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Beyond The Milk round: How Graduate Hiring for SMEs has grown up

After 15 years in HR I have learnt that the Graduate recruitment cycle is one that can leave you pulling your hair out.  From graduate fairs and job board advertising in the past to using Twitter and Facebook today, the graduate recruitment market has seen some dramatic changes.

In 2015 99% of businesses in the UK were SMEs so, today choosing to work for an SME isn’t considered doesn’t mean that graduates are settling for 2nd best. Big companies can certainly still compete with their salaries (FYI, Aldi are one of the highest graduate payers with a starting salary of £42,000) and development programmes. But there are drawbacks too: the constraints or a larger organisation can sometimes stifle graduates using their initiative and creativity; competition to climb the hierarchy is intense; and graduates can risk their career stalling.  In contrast, a graduate in an SME can progress faster and have the ability to influence at a more senior level.  So be positive – as an SME you have a lot to offer!

Graduate vacancies in 2016 has taken recruitment beyond the pre-recession peak in 2007, to its highest-ever level and unlike in 2007 SME’s are no longer considered ‘poor relations’ when it comes to attracting the best of what the graduate market now has to offer.

  • The ‘milk round’ approach isn’t completely dead and buried and still has its place, however, increasingly companies are becoming more innovative in the way they attract graduates and with the increase in social media and the increased ease of targeting candidates some of the challenges that SME’s have faced in the past have started to disappear.  
  • In the past graduates may not have noticed SME’s on their job hunting radar but with the plethora of technology and social media available today this is no longer the case.  Use technology to promote your brand.  Social media and professional networking sites have gained even more presence in the graduate market; getting on Twitter and LinkedIn has become crucial.   
  • Be cautious though and don’t limit yourself to just looking for candidates online.  There are pitfalls to this approach and although it will allow you reach a large number of candidates the process of manually weeding out those who apply for everything they see can be never-ending.
  • Today you need to generate interest in your company before graduates hit the market.  Blog posts are free to write and can be hosted on your company website, but they can veer quickly into spam territory and the level of SEO required to make them stand out is no small change for an SME so make sure you give it some serious thought before you start spending.
  • It’s not all about the money and company name anymore.  Graduates motivation is no longer only via their base salary, they are looking for more non-traditional benefits too such as a games room/pool table in the office, casual dress, company social events.  If you do this stuff already don’t be shy about telling people and if you don’t it may be time to think about making some changes to help attract the best talent.
  • Having a strong career path and being able to show success against this is another big attraction.  Graduates don’t necessarily want a job for life but they do want a company that can develop and progress their careers and in an SME they are likely to develop faster.  Be clear about what is on offer and the opportunities available.
  • Graduates today do not expect to leave work and shut off for the day, they expect to integrate their jobs into their lives and vice versa. That can mean working remotely when possible, taking time for personal projects and staying connected to friends during office hours.  Make sure that you are communicating these types of benefits when looking for graduates.
  • The relationship between higher education and the SME sector is changing from both sides. SMEs need to raise their levels of skills and knowledge, while the higher education system is producing more graduates than the traditional graduate employers require. Make the time to connect with your local universities and colleges and promote your business throughout the academic year.

Unlike in the past engaging with graduates will depend on “lifting the lid” on your company culture, says David Rudick, VP International Markets at job board platform Indeed. “Heavily influenced by social media and peer reviews, graduate jobseekers also expect a similar level of transparency from their future employers.” If you want to engage with graduates you need to be open about what it’s like to work in your business.

There has been a lot of discussion recently over requirements of candidates and some of the larger graduate recruiters are following the trend of removing the need for a degree level qualification at all, Ernst & Young, one of the UK’s biggest graduate recruiters, has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is “no evidence” success at university correlates with achievement in later life.  Make sure you don’t limit your search by being to prescriptive over university attended or grade achieved.

It’s been estimated that 32% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations.  You should be thinking about how you can work with local higher education establishments earlier than in the final year of a course by offering work experience placements, running skills training events, drop in sessions and so on to generate interest in your company early on. With more people graduating from university than ever, this has put pressure on students to start thinking about their careers and researching what employers in their field look for much earlier in their studies.

Finally, think about your recruitment process once you’ve attracted a candidate.  After all that hard work you don’t want candidates to have to jump through technological hoops just to get to interview stage.  Traditional recruitment processes such as filing out long forms or having multiple interviews could turn off the graduates from the tech-savvy generation.  Consider more innovative ways for candidates to apply such video CV’s or applications.

So, are you ready to hire your graduate? How will your business gain the upper hand in the graduate market? It’s a competition for the best graduate talent out there – so make sure you make the most of it!

To join in the discussion join us at the TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

p.s – To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.


How To Get The Most Out Of Your Work Placement

The idea of giving young people the opportunity to get a taste of the world of employment can be an appealing one, for many reasons: it can strengthen your reputation; give you an immense amount of satisfaction; ensure that you’re playing your part in creating a skilled workforce for the future. Not to mention give you an extra pair of hands.

But it can be a complete minefield. I recently went to take on an apprentice as was shocked by the sheer bunch of paperwork I had to complete to do this properly. When you get down to the nitty gritty though, it can become tempting to ditch the idea completely. The process traditionally involves a ton of red tape and jumping through hoops, so however good your intentions, it can sometimes just seem like too much hassle.

Things are changing though, and many business leaders can see the value of creating opportunities for young people. Here, we explain what you need to know to move forward.

Step outside the notion of a one-week placement

Back in the day, work experience would involve young people taking a week out of formal education to work a 9-5 role with a local employer. Nowadays, things are much more flexible.

Could you offer site visits to schools? Could you, or a member of your staff, offer mentoring? Could you offer evening or weekend opportunities? Thinking outside of the box could prove to be better for your business, and for the young people who you’ll be working with.

Think beyond making the tea and collecting the post

No one’s expecting you to hand over the running of your company, and throwing your placement right in at the deep end could prove to be overwhelming. Ease them in gently, but be sure to give them real opportunities and challenges to get their teeth stuck into during their time in your business.

Keep in mind that a young person can bring a fresh perspective to the table, as well as energy and enthusiasm. You might just stumble upon your next big business idea.

Draw up a plan

It makes sense to think about how your young person will spend their time when they’re in your business. Of course, they’ll need to know what hours they’re working and where they need to show up on the first day, but thinking a little wider than this can set you up for success.

How will their time be filled? Can they shadow various members of staff? Can they get involved in different projects? Is it possible to offer them an element of choice, so they can learn more about the areas they’re interested in? Be flexible, but be sure to have at least the bare bones of a plan.

Communication, communication, communication

Communication is always important in the workplace, and if you want to offer a successful placement, then it’s absolutely essential. Start by having an initial conversation with the school so you understand what they’re expecting.

On the very first day of the placement, arrange an informal chat with the young person so you can understand what they want to take away from the process. On the final day, provide them with feedback. And of course, invite them to share their own feedback about the experience. You could take away some really valuable insights into how your business is operating.

At this stage, you may well have questions about how all of this could work for you. Perhaps you’ve got unique challenges that you need to overcome, or you’d just like to chat with an experienced professional about getting your work placements right first time. Book here to get in touch today for a no-obligation chat.

You’ll walk away with a clear idea about what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

p.s – To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.

 Photo credit: Olu Eletu

The Unusual Suspects: How To Do Diversity In An SME

‘Diversity’ as a word tends to anaesthetise or polarise most people in SMEs in my experience. Either they zone out on the basis that it’s not something they need concern themselves about or they get them slightly on edge and a wee bit defensive.

And I understand the defensive part. Because if I ran a company of, say 100 people, but had no significant proportion of anyone but middle class white males (or any other homogenous group) in my management team, I’d be fidgeting in my seat too….

But zoning out and thinking it’s an issue for other people is just not cool either. Because it shows you up as someone who is closing your eyes and ears to doing something which will help your businesses exponentially.

Want more innovation in your mix? Our creativity and problem solving skills get better when we mix with people who challenge our own stereotypes (Richard Crisp, HR Magazine). So if you’re sitting in a room with people who are ‘just like you’, you’re less likely to be innovative.

Want better performance? Step forward Diversity again. Having at least 30% of women in leadership (it’s 19% currently in UK SME’s btw) adds to your profit margin ( The Peterson Institute).

Want to understand your customers? The starting point to most marketing. However if you serve a variety of clients or customers but yet you only ever employ a narrow section of the population, you’re doing yourself a disservice in recognising what their needs are.

Want to keep your great employees? Anecdotally, a prominent reason openly discussed in women’s networking groups as to why so many successful women have left their businesses to set up on their own, is due to the lack of recognition they receive in their previous (mostly male) organisations.

And it’s not that I think most SME’s I’ve encountered are anti-diversity. They’re just often not interested in being ‘pro’ it, falling into the zoning out category mentioned up front.

For example, I know that most would simply say that they believe with regards to their hiring policy that they should hire the best person for the job. Who has the best experience. And pay them what they need to in the market rate. And if that person just happens to be a middle class, white, male. Well, who am I to turn them away? When put in those terms, all practices sound reasonable. Admirable even. And definitely not sexist. But recognising that there is something wrong with that picture? Not a jot.

It’s genuinely sad that I even need to start this post by listing the business rationale for mixing it up a bit. In just about every other aspect of our lives we’re surrounded by an equal mix of both men and women. Because we’d get bored if not and we instinctively recognise in our personal lives that variety is a good thing. So why not at work?

So, assuming you want your business to succeed, that you want to have the benefits a representative mix of the population can offer you, the next challenge is how you practically start to change things. In the words of one of my clients: “What do you want me to do? Fire my existing team?!. Obviously not (unless they’re cr** that is). But how about trying out these practical steps to pave your way forward:

  • It all starts at the beginning… So get real in your advertising & job descriptions and think about the words you are using to describe the candidates you are looking for. Most businesses write a wish list which don’t actually describe what they are looking for and an instead provide an easy way to screen out good potential candidates. Is it really essential that this person has over ten years experience in a specific type of environment at a senior level? Because if it is, then you might have unwittingly just ruled out anyone who’s ever had a career break. Surely you want someone who’s delivered the best results and in which case, change your criteria (and your questions later).
  • Shortlist a blend of candidates: The next time you go to hire, ask the person helping you with your hiring to provide an equal amount of male and female candidates in the mix. It’ll be tough in some industries, but challenge yourself and them to do so.
  • Highlight the unconscious bias that sits in all of us when it comes to interviewing: Make everyone who is interviewing candidates watch at least 3 of the videos in Facebook’s series of unconscious bias training. They take about 15 minutes each, can be watched over lunch and I guarantee will have people thinking more about their own unconscious biases and the impact of them. This isn’t a male or female ‘thing’. We’re all in this one together.
  • Promote the women in your business. And I don’t mean promote them to a new role all the time. But promote and recognise their accomplishments, encourage them to showcase their work internally and externally.
  • Find role models for your female team members to look up to: if you can’t find any internal mentors (because you only have men on the senior team) then provide external help or encourage them to join networking groups in your industry where they can find support.
  • Offer greater flexibility. Shared Paternity Leave is a start, but culturally we are a long way off Geoff from the rugby club telling his mates that he’s taking 4 months out to look after the twins whilst Georgina goes back to work… To help us get to that point however, instead focus on a results and DO THE MATHS: a superstar employee of either sex will outperform an average one by about 5 times. So if your superstar employee is female & does want a bit of flexible working, don’t penalise yourself by penalising her and not allowing it. Because if you don’t offer it, someone else will….
  • (But) Be consistent: Allow the same degree of flexibility for everyone in your business and don’t penalise people who have different hours: in one firm I knew of a highly respected (male) developer came and went as he pleased without comment, whilst a mother returning to work was practically put on clocking-in such was the concern that allowing her flexibility would ‘open the floodgates’. Open the floodgate to what exactly? Fabulous performance?

My own experience tells me that there is little in SMEs beyond token nods towards improving diversity. And although mine is only a small data set to use, the stories I hear from other female friends and colleagues plus published research, backs up these views.

The good news however, is that many are open to these changing and I hold a very strong hope that by the time my sons enter the workplace, that their attitudes, and those of their peers will be so far removed from the ones which currently prevail, that ‘Diversity’, as a label, will be obsolete due to it just simply being the norm.

If you want to see what opportunities there are in your business to benefit from being more diverse, get in touch with us for an initial chat about how we might be able to work together: or call 0203 627 7048.

You’ll walk away from your free consultation with a clear idea about what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

p.s – To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.

Photo Credit: Carl Jones – The Usual Jellies

Three Reasons Why You’re Wasting Money On Your Recruitment Processes

If your business is growing and you’ve got more customers and clients coming through your doors, then chances are you might be thinking about recruiting more staff during 2016. Of course, this can often be great news, and a real indicator that you’re heading in the right direction. But whether you’re completely new to the world of recruiting staff, or you’ve got masses of experience, you need to recognise that there are some costly mistakes that you need to make every effort to avoid. And even seasoned recruiters aren’t immune to wasting cash when it comes to appointing new team members.

Your budget is extremely important (and can disappear very quickly!). So to ensure that you get the most out of it, here are just three reasons why you could be spending too much money on recruitment and how to use the cash more wisely.

You’re looking for talent in all the wrong places

When we think about vacancies, we often think about advertising them. And there are a few options that often seem like no-brainers. Perhaps you’ve got the local newspaper on your list, or the online job board that keeps popping up that you’ve always used. These can be great places to start in certain circumstances, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right for your business. So imagine for a second that you’re looking for a highly experienced individual from a very specific background. What publications will this person typically read? What sites would they read? Which radio and podcast shows will they listen to? Which events will they go to? (Hint, hint: these are not always recruitment fairs). Once you establish where your ideal candidates will be, you can make steps towards putting your vacancies in front of them in a compelling way. This is the only strategy that will ensure the best return on your investment.

Your systems are outdated

You’re fully aware that we’re living in a thoroughly modern age, and you have a wealth of gigantic opportunities right at your fingertips. Your marketing department is no doubt tapping into this, so if your HR and recruitment practices aren’t keeping up, then you need to ask yourself why. Perhaps at the moment, you ask your candidates to travel to your office at each stage of the recruitment process. It’s time consuming for everyone involved, and there’s often a hefty bill that needs to be covered. But is it really even necessary? Why not instead hold initial interviews via Skype/ Facetime, and save yourself a whole load of time and hassle. Often, candidates will appreciate this approach as their time is precious too, and it’s important to recognise that.

You’re recruiting the wrong people

Often, when business leaders think about how to improve their recruitment processes, they neglect to think about the bigger picture. Maybe your interviews have gone swimmingly and you have your new recruit ready to start on Monday, but have you stopped to think about whether they’re truly the best person for the job? If not, then your costs could spiral out of control.

Getting a new starter into the role isn’t the end game here. It’s only the very beginning. Think about whether your employee is likely to stay. Have they been given a realistic view of what the role entails? Do they really have the necessary skills and competencies? Are they honestly a great fit for your business? Answering these questions isn’t easy, but it’s a necessity. And the hardest part of all is that you need to give them some consideration before you’ve even made your choice.

To find the right person for your business, you’re going to have to spend some cash. That’s inevitable, and it can be a very wise investment for the future of your operations. But get it wrong, and it could be something that proves to have far-reaching consequences. Take your time, plan your approach, and make sure that you’re not trying to manage everything on your own.

For more advice and a step by step guide on how to find and hire the very best, check out our WhitePaper: How Great HR can Help you Scale your Business.

TheHRhub is here: the ultimate online support system for SMEs and startups.

Photo Credit: DAvid_a_l Recruitment

Pants On Fire: How To Tell If A Candidate Is Telling Porkies At Interview

Over a quarter of UK job candidates admitted to lying on their CV’s, according to a study in 2015 (CV-library). The figure goes down to 17% for those to admit to doing it during the interview process, but I wouldn’t hold too much comfort in that. Because if those are all who actually admit to doing so, then let’s assume the figure is a wee bit higher…..

Given that your role when you are interviewing a candidate is to assess how someone would perform if you hire them and that you mostly rely on the answers they provide to do this, what are the kind of things you should look for to spot if the person in front of you is in fact telling porkies when it comes to explaining their own competence?

We all want to be more Inspector Clousseau than Inspector Gadget, possessing laser like precision about when someone is telling the truth and when they are wide of the mark. But the truth is that no-one can.

Making someone comfortable to begin with helps

Experts talk about ‘establishing a baseline’ when it comes to spotting a liar .i.e if you know how someone normally behaves, then you will find it easier to spot when something is making them uncomfortable (or when they are telling an untruth). Poker players call this their ‘tick’.

Most people try and make someone comfortable automatically by asking pleasantries about the journey, weather etc, however I would suggest that you need a little more than the average 35 minute interview time to get to know someone well enough to spot what their baseline is.

Check out their eyes

I once read that when answering questions, people look and up and right if they are recalling events they have been part of and up and left if they are looking at events they have created. Brilliant, I thought. And armed with this information, off I skipped to my next interview with my new superpower.

Whilst this theory might hold true, unfortunately in practice, I found myself more confused about remembering “was it my left or their left?” (it’s theirs btw) than what they were saying, that I ended missing an entire chunks of answers from the candidate and having to spend twice as long as I normally would with someone.

From that point on, I thought it better to focus on the task in hand and even if I could then work out my Left from theirs, decided instead to leave aside the non-verbals and focus on what they were actually saying.

Ask one question and then probe the answers

Drilling into into them further helps establish the facts: it’s easy to come up with one sweeping statement or short answer to a question, but as they say, the devil is in the detail…So ask for examples of what they are claiming and then ask further open questions ( what, why, when, how, who etc).

The same can be done about information regarding salaries. I know it’s a particularly British trait to want to leave aside the money, however it can play a key part in establishing the truth when it comes to the success of a sales person in particular. First ask about their salary and commission. Then later ask about their targets. Then follow up with how much of their target they made. And also how much is on their P60 last year (explain that you would ask for this as part of any reference checking). Some are evasive here, but this is far better than any other form of verification on this topic. Which brings me neatly to …

References. If you’re tempted to rely on references to corroborate any applicants potential, a word to the wise: don’t. While references can indeed confirm if a person worked where they say they did (which in itself is useful), evidence suggests that references are amoung the worst predictors of performance in any assessment process, ranking just above handwriting analysis in terms of reliability….

And don’t also forget that some untruths might be more akin to exaggeration, rather than outright lies which would damage their career or cause you harm. After all, you are asking the candidate to put themselves in their best light, so who in their right mind is not going to put themselves centre of stage in that situation.

Feeling like a bit of a boost in the Leadership department? Don’t forget also to check out our new eBook, Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader

Photo Credit: Liar by id-iom

HR Hacks: Improve Your Recruitment Process Without Strangulation

Recruitment processes can sometimes leave you tied up in knots. We’ve all been there. Searching for ‘the one’ and feeling like you’ll never find them. Being inundated with CV’s and not being able to respond to candidates. Or just feeling like you are in the never ending circle of recruiting more staff. If your organisation is okay at getting decent candidates in a reasonable amount of time that’s great. But if you are at the stage where you want to refocus, these simple steps will help to point you in the right direction – without leaving you gasping for air…..

Create A Careers Page On Your Website

  • Creating a careers page on your website can save you time and money.  You can post any job adverts on the page for starters allowing candidates to contact you directly limiting the need to use agencies.
  • You can have an FAQ page which should help to cut down on the number of applicant questions you receive during the hiring process which helps save you time. Include simple questions such as ‘How do I apply for position?’, ‘Will you contact me if a suitable alternative role comes up?’, ‘How many stages are typically involved in your interviewing process?’ and  ‘Will I receive a confirmation once I submit my application?
  • You can also include pictures of current employees with testimonials about working for your business. Better yet, embed videos with employees talking about what to expect when working at your company. Have your videos available on a company Facebook page as well if you have one.

Create A Careers Blog For Your Company

A careers blog will give candidates instant access to what is happening in your business.  Set up a regular blog devoted to all things related to careers at your company and have weekly topics such as:

  • A Day In The Life – Invite current employees to blog about what they like about their role and encourage them to be candid about what’s challenging in the job, as well – candidates want to see an honest approach.
  • Upcoming Job Fairs/Events – consider embedding videos of company events in the blog (corporate days out, exhibits, etc.).
  • Interview Tips – Offer advice on how to best prepare to interview and/or where to find out about your company’s milestones.

Respond To Candidates

How often do you tell a candidate that you will be in touch with them no later than the end of the following week…and end up getting back to them 3 weeks after that, or worse still – never?

Whilst life happens, it is completely fine to touch base with candidates just to let them know that the process has been delayed but you are still interested in their application. This is also a good time to make sure the candidate is still available despite the delay to avoid wasting anybody’s time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Test Candidates

This is such a simple one but can often be overlooked.  As an example, don’t be afraid to ask a programming candidate to write a short code, or a sales candidate to do a mock sales call or a pitch for business.  After all you need know if the candidate can deliver against what they have claimed on their CV.

Avoid Closed Questions

Go easy on the yes/no questions because you won’t learn much from the answers. Try instead to ask leading questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when….’ ” You’ll get much more useful information from candidates this way. Check out our recent article ‘The 10 Interview Questions You Need To Be Asking…’ for some great examples.

Another View Point

If a candidate has provided personal references take the time to call them. They may be biased (why else would the candidate have given you their name) but it will help if you have an alternative view on the candidate and what they have achieved in a previous role.

How To Say No

It may not be feasible for you to send a personalised rejection letter or email to every applicant who does not make it to interview but there are things you can do to lighten the load but still allow you to keep that personal touch:

  • Have different templates for the different stages at which someone is removed from the process (i.e. immediate no, no after phone interview, etc.).
  • You’ll need a rejection that lets them down gently but encourages them to apply again in the future if you think they may be suitable for another role in the company.
  • And also a template that discloses that the reason a candidate was not selected is because the position was put on hold or filled internally (at least the candidate then knows that you didn’t reject due to qualifications or experience and again, if suitable they may apply for roles in the future).

Keeping in Touch

Staying in touch with candidates and building relationships with them over time can help improve the recruitment process and build a network of contacts for future positions. It also can save you time and money in the long time.

  • Connect with all great job candidates on LinkedIn so that you can maintain contact with them in the future.
  • Reach out to exceptional job candidates every once in a while to “check in” and build a relationship.
  • Periodically call or email employees that have left the organisation on good terms. Stay in touch with top talent that has left your organisation.
  • Periodically reaching out to candidates by emailing newsletters or press releases about significant company developments.
  • Send your top passive candidates a personal note every so many months to stay in touch.

Run An Applicant Referral Scheme

Consider running an applicant referral bonus program so that your previous applicants can earn rewards for referring their friends for other positions. This type of initiative helps you save money and time on recruiting costs.

Measure Effectiveness

Finally, you should be measuring your hiring process so you know if it’s working or not. You can measure time to fill and cost per hire as a starting point – even these simple stats will show how efficient and costly your process is.

Your Recruiting Reputation

Whether you realise it or not, the way you recruit makes a difference to your recruiting success or failure. Indeed, some candidates are willing to accept a lower salary from employers when the company’s image and candidate experience are positive. There’s real value in a good recruiting reputation and you’ll feel the consequences of a bad one. Your recruiting process needs to be focused on winning top candidates over and attracting them to your company and open positions.

Remember, that it takes time to hire the best people for your business yet most people begin the hiring process later than they should and then end up panic buying employees. Smart companies are always looking for the best talent, not just when there is a vacancy.

Recruitment today is continuously evolving and your recruiting process has to keep up if you want the kind of hiring success you need to build a productive workforce. New technology, sourcing and recruiting tactics, a changing economy and so many other variables mean that you need to constantly be reviewing and improving your recruitment processes so make sure that you don’t let your recruitment process go stale.

For more help and advice join us at theHRHub – the ultimate online support system for startups and SMEs. Find out more here


Photo Credit: WIAA State Wrestling Championships by Todd Hobert