Are You Like Your Institution?

Your frontline sales staff carries the weight of finding, promoting, compelling, convincing, engaging and securing the members of the incoming class. That’s quite a load of responsibility to carry for people we often take for granted. Often, we consider these warriors as mere entry-level, low-salaried starters rather than the first faces of our institutions.

I was listening to Ken Anselment’s Admissions Leadership Podcast (ALP) when he interviewed the Executive Director of Colleges That Change Lives, Maria Furtado. They are both some of my favorite people so I was eager to hear how their conversation would go; they didn’t disappoint in delivering thought-provoking content. Too near the end, Maria was talking about the role of recruiters and observed that prospective students see your sales force as the epitome of your campus. She noted that prospects are looking over the recruiter and asking: “Are you like your institution?” Her question struck me (I could almost feel it) as both terrifying—adding to the incredible burden placed on our salespeople—and wonderful—in that we’re offered glorious possibility for showcasing our school.

Maria’s spot on. We all ask that question when we’re considering joining up whether it’s a company, club, church, reading group, gym or almost any organization: “Are these my people?” “Will I fit in with you?”

But what’s behind that question? I’d suggest it’s underlain by at least three other questions:

1. Do you look like your college or university?

We all know importance of self-image or self-perception and the insecurity that can accompany any interest in joining a group. Young people are particularly prone to self-doubt, and much of that is caused by their perception of the impact of how others see them. Prospects naturally are seeking clues and taking cues from young recruiters to determine if they can identify with them. “Could this recruiter be a friend of mine?” “Is this someone I want to look like?” “Is this someone who looks like me?” At a time when our sensitivities about race and ethnicity are heightened, recruiting students of color can be especially difficult when recruiters don’t look like their circle of friends.

You’re quick to say, “none of our students look alike, they’re all different.” While your campus may be diversely represented, most campuses have a “look” about them. You could probably look at a wall of images of faculty and students and select the ones that you’d see on your campus.

While this may seem superficial to you and certainly not something to consider when hiring, remember that your recruiters are your first impression. Consider the faces you’re sending to the front line.

2. Do you act like your college or university?

How recruiters “carry” themselves speaks volumes to those you wish to recruit. And not just students; consider the influence of parents and other family members, counselors, teachers, pastors and hosts of other “voices” to whom your prospects listen. Which behaviors best represent your campus? How might words and actions reflect you?

Certainly, you’ll want your recruiters to represent the quality of the student experience you offer on all fronts. Be mindful that families are evaluating the outcomes of that experience in their encounters with your recruiters as first impression agents. You’ll want your recruiters to mirror both intellectual and thoughtful engagement. In that light, you will want to consider hiring recruiters who reflect well on your college by being compelling storytellers who are broadly informed, respectful of others and highly conversational—these people have strong listening and speaking skills.

3. Do you think like your college or university?

Thoughtful? Superficial? Knowledgeable? Observant? Flippant? Creative? Interesting? Deep? Intuitive? Recruiters communicate the nature of your campus through their presentations. Prospects can pick up the vibe immediately. A rich vocabulary speaks volumes about your academic climate. Political perspective and astuteness about current events tell students and parents how engaged your campus likely is in world affairs. Recruiters versed in a broad array of topics may speak to the depth of your liberal arts offerings. The ability to talk about current culture may reveal to prospects the relevance of your social climate.

In the ALP (I encourage you to listen), Maria says admissions counselors are being observed on the road by both students and colleagues from other institutions. “Admissions reps are always being observed as who they are, but also the school they represent,” she says. Prospects are looking at the rep and asking, “‘I wonder if that’s a lot like the kids at that school.’”

As recruitment for 2021 gears up again, plant those ideas in the minds and hearts of your most important team. Your future depends on them.

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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.