A Hire Purpose: 11 Strategies to Recruit Supply Chain Talent
Competition has never been tougher to obtain supply chain talent, forcing companies to rethink recruitment tactics.
Whether your company is pursuing entry-level or seasoned supply chain professionals, strong job candidates closely examine company brands and leadership development before coming on board. To help you attract the best and brightest business and engineering students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, here are 11 best practices to integrate into your supply chain talent recruitment strategies.
1. Apply Omnichannel Thinking.
Too many company recruiting strategies turn into reactive "fill this hole now" tasks. Forecasting supply and demand is important in supply chain management and logistics, but does not apply well to supply chain talent. Only a fraction of companies have dedicated resources that focus on building and managing supply chain talent plans and pipelines.
"Companies heavily emphasize omnichannel supply chains, but don’t extend omnichannel thinking to recruiting practices," notes Rodney Apple, founder of SCM Talent Group, a supply chain recruiting company.
The omnichannel approach goes beyond traditional methods, such as setting up interview slots and exhibiting at career fairs, to truly connect with schools. Apple also recommends staying flexible by not treating everything in job descriptions as must-have capabilities. Traditional "required" and "preferred" classifications in job descriptions are valuable, but make sure "required" really is required and provide weights to "preferred" criteria.
2. Give Your Website a Facelift to Reach New Talent.
Company websites with an "About" link and a generic "Jobs" link that roll together all jobs aren’t enough. Innovative companies have dedicated landing pages with direct links to student-focused sites. In addition to company information and positions, the best websites provide case study profiles of successful early career professionals talking about their experiences with the company, plus information about career and leadership building plans and resources. Build well-crafted, engaging stories about individuals and teams solving interesting problems.
3. Develop Flexible Internships.
Internships provide students with opportunities to work with industry professionals and learn how companies operate; they also provide professionals with talented students to work on supporting tasks or projects. Initially, internships focused on the summer prior to graduation when students had already taken most of their supply chain-specific classes. Today, however, multiple internships per student are common, sometimes extending to the summers prior to the junior and senior years. Leading companies even offer internships to students before their sophomore year, and possibly provide additional work during the school year.
Have a clear, but flexible internship plan. Provide students with challenging projects that test their ability to think critically with incomplete information. Work in teams and provide constructive feedback throughout the internship. Include broad exposure to the company and its seasoned professionals, and appoint a dedicated manager who understands and values internships.
4. Understand the Range of School Resources.
Industry often thinks first about connecting directly with students, sometimes viewing students earning degrees as if they are just products flowing out of the universities. Leading companies also focus on the teachers, researchers, administrators, and career services connections that are at the schools longer term and enable connections to students year after year.
Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Supply Chain Management has established dedicated roles to work closely with industry and connect companies to the right resources. They facilitate and collaborate on a variety of university-industry connections. MSU invested in a corporate-student relations director to serve as a liaison between companies, students, and faculty, note Judy Whipple, professor and faculty director, and Kelly Lynch, director, corporate and student relations.
Unfortunately, many companies have not established similar roles that manage a well-planned set of relationships with targeted schools, resulting in weaker recruiting effectiveness.
5. Tap the Value of Boards and Councils.
Companies recruiting a wide range of majors shouldn’t overlook a valuable resource: advisory boards or councils of colleges of business or engineering. Supply chain departmental or program advisory boards and councils can also be of great value. These groups typically meet twice per year and learn about degree program curricula and directions. They also provide connections to student leaders and faculty advisors, and offer better opportunities when it comes to speaking, tours, and internships.
6. Participate in Career Fairs.
Career fairs are common on campuses and increasingly focus on specific types of colleges, departments, and degree programs. Companies can meet a wide range of students face-to-face by exhibiting. Develop a carefully crafted plan rather than just having a professional recruiter come to campus because that person may not have the skills needed for the speed dating and marketing aspects of career fairs.
Don’t just bring text-heavy general annual reports and corporate promotional information; materials should be visually engaging and interactive. Include direct website links to information on supply chain careers.
Follow-up after the event is also critical to maintain long-term relationships with degree programs. Include notes of appreciation and constructive feedback.
"For every graduate with supply chain skills there are 6 holes to be filled, and it could be as high as 9 to 1 in the future."
—Jake Bar, CEO, BlueWorld Supply Chain Consulting
7. Elevate Brand Awareness for Companies and Students.
Well-known companies in the business world may have little to no brand awareness with students. These companies have to work harder to help students understand who they are, what they do, what they stand for (an increasingly strong factor), and what supply chain career opportunities they provide. Successful companies measure their level of brand awareness, develop student-centered websites, provide information sessions, and pursue speaking opportunities.
Information sessions are typically provided through the career services offices, but some schools, departments, programs, and student clubs facilitate such sessions. For example, a defense company recruiter reports great success in building its brand through sessions that last approximately 1.5 hours, making sure they ask and take questions since interaction is expected and valued.
Companies should also develop skills to research and evaluate the personal brands cultivated by students.
"We educate students on branding themselves on LinkedIn and other social media, plus member companies come in to talk about personal brands," says Donnie Williams, executive director, Supply Chain Management Research Center at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
8. Tie Into Student Clubs: Awareness Goes Both Ways.
Establish greater ties with student supply chain clubs because of their concentration of student leaders and volunteers. Innovative strategies for working with these clubs include educational presentations at chapter meetings and providing tours. Also highly valued are interactive programs providing case-like challenges, enabling companies to evaluate student reactions to challenging exercises.
9. Make Your Message Consistent and Relatable.
Ensure your company message is consistent from start to finish—from the brochures and websites students first see to conversations with company representatives during the interviewing process. In an age of heavy website and social media use, top-performing companies are adding digitally aware recruitment strategies that emphasize attractive supply chain careers rather than simple job requirement postings.
10. Consider Research Motivations.
Set ground rules for how your research data and supply chain study results are used and when they can be available to the public. Faculty members pursuing or holding tenure rely on grants and projects that lead to publishing in research journals, which is often the top tenure evaluation criterion. Grant funding is valued, but not required, because researchers also value data sets (sanitized to protect company or customer information) that can be used both in research and teaching.
11. Weigh Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills.
Supply chain-related coursework is similar among schools due to accreditation requirements. Transcripts show courses and grades, so most companies assume that students receiving a set of sufficient grades have proven the hard skills.
Soft skills, however, are of greater interest to companies that want students who can think on their feet, develop solutions with teams of people, then clearly communicate those solutions.
"The recruiter’s focus has not changed; fit is always critical, as is teachability, willingness to learn, and communication," says Karl Manrodt, professor of logistics at Georgia College. "It isn’t just about knowing tools. The ability to learn and adapt is critical."
Glass manufacturer Libbey looks for a high level of curiosity and global awareness, but also at how well students deal with uncertainty and pursue conflict resolution to work well in teams focused on developing solutions, says Mike Bunge, director of global resources and materials.
Companies increasingly use thought-provoking questions and carefully crafted assessment tools to evaluate thought processes, interests, and fit with the company culture. Companies that can’t develop their own assessments can turn to third-party companies.
Some companies innovate by evaluating both soft and hard skills through information sessions or club presentations that break students into groups, give them a case, and have them present insights and proposed solutions, notes Toni Rhorer, director of career management for the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Company representatives get their own insights about student interaction and their problem-solving processes.