‘Run like a business but act like a college’

How to align HR and recruitment strategies with school goals

The strategic plans of every administrator and department must work collectively toward the overall goals of a college or university. It’s a bit like playing dominoes where each tile connects to another but always links back to the first tile played. Sounds simple but it’s not a common practice at higher education institutions.

Act like a business

Consider a college that needs to attract higher-quality job candidates but its HR department slashes employee benefits to control costs.

“If schools want to be successful, they must be able to run like a business but act like a college,” says Nancy Florey, VP of HR at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences.

Several years ago, HR and recruiters at the college aligned their strategies to help the school achieve key goals, such as hiring enough quality talent to run science and nursing programs. They shortened the time to fill positions from over 100 days to 36.

Recruiters began following up with hiring managers, giving them deadline dates and inquiring about the status of applicants.

Any awards the college received were mentioned in job advertisements. Job descriptions became informal or conversational. Employee testimonials were featured on the school’s redesigned webpage. The school also introduced an education degree for students interested in a teaching career.

“With competition the way that it is for these types of positions, we have to do everything we can and try to do things differently,” Florey says. “That’s one of the things that keep us afloat compared to other institutions.”

All in together

Many departments at universities share basic goals, especially involving talent acquisition. The strategies implemented by HR should not only support each other but also reflect the school’s mission.

Take Princeton University, for example. Its goal is to increase the diversity of its 4,000-member staff and fill highly specialized positions, says Claire Jacobs Elson, assistant vice president of HR at the school.

HR, along with Princeton’s talent acquisition team, developed a new slogan—More Impact Than You Can Imagine—which was an essential part of its overall strategy for filling niche positions; so was using the university website to let employees share their positive work and personal experiences on campus.

In January, HR also launched a talent acquisition system from iCIMS that sends job notifications to candidates. It also offers recruiters a searchable database and helps them engage candidates in real time to fill the school’s talent pipeline.

HR is developing a social media campaign to better inform candidates about things like the work environment, school initiatives and campus culture.

“When HR goes through its annual goal-setting process and establishes office priorities, we always link them to university priorities,” Elson says. “That cascades down to what the talent acquisition team needs to do.”

Helping retention

Heather Brooks, HR director at Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey, had a seat at the table when the school created a strategic plan that prioritized leveraging the school’s infrastructure and technology to meet employee and student needs.

In January, HR implemented a new system (ADP Workforce) that improved the way it recruited and onboarded employees, and also reduced time to fill positions.

Another goal was developing human capital to support students and the institution. HR introduced telecommuting options and flexible work schedules for its staff, which expanded the hours of operation for student support services. It also launched cross-functional training opportunities to help employees stand out as internal candidates.

Supervisors are now being trained on how to conduct employee evaluations in an effort to boost retention.

Learning and development along with employee assessment activities have also transitioned to digital and electronic formats, something many job candidates expect.

“We are becoming more strategic in our goal-setting,” says Brooks. “This linkage is what leads to success.”

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.


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