting, the easier it will be for you to create content that speaks to them. Candidate insights will also help you to choose the right recruitment partners for your university, as well as the right social media strategy. Your target candidates will feel like the job advert was written specifically for them and be excited to apply.

Using candidate insights will make your recruitment more efficient and strategic. While gathering these insights certainly requires time and effort, this investment will pay. You’ll know where to advertise, and in what way, in order to get the attention of the most suitable candidates.


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