Mining Your Community

Hewlett-Packard, Charles Schwab, and IBM have had a relatively easy time recruiting top talent over the years. They have had candidates eagerly seeking them out, even in times when the economy was booming and other firms were struggling to fill key positions.

Some would say this was because of their reputation as great companies to work for or because of their good career potential and solid benefits.

Although certainly a part of their attractiveness, perhaps there is another more compelling reason for such success.

More than anything else was a factor that very few noticed: each had adopted a recruiting strategy that included their local communities.

Hewlett-Packard has had education and community outreach programs for decades, and IBM is well-known in the communities where it is located as a generous sponsor of events and supporter of education and other community programs.

Both also hire extensively from the local community and from local colleges. Schwab worked with local high schools to encourage students already somewhat interested in finance and investment to pursue those interests. Schwab offered part-time jobs, internships, and college tuition and then reaped the results of those investments by hiring the graduates.

Many Federated divisions may have also offered programs of these types, and it would be useful for you to investigate whether your division has a program like this that you could tap into.

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Community outreach includes programs that support high schools, colleges, and universities, as well as other programs that may offer support or training to the homeless, single mothers, battered women, or the elderly.

These programs are sometimes partially funded by local or state governments or even by the federal government. But they all rely on other sources of money, volunteer labor, and services.

Recruiters can and should consider these oft-neglected programs to slowly build a pipeline of talent. Here are some ideas on how to go about putting such a program into place:

  1. Work with senior management to show them the value and benefit of these programs. There are many exemplary stories of how firms have found and hired all sorts of people as a result of working with community groups and educational institutions. Check to see whether your own division may have done some of this. Lay out a business case for your program and estimate what kinds of talent you will be most likely able to develop and then hire over time. Many organizations already have community outreach programs, but they are rarely linked to recruiting at all. Rather, they are regarded as donations or simply as a way to maintain community relations. What is different about combining recruiting with community outreach is the ability to build a superior workforce, with great loyalty and low turnover, at a small cost.
  2. Take a long-term approach. Much like a farmer who plants seeds, waters, and fertilizes a large crop, it may take you several years of continuous investment before you will start “harvesting” the talent that you have helped to create. The upside is that once you begin to harvest you will be ale to do so almost continuously because every year there is a new crop.
  3. Make sure the support you provide is continuous. Nothing is more damaging of community outreach programs than sporadic support and interest. These programs need water and fertilizer all the time and if you stop the support for a while, you may find that the crop has withered. IBM and others have had success because they have created a culture and an internal environment where some level of support is always provided. There may be years when more support is given, but no matter what, a base level is always maintained. To be most successful at maintaining support, keep your effort focused and narrow. Be sure you are supporting groups that will produce people you really need and will want to hire. And build internal support at the highest levels. Include senior management in recruiting cycles and keep them well-informed about how successful you are.
  4. Decide what talent you will need and where to locate that talent. If you are an engineering firm, consider the talent from a high school physics or math class. Check out the engineering schools at local colleges and universities. If you are a retailer like Federated, talent is all around you. There are high school students who are interested in sales, management, accounting, fashion, design, marketing, and a host of other areas that could benefit you. Likewise, the local colleges are also likely to be full of potential talent. Many single mothers and battered women have good skills and can be trained to meet your needs. Schwab trained Welfare-to-Work women to work in their call centers and also trained college students who were majoring in finance or marketing to do the same. Many of these people went on to bigger jobs within the company. Find programs that you can work well with and that have the kinds of talent you need or, at least, the types of people you can develop.
  5. Don?t expect that those you hire will be highly productive from day one. Ongoing education and training is a necessity. Community outreach recruiting cannot flourish unless your organization is willing to commit some resources to training people when they come on-board and throughout their careers. Successful organizations know that short, practical training programs for those who come from community programs are essential to getting the best from them. No matter what you have invested in the program itself, a few more dollars focused on helping them make the adjustment from “outside” to “inside” will accelerate their assimilation and productivity. It provides confidence and motivates action. IBM, Cisco, and HP have put together programs that are targeted at giving people they bring in from external programs the key skills they need to get the job done. Cisco has trained music majors to be HTML programmers; IBM has put numbers of people with liberal arts degrees through programmer training, and given them jobs where they can build on those skills. Federated can expand existing programs or invest the time and energy in creating new ones.

These programs are not easy to put together and require a commitment over time. They are not necessarily cheap, but usually result in lower recruiting costs. They give your organization an advantage by improving your reputation, strengthening your community citizenship, and by building a loyal and motivated workforce.

And perhaps most important, when talent gets even more difficult to find than it is now, you will be rewarded many times over for today’s efforts.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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