How to Slay at Student Recruitment

This post was originally written in February 2018 on Linkedin – http://bit.ly/2EUNpbB

It’s recruitment season again

The GCE ‘O’ Level results were released last month and the ‘A’ Level results should be at the end of February. Then we’ll have the polytechnic students getting their results in March/April.

Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) including Private Education Institutes (PEIs) have been aggressively promoting themselves with Open Houses events inviting students to their campus.

Course consultation

As a leading Edutrust Star institution, the Singapore campus of James Cook University is also on a recruitment blitz. While out promoting the university at the Headhunt Postgraduate Masterclass session on Saturday, I came across 3 interesting cases.

Case 1: Mid-career switch with some relevant experience

The first was a lady with a degree in tourism and hospitality management. She was looking for a master degree to help her switch to either HR or a managerial role after having been in customer service for a good amount of time.

Upon probing, I realised that she has experience in the hotel industry and a small part of her job involved conducting in-house training. It seemed that she would be better off with an ACTA certification and making a switch into the training and development function of HR by looking at training executive roles before working her way up to a training manager. A master degree might probably be useful after she gets her foot in the door. She ended the consultation by saying that it was probably the best advice all day and that she could leave the event already.

Case 2: Mid-career switch with no relevant experience

The second case was a lady with a background in project management who wanted to make a switch to marketing. She was looking at a master degree to help her make the switch. I am pretty sure that a “cool” job with high “social value” in sectors like marketing, advertising, etc would probably come with lower pay due to high supply of candidates vying for the same job. Having a master degree with no experience would likely lead to under-employment.

Google Squared

I brought up the point that it was quite common for people to be in jobs that are not relevant to their degrees. For example, I majored in human resources but hold a marketing position at James Cook University. One of my team mates majored in international tourism and hospitality management, not exactly marketing but she has amazing event management skills which are relevant. Instead of a master degree, I advised her to take up Google AdWords Fundamentals, the Google Squared program and to look into Facebook Blueprint. Having been told by other consultants that a master degree was the only option for a job switch, she was quite taken aback when I mentioned learning via Google, or rather online learning. Though she was quickly convinced when I showed her the Google Squared Online website.

Case 3: Sometimes words can have two meanings

The final case was a lady in her fifties that was looking at a qualification that would be relevant to her career in another institute for higher learning. She was not keen on an MBA and was looking into psychology to build her skills through adjacency.

While this case was handled by a colleague, what I previously advised my team mates was that while many come to us looking for psychology programmes, quite a number are actually want a counselling programme. They just did not know the difference between the two and assumed they were the same thing. Good thing he probed and tried understanding her goals and objectives. She attended our master class which had a focus on counselling and came by the booth after that to tell us that we were right! She was actually keen on counselling. While this would result in a 300% reduction in potential revenue, it was in the prospective student’s best interest.

So… what’s the point?

I share all this because I believe that PEIs need a business model innovation to survive the consolidation of the sector and to be resilient in the face of statistically insignificant and flawed graduate employment surveys.

“We shouldn’t hardsell education programmes. These are people’s futures.”

Hard core sales teams motivated by commissions that have the potential to double or triple their take home pay needs to be a thing of the past. Instead, the student recruitment and admissions team has to function more like career guidance counsellors. This means that sometimes, you just have to turn a prospective student away. To paraphrase my former boss who is now Head of Learning at ACCA Singapore – We shouldn’t hardsell education programmes. These are people’s futures.

So the next time a prospective student walks into your Admissions Office, my suggestion is to ask them “What is your area of interest?” or “What are your career goals?” instead of “What course are you interested in?”

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