What Talent Really Wants

Originally published in The League of Wisconsin Municipalities magazine 'The Municipality' - February 2019 issue p.9.

Talent wants to belong.

People today are more in touch than ever, yet reports of social isolation are rising. So much noise from apps and alerts has talent feeling overwhelmed and disconnected in life and at work. True talent attraction is about creating connections that cut through that noise.

Connection starts with a community that someone can see themselves in. That may be a busy urban area or a charming small village depending on the person. In the private sector, it may be a formal business environment or a small casual startup.

The best way to attract talent to your city or village is to be authentic to what you can offer and show that in a meaningful way. For example, a place with an amazing culinary scene may use beautiful photos of food. Or, as a local government you may showcase stories of how what you do makes a difference in people’s everyday lives.

The key is to be clear and honest.

Next is engagement. The most powerful way for talent to see themselves in a community or workplace is to be there in person. There is energy in the human experience of a group or environment. People need to feel to make a major change like moving or switching jobs.

No one is going to make a major change based solely on a billboard or a cute ad. The environment may be the workplace or it could be the community where a job is located that makes an impact.

It’s ok if the environment isn’t perfect. Nowhere is perfect. If your need to recruit is coming from many unhappy departures, you will need to start by improving your current neck of the woods. Identify both the challenges and the solutions that would best suit the kind of talent you’re hoping to attract. The loudest voices aren’t always the most accurate. Instead focus on who you want there and what they are looking for.

Prioritize and go one at a time.

If you’re ready to bring people in, think about how to entice them. Remember that their lives are busy like yours and they will need a reason to show up. The draw could be an event like an art show or a reputation built through engaging online content. Or both!

A municipality could partner with local businesses for events. This step is about engaging and not about selling. Engaging is: “I know you. I like you. I know what you do in simple terms.” vs. selling as “You’re telling me why I should need you. This is an advertisement and I’m skeptical.”

Once the engagement starts, the mutual interview begins. In the case of a job this is more formal with designated steps and stages. These stages need to be equal parts selling and screening.

There’s nothing wrong with being selective in a hiring process.

It is wrong to take advantage of someone’s time, treat them poorly or intentionally make them uncomfortable. The best way to screen is to replicate to the best of your ability the actual environment, job, and tone of the job. To sell, the candidate should get time to ask questions and see the work environment. Even if they don’t work out, a declined advocate is much better than a bitter critic.

The work does not end once someone accepts a job or moves into town. Instead the work of growing roots begins. This can start with a comprehensive on-boarding program or can be as simple as making personal introductions. It’s intimidating to be in a new place with new people. Without growing roots, it is too easy for the multitude of other options to look like greener grass.

Ongoing shared experiences build trust over time. Trust is the most powerful kind of root. Lavish events may be fun but a real conversation over a cup of coffee can also connect people in a meaningful way.

Even when pingpong works, it isn’t about looking cool. It’s about a place for conversation and movement combined. A shared experience.

As roots grow, so does the network of advocates. Former transplants can now be out spreading the word about your opportunity. The people who saw their place in your world and showed up for the experience will begin to invite others in.

That momentum is community.

It’s belonging.

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