The education of rural students has not been a high priority focus for government, or for most universities and colleges. But this often-overlooked population can be a great source of future talent. The key is for recruiters, employers and college career development offices to start building meaningful connections within rural communities.

By focusing on what’s important to their community members and providing a way for them to be heard, as well as to connect with colleges, employers and other similar communities, talent seekers can help pick up the slack left by government and simultaneously lay the foundation for creating strong talent networks.

Ask Questions

For starters, find out where rural community members are struggling most when it comes to students’ continuing education and job opportunities. Child poverty is often high in rural areas, and poverty is strongly associated with lower educational attainment. Find out what community members need in terms of resources and motivation for encouraging high school students to not only graduate but to consider furthering their education and focusing on specific types of jobs and careers. Provide “virtual communities” that encourage people to share concerns, ideas and stay connected. Where possible, physical visits to rural locations are an excellent way to show true interest and build relationships.

Listen to Understand

While some issues might seem obvious, don’t assume you know what all rural students, parents and businesses need. If you’ve set up a good system for encouraging input and you can get people talking, really listen to understand what they want. Financial concerns are likely to be a major player in many rural areas, but there might also be a number of ways you can help just by supplying information that addresses their issues and questions.

Explain Opportunities

It’s likely that lack of information and resources causes many students in rural areas to feel that they have very limited options. They might see college as something completely unattainable because they don’t even know where to begin or what questions to ask. Or even who to ask. Providing opportunities that give them better insights into the college application and career development processes can be a big help. Perhaps you could set up an online community where students can find mentors; or, your HR or college career services office could partner with rural communities to provide a realistic picture of the many different job opportunities and how to get those jobs. What kind of education, and what are the steps needed to get it? What skills do they need and what do they have to do to develop them? Be a reliable source of information.

Stay Connected

Continue to be a valuable resource and you will build a loyal following. Your goal with a talent network is to develop strong relationships with potential candidates well in advance of when you actually need them. To do this, focus on nurturing these relationships just as you would any other friendship or acquaintance: Stay in touch through social media, reach out often, show that you’re interested in things that matter to them and be available when they need you. Fortunately, there are many electronic options available to balance the speed and ease of technology with the power to build and maintain solid relationships, while also storing all the candidate information you amass so you’ll have many people to reach out to when new positions open up.

Also, remember that technology isn’t the only way to go. You can add to your talent network through some good old-fashioned hospitality by sponsoring local events or holding an onsite meet and greet to get to know local talent and introduce them to your company or university.


If you’d like more information on the strategies for building a strong talent network, contact us at 415-835-0202 or

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