Rural Recruiting-The World You Don’t See

Me: So I have this great position that you are perfect for. The pay is solid, benefits are outstanding, and we think you’re the right guy for the job.

Anonymous candidate: Sounds great! Where is the job located? I’d definitely be interested.

rural corporate recruitingMe: It’s actually in [remote location near a small Army base].

Candidate: Oh, well, I don’t know that I want to move out that far. There’s really nothing to do out there, and it doesn’t appeal to me.

Me: Oh, okay. Well, you know how to reach me if you change your mind. [hangs up wondering when this train of rejections is going to end]

In case you can’t tell from the above exchange, I thought today would be an opportune time to look at rural recruiting. It’s something I’ve had a bit of experience with (and will have more of in the near future), and it’s an area of recruiting that can be incredibly frustrating.

I spoke with a SHRM chapter earlier this year in a rural area, and the local companies basically share the same talent pool. Bob the employee might work for Company A for a few years, move to Company B for the variety, and end up at Company A again after that. With a small pool of candidates, filling each job is a monumental task.

Here’s a short list of common problems with rural recruiting, just to get you thinking:

  • Limited size of talent pool
  • Stronger than normal “that’s how we’ve always done it” syndrome
  • Difficult to sell for relocating new staff
  • More often blue collar-type work
  • More employee relations issues due to the fact that employees know it’s hard to replace them

What’s the answer to the rural recruiting challenge?

Here are a handful of actions to consider. Not all will work, but as difficult as it is there is no reason not to try some or all of them! And please, by all means, add some of your own suggestions and comments below.

Short term

  1. Work with your staff to recruit/refer good candidates. If you don’t have an employee referral program, start one.
  2. Seek out candidates who are more interested in small town life vs. that of a big city. Plenty of us prefer that, but you need to ensure you’re targeting that by asking good interview questions.
  3. Develop retention tools that encourage your workforce to remain with your company, whether it’s professional development opportunities, family outreach, etc.

Long term

  1. If your organization is large enough with multiple locations, develop a good job rotation program where key players get to experience all areas and locations of the business, thus providing a built in pipeline of future talent.
  2. Take number 3 above even further by connecting with a local daycare to subsidize employee childcare costs, offering sabbaticals or other unusual benefits, or helping employees to reach lifelong goals. I once worked with a company with a lady who wanted to ride a hot air balloon before she died. After a particularly good year, the company rented a hot air balloon and operator and let the woman have a paid day off to enjoy the experience. The more care you put into these custom benefits/perks, the more successful they will be!
  3. This one is long term. Seriously. But if future growth and success is the plan, then it makes sense to explore this option fully. Work to team with the local chamber of commerce or business-centric organization. Find out what your small town lacks (according to the candidates who reject the job due to the location) and see if you can fix those. Here’s a great local example. Huntsville is not a huge city by any means, but we have people wanting to relocate here from other places. Companies kept hearing that we didn’t have a good enough downtown area for family, recreation, etc., so now the local Chamber has started helping to develop the area to suit those needs. It’s already impacted the area, and there’s no telling how many people will now consider the city based on its new facets.

In many instances, I hear a variation of this from my recruiting brethren facing these challenges:

Forget social recruiting or talent communities. I just want someone to come to work sober.

Your turn

I’d love to hear from someone with rural recruiting experience. What has worked for you when recruiting in rural areas? What are your tips?

4 thoughts on “Rural Recruiting-The World You Don’t See

  1. Laurie

    We keep declining opportunities in Huntsville even though we’d probably like it … I can’t get over the location. Too far away from everything for me. (Sorry.) I learned this lesson after 3 years in Kalamazoo.

  2. Cari

    Wow, I had never even considered this issue (I work in San Francisco, where it’s not exactly hard to find candidates). But once again, it looks like employee referrals are the solution to everything!

  3. Aadi

    Great article and thanks for touching one of the unexplored subjects. Lot of people quit big city jobs to settle in ‘slow’ pace localities and lot of GREAT talent never moves to big cities for ‘lack’ of humane feel in the skylines. The challenge is to bridge the gap between these two.

    One way is to offer the same salary (plus some perks)for current workforce who take up jobs in rural areas that allures them with the potential savings.

    Another way is to facilitate WORK FROM HOME option, maybe 2 days a week where possible for people taking up jobs in rural/remote areas.

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