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On ‘Hire’ Ground: Recruiting and Retaining High-Talent Young Professionals

Posted 04-27-2010 at 10:02 PM by 95th Annual
Jami Coop, CPSM, C.P.M., procurement manager for ConAgra Foods, Inc. and 2004 Richter Scholar, and Lisa Martin, C.P.M., senior vice president of Worldwide Procurement at Pfizer, Inc. know firsthand how fierce the competition can be for high-talent college students and young supply management professionals — especially as time passes and the demand for such candidates increasingly outweighs the supply.

As they explained in their session this afternoon — “On ‘Hire’ Ground: Recruiting and Retaining High-Talent Young Professionals” — such candidates typically have many options. Coop referred to a survey of current and 2004-2009 R. Gene Richter Scholars, their mentors and hiring managers, which shows these talented individuals typically receive four offers for full-time employment upon graduation.

As such, Coop and Martin emphasized, companies must find a way to differentiate themselves if they hope to get their attention. “Offering competitive salaries is no longer sufficient,” they warned. “After recruiting, on-boarding and retention also present challenges.”

So, what actually gets these sought-after candidate’ attention? According to the presenters, their top three characteristics for employer selection are:

1) The desire for challenging work assignments — clarity and specificity around the roles they will play within their organizations, as well as their ability to contribute in a meaningful way. “This means you can really increase employees’ job satisfaction levels if you’re talking to them about how they affect the bottom line,” Coop told attendees.

2) Salary – On average, the high-talent young professionals surveyed attracted average starting salaries of $58,000. Although salary was high on the list of selection criteria, however, Coop pointed out that it’s not just about money for them. “In fact, more than half of the people we surveyed did NOT accept the highest salary offer,” she said. “They were more concerned with the no. 1 criterion and settled on jobs that were within a competitive pay range.”

(For her part, Martin pointed out that supply management new hires at Pfizer do try to negotiate salary at the time of their hire – something she considers a GOOD sign for future procurement professionals.)

3) Perceived fit of company culture — working with people they enjoy being around or who have similar interests; positive company reputation (especially in the supply management profession); corporate commitment to community and the environment; flexibility and opportunity for work/life balance. “They want to work for a company they can be proud of,” Coop asserted.

“Once you’ve figured out your ‘sell’ package, you can figure out your ‘retain’ package,” Coop said. “Usually, it’s the same things that attracted them to the company in the first place that will help you keep them.”

To identify these high-talent young professionals requires deliberate, specific plans of action, both Coop and Martin agreed. At ConAgra, a core group of schools is selected, campus leaders and teams are assigned, recruiting plans are developed, and strategic campus relationships are built to sustain the company’s presence on campus – often times with academics in supply management. “I turned down interviews with certain companies because my professors didn’t give them good reviews,” Coop – a 2004 Richter Scholar – recalled.

Also, because attrition rates can be high among this group (62 percent with three or more years work experience are no longer with their first full-time employer, and 50 of the others intend to leave their first employer in the next year), they thrive in roles that challenge them to solve difficult problems or complete challenging assignments. In fact, hitting a wall with regard to development opportunities was the most often-cited reason for attrition of high talent young professionals, according to the survey.

To remedy this, Coop and Martin recommended building individual development plans, with the support of coaches or mentors. “Providing a list of classes to attend, or a checklist to follow, isn’t enough,” Coop warned. Instead, she emphasized the importance of onboarding, goal alignment, success maps and individual development plans.

“If an organization can show high-talent young professionals that it’s willing to invest in their success, it will, in turn, have great success in hiring and retaining these individuals,” the presenters concluded.
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