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Abraham Maslow would have been a great recruiter. The groundbreaking psychologist described human needs from the bottom up: people first seek physical survival, then safety, then belonging and acceptance, and finally a life in which they can create and positively affect others. The work world follows a similar progression as employees seek out baseline security, earnings, and work/life balance, all the while, striving for a job or career that actually means something.

Filene attended recruiting conferences and hosted roundtables with MBA students to talk about how to put credit unions on their employment radar. Not surprisingly, some MBAs are so focused on strategy consulting, or investment banking, or technology startups that credit unions didn’t even register on their radar. But a surprising number responded to the ideas of “people helping people” and “people before profits.” What most surprised us at Filene was that these students were intrigued by credit unions, but few credit unions were intrigued by them.

As not-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions have social responsibility in their DNA. Credit unions were a movement long before they were an industry, and where the shareholders are the customers, responsibility follows. This history and the structural difference mean that credit unions are socially responsible in a simple, do-right-by-members way. That ethos can turn into a recruiting advantage for credit unions that recognize it and act accordingly. But too often credit union rhetoric about member service is mired in old language. Even worse, too few credit unions make an explicit link between their socially responsible structure and their recruiting. We can’t assume potential employees will discover the link on their own. We must make it explicit and compelling.

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