How Can the Publishing Industry Compete to Attract the Brightest Young Talent?
I’m not a recruiter; I’ve never been a recruiter. I’ve hired a lot of people over the years and when I look back I can honestly say that I’m not great at it and I’m the first to admit it. I’ve completed courses and read books, often with contradicting advice. I’ve followed the steps and I’ve still made mistakes in hiring. But then, most of us have. What I have seen is that publishing, as a career choice, has become less attractive to young graduates, thus making it harder to hire the best of them.
So, why has publishing dropped so far down the rankings of career choices? There’s no simple answer to this and we need to understand the career expectations of the millennial generation.
Hiring the Millennial Generation
According to a FlexJobs survey 85% of recent grads would like to telecommute 100% of the time. This doesn’t always fit with our industry’s practices. We like everyone ‘in the office’ if possible, where we can bond, share ideas and learn from each other. In many cases we have offices in expensive cities, like New York, where housing can be astronomical and commuting can be costly and time consuming. The young talent we’re aiming to attract have more options available to them; the possibility to work remotely and build a better work-life balance is most appealing to 84% of those surveyed. Who wouldn’t want to work from a comfortable home in Colorado, finish work at 5pm and head out to the mountains at the drop of a hat, as opposed to sweating away in a mid-town Manhattan office until 7pm and schlepping home on an hour long commute to the more affordable suburbs?
And then there’s the question of earnings. In return for working long hours in bricks and mortar offices in expensive locations we offer relatively low incomes. The average salary of a journalist has risen 10.3% since 2003, compared to a 28% increase on the mean salary of all occupations. In fact, the average journalist now earns barley the national average income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The fact that publishing, as an industry, has suffered and become less profitable is of no concern to this generation, they have other choices. Choosing to work in the process of creating content, designing attractive page layouts, and building audiences now means starting the job search with brands and tech giants, who offer more attractive working conditions and compensation.
“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” -- Bill Gates
But still there are those young people who have a passion for journalism, photography, and the creative process we follow. There is still an attraction and enthusiasm for creating well-written and curated magazines and websites. We need to make sure we don’t inadvertently overlook these people as we process their resumes through HR software platforms. These automated processes are great for building large talent pools, but often rely on searching keywords to match with job descriptions as a way to create short lists of candidates before a human eye sees them. Does this mean we’re hiring from a short list of candidates adept at following a format and making use of keywords and basic SEO skills, as opposed to those who write in a more creative and fluid style? Is there a better way of finding gold dust in a pile of sand?
How Innovative Companies Hire New Talent
How do the fast growing tech giants hire? Those companies scaling so quickly that on-boarding new employees has become their single most important strategy for growth. They take a more strategic and often non-traditional view of the hiring process. Even Google had to work hard to become an attractive place to work. When the tech giant began its most explosive period of growth in the early 2000s it had to find ways to make the hiring process more effective and efficient. Google focused on setting an incredibly high bar for new hires, finding ideal candidates on its own, and providing candidates with a compelling reason to sign on -- like the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people in the industry.
These companies have become flexible and adapted their businesses as a way of attracting the brightest and best young talent. That doesn’t mean putting games rooms and bean bags into the office, it means giving employees the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be happiest and most productive, which doesn’t necessarily cost us money. It means adapting to the way employees work, adjusting their job descriptions and KPIs so that they become more efficient and productive for the business. The companies that are getting this right are harnessing long-term loyalty, offering share options, and are focused on employee well-being. It means that some of us need to adapt our hiring criteria and review how we operate and manage our teams in the future.
New Talent, New Ideas & The Future of Publishing
When we all consider the future of our industry the challenge may not simply be that our business models are changing. The challenge may be in how we attract the brightest of the next generation to help solve these problems for us. We’ve become preoccupied with the migration of reading from paper to screens and the rise of fresh competition. The answer could be to take a longer-term view, discover new ways to attract young talent and give them the opportunities and the working conditions they need to help shape the future of our industry. This is a generation that has grown up in a period of remarkable change. They’re in a much better position to understand the possibilities of the future. We need to reach out to them earlier, court them at graduate career fairs, and help to shepherd and educate them about our industry and its potential, not just offer uninspiring internship programs.
Like I said, I’m not great at hiring and have made enough mistakes, but perhaps I could have limited those mistakes by ensuring I’d fished in the best pond. I’m still learning and trying to figure it out too.
Robert Grainger had 15 years experience in magazines in the UK before co-founding Stonewash, building apps for publishers, in 2009. He served as the CEO of Stonewash until its sale in 2015 and has served on the board of SiiA (Europe), as well as being a regular speaker and commentator on the subject of digital media.