3 Ways To Overcome The “Small Town” Talent Shortage

For organizations in small cities and towns, the talent shortage can seem even more acute than for their counterparts in large cities, as they are targeting the same talent pool as those in major metropolitan areas. If you’re in Port Jervis, New York or Palmyra, Pennsylvania, you might think you can’t compete effectively against places like New York and Los Angeles, but you would be wrong: your town has strengths that big cities don’t.

Here are 3 ways you can emphasize your finer points and win the best employees.

1. Leverage your city’s benefits and brand your organization accordingly. Focus on the authentic benefits of living in your city, and build a corporate culture that celebrates those advantages. One of Battalia Winston’s clients—based in Ferndale, Washington—has done this quite effectively. The Ferndale area, and Washington state as a whole, is known for outdoor recreation and healthy living. This company’s employees can often be found fly-fishing, rock-climbing, and enjoying the myriad of outdoor activities in the area. As a result, the company has created a culture that is focused on wellness, work-life balance, and community involvement. A lively internal culture that reflects the culture of the city will attract talented professionals who want to opt-out of big city living.

Does your town have a scenic bicycle path, free Friday night movies at the beach, or the best hot wings in the county? Also, often, a good sports venue or museum is within a short drive. Take a look around and you’ll find plenty of benefits to emphasize.

This is even more important today with millennials. On the one hand, they want to live in a community that has all the amenities they need close by. On the other hand, many of them prefer biking, hiking and public transportation to home and car ownership. So any company that has bike racks, shuttle buses to public transportation, a variety store on the premises and other such perks would definitely have a leg up when it comes to attracting millennials to your business, and you should emphasize these perks in your recruitment advertising.

“Recruiting top talent is an exercise in marketing—you must identify your target audience and tailor your messagE to them.”

2. Target the right candidate profile. Recruiting top talent is an exercise in marketing—you must identify your target audience and tailor your message to them. It’s unlikely that you’ll convince a candidate whose heart is set on living in Chicago to move to rural Illinois, so focus instead on professionals who may be more inclined to small city living, and be creative in your efforts. For instance, how about advertising at a local fishing competition, or placing an ad on a hiking website or in church bulletins?

Boomerangs—candidates who attended college or grew up in your town and may want to move back—are smart targets, as are candidates from mid-sized cities, who, since they’re not accustomed to big cities, won’t experience culture shock after their relocation. All colleges and universities have job boards on their site, too, so that’s a great place to start.

3. Establish a formal process for familiarizing candidates with your city. Potential candidates rely on preconceived notions about your locale (or over-generalized judgments of small cities in general) when they evaluate your company. It’s important to show them a more accurate representation. This can be done at a variety of investment levels—from messaging about the city on your website (including employee testimonials about the area and its lifestyle) to an in-person guided tour. Furthermore, it’s critical to remember that securing the candidate’s buy-in is only half the battle: their spouse and/or children need to be on board. For candidates in the final rounds of the selection process, consider inviting their family along for the interview, encouraging them to explore the city and make a first-hand judgment.

Battalia Winston has seen a number of firms in small cities succeed with these strategies. However, we advise executives and hiring managers to beware of candidates who use a feigned willingness to relocate to disguise an alternative agenda. Some candidates may hope that, once the hiring manager falls in love with their personality and skill set, they’ll be able to work remotely and avoid a major move. It’s essential that employers be up-front about the requirement to relocate and weed out unwilling candidates early in the process.

Overall, employers in smaller cities should focus on creating a stimulating, welcoming internal culture, aligning their corporate brand with the strengths of their city, and targeting candidates who have a potential affinity for small city life.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014. This article has been recently updated. 

Dale Winston is Chairwoman and CEO of Battalia Winston, one of the largest woman-owned executive search firms in the United States. Dale’s career in executive search spans over 25 years. She has successfully recruited board members and high profile CEO’s, CFO’s and senior management to many of the top publicly and privately held companies throughout North America and abroad. Terence M. Gallagher is President of Battalia Winston. He has more than 20 years of broad-gauged experience in executive search and focuses primarily in recruiting Board Directors, CEO’s, General Managers and all C Suite executives for a broad range of industries including: Business and Professional Services, Industrial Products, Insurance/Financial Services and Technology.

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