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Recruiters Should Use Subtle Cues

As law schools and other masters’ and doctoral-level programs compete for students, recruiters need to be armed with the best tools possible. Many of these tools come from the field of behavioral economics. BE research has identified theories and nudges that can be used during the recruiting process to make it more likely that a student will choose to attend a particular school. For example, the London School of Economics’ research on consumer financial decision-making can be applied to influence one of the most important decisions a person will ever make – where to attend graduate school.

In the study titled, ‘Focal versus background goals in consumer financial decision-making’, researchers found that priming individuals with ‘self-expressive’ background goals may make individuals willing to accept lower returns or greater financial risk when making an investment (Aspara, 2015). In this case, an individual’s emotional tie or connection with a particular company outweighed the potential financial gain or risk associated with making the investment decision.


What is a subtle cue?

To ‘prime’ individuals with subtle cues, information has to be shared through text, graphic images, video, or even colors that an individual will relate to on a personal level. To break this down… have you ever bought a shirt because it was the same color your favorite football team wears or chosen to eat at a restaurant because the person in the brochure had the same look or style as you? Did you ever purchase a product with the U.S. flag on it because it was made here at home? If so, you may have been influenced by subtle cues. Purchasing a product with a U.S. flag on it may speak to your patriotism and value system. Eating at a restaurant where people in the ads look like you may make you feel more comfortable or remind you of dining out with friends. In each of these examples, the subtle cue should have elicited a pleasurable response by making you feel happier or comfortable.

Warning: These same researchers found that overt attempts to achieve this connection can backfire. Subtlety is key.


Recruiters can use subtle cues if they understand what individual students care about and what matters to them.

The typical application for graduate school does not contain enough personal questions to get an idea of who a student is as a person – what they care about and what their value system is. This type of in-depth data is critical for recruiters wishing to use subtle cues in their marketing material, acceptance letters and admitted student days. Schools need to reevaluate their application process, including how they intake and process applicant information to arm recruiters with the information they need to effectively incorporate behavioral economic theories into their recruiting strategies.

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