Ep. 66

Recruiting in Rural Areas w/ Sarah Hughes

In episode 66, we talk with Sarah Hughes about challenges that recruiters in rural areas face—and how to deal with them.

Sarah Hughes

Corporate Compensation Advisor
Acher Daniels Midland (ADM)

Sometimes, the best way to promote your employer brand and attract candidates is through social media. Other times, it’s through … a newspaper ad? On this episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, Sarah Hughes, corporate compensation advisor at Acher Daniels Midland (ADM), shared some of the things that make recruiting in rural areas unique—for one, newspaper job ads still work. Sarah explained that while recruiting in rural areas has its own challenges, it’s rewarding to see firsthand the outcomes of your work.

During our discussion, we talked about:

  • Three things that make recruiting in rural areas challenging
  • How to overcome those challenges
  • Effective ways to find candidates in rural areas
  • The way that small town culture affects employer branding
  • Tips for new recruiters
  • Why recruiting in rural areas is exciting and rewarding

Episode 66 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice, and today I’m joined by Sarah Hughes, who’s a corporate compensation advisor at ADM. Sarah, how you doing today?

[00:00:13] Sarah Hughes: Doing great, Garrett. Thanks. How about you?

[00:00:16] Garrett Jestice: Doing so good. It’s great to have you on this show today. I know you and I were talking before we jumped on here, you said you were one of our first members of the HR Mavericks community, but have been one of those quiet lurkers until recently. Is that right?

[00:00:28] Sarah Hughes: That is right. Yes, it is. Taking off the lurker hat and joining the party.

[00:00:33] Garrett Jestice: I love it. We’re welcome to the party. We’re super, super happy to have you here. Before we jump into this topic, which I think is gonna be great, tell us a little bit more about you and your career background and also what you do currently in your role.

[00:00:47] Sarah Hughes: Sure. So I guess we’ll start. I’m a Western Illinois grad Moline Quad City campus. Woo woo. I got a business management degree. So very well rounded, know all the different facets of business than that degree. Graduated, had a couple internships. Congressional intern, board game compliance intern, marketing.

Wore many hats before I finally fell into my first HR role at a health staffing company. From there I joined CHS, and that’s Cenex Harvest State. That was my first big time job as an HR business partner. Did that about five and a half years. And then, in May transitioned to ADM, where I currently sit as a compensation advisor.

[00:01:34] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. Love that. So tell us a little bit more, I’m curious. I, I always love to learn why people were drawn to this role of HR and also like what’s kept them there. Tell us a little bit more about that, because it sounds like you didn’t know when you, even when you’re in school, that you wanted to do HR.

It’s something you discovered later on. Is that right?

[00:01:54] Sarah Hughes: It’s true. So it’s really funny. My mom has been in human resources my entire life, so you know, senior vice president of HR, many different levels. So I grew up with it around constantly. But she didn’t wanna be one of the parents that were like, this is what you’re gonna do, you know, She thought I’d be good at it, but she’s like, you know, follow your own path.

So I did, and then it was I think my junior year when I had my first HR class and I was like, Well, this is it. This is what I wanna do. So, from there really started to focus in on how do I get there with a business degree. because at first people were like, Well, do you have the experience? So I pulled from a lot of my training background, customer service, business knowledge, and then I was fortunate enough to get a shot. So…

[00:02:41] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome.

[00:02:42] Sarah Hughes: Yeah. And what keeps me there is just, like everything I said, the people… business, it’s constantly changing. People in the business side of things that just stays the same wherever you go.

[00:02:53] Garrett Jestice: That’s so true, and it seems like throughout your career you have had experience across a mix of different types of companies, right? Like you said, you started at a small gaming company, is that right? And then you’ve worked, you know, at super large companies, chs, adm, I know are are large companies. What’s been the main takeaway or learning for you in terms of the difference between how HR is done in like those small business environments versus large?

[00:03:22] Sarah Hughes: I think what it boils down to is the amount of resources you have. So, you know, when it was like the one man team, at like the board game company, you know, it was very small grassroots. And I had to lean on external partners. You know, not everyone can call their mom and say like, Hey, what do I do for this?

So, you know, leaning on that, versus, you know, well a larger company, you can go and find the different cools of, you know, what’s our policies? What have we done in this case? So that’s just been the main difference for me.

[00:03:51] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense. Well, I’m excited to get into our topic today, Sarah. You proposed this topic, which I think is so relevant but rarely talked about, and so I’m so glad that you propose this topic. It’s recruiting in rural areas, and it’s so often that it doesn’t matter if it’s a large company or a small company, it’s just plain harder to recruit in rural areas versus large cities where there’s just fewer people.

Right? And as a result, there’s fewer qualified people. Right. And so we’re gonna get into some of that and I’m super excited to hear what you have to share on this topic. So tell us first, just to kind of set the stage, what has been your experience in the past recruiting in rural area… rural areas? 

[00:04:35] Sarah Hughes: So, at my last role at CHS as part of that HR business partner role, a lot of it was hourly recruiting. So I did that for, you know, those five years in both, you know, where I was at my local facility, near my home in a rural community, and then also rural recruiting in a place called Brandon North Dakota.

Very, very small. It was, so that’s kind of like when you say on paper, the experience, but the whole thing was very challenging, very rewarding. So that’s how I’d put it.

[00:05:06] Garrett Jestice: That’s fascinating. So what were the things that really surprised you when you started this process for the first time of recruiting in a rural area?

[00:05:15] Sarah Hughes: Yeah. So the thing that I thought about most of what surprised me was just the different tricks we had to pull out of our hats. So like, when I first came in, I was like, What? We don’t have social media presence. What? We need to, we need to do that. They were still doing newspaper ads. And I was like, What, who reads the newspaper?

We’re doing this. So we did build up our social media presence, which was very successful, but we were, we could still see, it’s been a little bit, but I remember we could still tell there was a bit of a gap and the leaders were like, Well, this used to work for us, We wanna try it again. And I was like, okay.

You know, to kind of humor them, like, we’ll try it. And it worked. I was shocked. I was shocked because what we found was in maybe, you know, kind of our, our target wasn’t reading the newspaper, but their family members, their friends, they were reading it and calling them and saying, You need to go work at this place.

So that was probably one of the biggest surprises for me was like, what, the newspaper works for advertising?

[00:06:19] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that’s something that seems dated, but definitely works in these kind of niche markets, right? In these rural areas. So how would, how would, how would you describe then, like what are the biggest challenges that a recruiter typically faces when going, especially if they have experienced recruiting in an urban area to then go recruit in a rural area?

What are those biggest challenges?

[00:06:43] Sarah Hughes: So I would say, a couple things that come to mind. That one is breaking, at least in our case is breaking this perception that you had to drive far, have a really long commute to have gainful employment. Because one of the benefits of living in a rural community, you have a lower cost of living, but then, you know, you couldn’t really find a, you know, gainful employment.

In our case, that wasn’t true. You know, you could live in our, the nearest town, 10 minutes away and come to our jobs and make, you know, a very good wage. And especially with gas being as high it is now even more relevant of you may be making quite substantially more of paper at this position, but gas has eaten half of that.

So you can come here, still make a really, really good wage with good benefits, all those things, and not have that big gas expense. So that’s a big challenge to get people to think that way.

[00:07:37] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I can definitely see how that is applicable and, and in most cases when you’re recruiting in a rural area, it’s probably because you need someone in person on site at your location. It’s different than so much, we hear so much today of the work remote or hybrid, and there’s some jobs, I read an interesting stat a few weeks ago that it was something like…

66% of US jobs still cannot be performed remote, right? And so we hear so much about, you know, the remote work and there’s a lot of businesses that have transitioned and that’s great. There still are certain types of businesses where you need a physical presence in people there and often in rural areas that’s the case. Right? 

[00:08:21] Garrett Jestice: And so one of these challenges is changing that mindset that you don’t have to commute far if you live in the rural areas. What other challenges have you seen that recruiters face when going to recruit rurally?

[00:08:33] Sarah Hughes: So one of the other ones I would think about, that you’ll hear across the board is, like you said, a lot of these roles can’t be done remotely. When you think of maintenance techs, process technicians where you have to work with your hands and, you know, fix this machinery, their, you know, in years past that mechanical aptitude and that experience with machinery was much higher than it is today.

So it’s also once you kind of get your feet on the ground assessing how do I build that talent? Either it’s, you know, who are the community partners, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later. But also, if there aren’t, how can I do my own grassroots to build that skillset with who I have?

[00:09:15] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense. Awesome. Any other big challenges you would say that like really stood out to you?

[00:09:22] Sarah Hughes: Hmm. I think, some of the scheduling in some of the rural areas too. So having to find that right way to like just talk up the benefits of some oddball schedules. So like a lot of processing plans will do rotations and switch from days to nights or you know, so it’s finding ways to articulate if you’ve got a wonky schedule, which a lot of rural places typically do, how to sell that up.

[00:09:48] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense. Well, good. So I think we have a good understanding of some of those typical challenges. I wanna transition it a little bit to, to really more about what do you wish you knew when you were starting out? You, you kind of talk about one of those things that surprised you of, like, advertising in the newspaper still works, right?

Kind of falls in line there, but what else do you wish you knew from the beginning?

[00:10:11] Sarah Hughes: So kind of like the newspaper thing. Any off the wall idea that you may have or, you know, one of your coworkers or peers have, like, run that, chase that idea down. And if it’s, you know, ethical, legal, all those things that, you know, from a base level, an HR professional being on the lookout out for, look into it and try it.

That’s one of the biggest things that I wish I had known since it’s like, Oh, I don’t wanna seem silly to bring this up. Nothing’s too silly. You gotta get yourself out there.

[00:10:41] Garrett Jestice: I I love it.

[00:10:42] Sarah Hughes: And then the other thing is also, especially coming into a new role, you feel like you have to do it all yourself. You have to be the best.

You have to be the voice in the room, which to an extent, you need to, in some cases, you need to be that point person and maybe leading it, but you don’t need to know everything. Find the people that do: your community partners, your leaders in your facility or office. It’s a team effort, so don’t put it all on you.

[00:11:09] Garrett Jestice: Love it. Awesome. Anything else that really stands out? You really wish you knew?

[00:11:14] Sarah Hughes: Mmm Mmm. No, really those are the two main things that it’s like if I knew I would’ve been just set.

[00:11:25] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. Well, I want to dive in a little bit deeper than to some of this and get your perspective because I think, you know, as I have worked with small businesses during the last few years being here at Eddy, at our company, especially those small businesses that are in rural areas and trying to hire, One of the things that I see a lot is companies think that it’s all about distribution of your job openings, right?

And because there’s fewer candidates, it’s like, how do we get to be everywhere? And I think that’s an really important part of hiring when there’s fewer candidates. But it’s not, it’s not the whole thing. Right. I, one of the things I liked what you talked about is, you know, starting a social media presence, building a culture, and where people want to work for your company.

I think that’s an important aspect of it. I mean, there’s other aspects like what your compensation is in those areas versus others at, or your, your other benefits. What are the things that really stood out to you as being most effective in actually filling roles in a rural area where there are often fewer candidates?

[00:12:39] Sarah Hughes: Yeah. I actually had this in my notes too, so calling back to the most recent panel of employee brand, employer brand, excuse me. Having that, either building it or rebuilding it is vital. Because in these small towns, word of mouth is key. So being in, you know, involved with the community and doing good in that community, whether it’s having your current employees volunteer, donating money, having some sort of positive presence is huge.

Because I even put like this, this school quote, you know, small towns, Oh, let me look at it. They will either be your biggest supporters or your loudest critics and small towns have long memory. So it’s just, It’s so true. You’ll hear like, Oh, well this, they were like this 10 years ago. Are they still like that?

Maybe. But they all sure know from 10 years ago, that’s how it was. So having to keep putting those positive things out there to get your brand up.

[00:13:38] Garrett Jestice: I love it. That makes total sense. And I, and it ties back into what you said at the beginning of some of those surprising things, like newspaper ads still work and it, and it’s maybe because of that word of mouth, right? That it might be that word of mouth travels so quickly that you gotta think about, you know, the broader family and friend network of the people you need to hire too, and where will they be looking?

[00:13:59] Sarah Hughes: Right.

[00:14:01] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. So as we kind of sum this up a little bit, I think you’ve shared a lot of really good stuff, but you know, it seems like there are definitely some challenges to hiring in a rural area, but why would someone want to be a recruiter in a rural location? What are, what are the cool, unique, or exciting pieces of that role?

[00:14:18] Sarah Hughes: Well, like I said, it is definitely a challenge. So if you like problem solving, figuring things out, definitely that’s, that’s your calling. But the other bit that made it so rewarding is one, like one of my locations was near where I live, so I know the communities. So it was so rewarding to, you know, help recruit someone, see them, get hired, and know that, you know, they’re coming from a situation where they were making, you know, pretty low income to now they can provide for themselves, their families, and they’re just so excited about it.

So that rewarding feeling of helping a small community, huge.

[00:14:57] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense and that’s so awesome. There’s very few jobs where you can have that sort of like impact and see that result of your work, so I can definitely see how that’s rewarding. Sarah, this has been an excellent conversation. I appreciate the shot, the the thoughts that you have shared with us today on this topic.

Are there any last tips that you’d want share with anyone who is starting on this journey of recruiting in a rural area?

[00:15:23] Sarah Hughes: Hmm. My other thing that I would say was a watch out. So at first when we didn’t have like our company Facebook, I used my own. So when you’re in a small town and you’re the recruiter, everyone knows and you’re, you know, sharing all the stuff, it could get a little awkward if they aren’t ultimately selected for the job.

So one other watch out there, try and use the company stuff and keep your name out of it where you. But I just, I recommend it so much. It’s so rewarding and fun. So that’s my, my last bit. It’s great.

[00:15:54] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. They have long memories, like you said. Right. So you gotta be careful with that. Right. Awesome. Well, Sarah, thank you again so much for taking the time to be with us today and sharing your insights on this topic. If there are listeners that want to get in contact with you, if they have follow up questions on this topic or if they wanna pick your brain on it, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?

[00:16:14] Sarah Hughes: So best way to reach out to me is through LinkedIn. Real easy to find me. Sarah Hughes, SPHR.

[00:16:21] Garrett Jestice: Perfect. Thank you so much, Sarah. Hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:16:24] Sarah Hughes: Thank you. You too.

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