This article was originally posted on ISE: Insights on the 11th January in advance of a course that I ran with Stephen Isherwood about building effective long-term student recruitment strategy.
Over the last year a lot of us have seen our plans and strategies crumble under the pressure of unexpected events.
You might have started 2019/2020 with some ambitious plans to increase your apprenticeship levy spend or address some stubborn diversity issues. But, soon most of these plans washed away in a mess of unexpected pandemic, homeworking, e-recruitment and general frantic panicking over Zoom.
Student employers did an amazing job in 2020 in responding to the pandemic. But the fact that most of what people did last year was not carefully planned in advance shouldn’t lead people to think that strategy doesn’t matter. We are in a period of massive change for the industry and, we would argue, strategy is more important than ever.
Strategies should be flexible and put you in charge
We’ve all been victims of rigid, highly detailed, five-year business plans that suck up loads of time as they are drafted and then never really get implemented. But this kind of ‘death by Gantt chart’ is far from the only way to develop strategies.
Ideally your student recruitment strategy should clarify what you are doing, why you are doing it, and make your life easier not harder.
Developing a strategy is about taking control of your professional destiny. A strategy uses your experience and expertise to move you towards best practice. It is a tool for engaging with the rest of your business and external stakeholders and explaining what needs to happen and why.
An effective strategy is built around a vision but is mindful of how this vision can be operationalised. And, of course it flexes as you encounter both challenges and opportunities.
There are libraries full of business books talking about strategy. We’ve tried to distill them down into seven tips.
7 tips for a robust recruitment strategy
- Define a clear vision for what you are trying to achieve, set out what you want to happen in the future (your mission) and show how you are going to get there (your goals).
- Be hyper aware of your context: Watching how the market, government policy and the wider context are changing allows you to be agile and develop your strategy in rapidly changing circumstances.
- Know what your competitors are doing, but don’t fall into the trap of assuming that just because another organisation is doing something, that it is right for you.
- Use a range of established business tools to aid strategy and planning (e.g. Porter’s five forces or PESTLE analysis), but also allow for creativity and trying new things.
- Remember that people are your main asset: Building and managing effective relationships with staff, influencing people within your organisation and outside is key to achieving every strategy.
- Recognise that implementing your strategy might require you, your team and the wider business to change: Implementing every strategy is ultimately a process of change management.
- Focus on planning, implementation and monitoring: Too many strategists spend all their time planning and then never get round to implementing their plans. Strategy only becomes reality when you put it into practice and it is only through evaluation that you really know what you are achieving.