Recruiting external collaborators

Recruiting external collaborators or partners to provide projects for your students can be time-consuming unless you are using the same organisations you have worked with before and have a small number of projects. This tool is aimed at providing guidance to help you recruit your external collaborators. We discuss profiling your potential clients, the information you are likely to need, the use of an online application form, common digital technologies as well as how you can automate your communications. You are likely to be working with other staff, so having an organised approach, shared with ‍all the people involved will save time and effort.

After reviewing this tool, the user will be able to:

  • Choose the most appropriate medium to use for client data collection.
  • Determine the necessary design elements to ensure legal compliance.
  • Generate an effective digital form to efficiently collect client information.

Learning Outcomes

Additional Resources




This tool is aimed at providing guidance to help you recruit your external collaborators. We discuss the information you are likely to need, the use of an online application form, common digital technologies as well as legal and practical considerations.

Profile your prospective client base

When choosing a recruitment method, it is first useful to think about your customer group and describe their customer profile. You also need to ensure the businesses you are selecting have a project which is likely to be appropriate for the SEKE module aims.

Choose your medium/channels

Once you have an idea of your customer profile you can begin to consider how best to reach them. Some clients might be best approached whether they would be more likely to use digital or non-digital systems. If digital, would they want conversation or an application form or both. 

The medium or channels you use will be determined by the prospective client profile that you have determined. A few examples are listed here.

Decide what data to collect

Once you have established your prospective client base and the mediums to be used to collect data, you will need to consider what data you need to collect.

Consider the project you are recruiting for. What are the likely the outcomes of the project?  What does the project need to include? How much detail do you need from an external collaborator at this stage? Do you want the outline or concept of a project or are you more interested in establishing an interest in participation that can be explored at a later stage?

You will need to look carefully at what personal data you need to collect from each applicant.  Keeping this information to a minimum is important so that you comply with the Data Protection Act.

If the project has any constraints, include these at application stage as it will allow you to quickly and efficiently exclude any applicants that are not suitable. This includes factors such as geographical location, size of the external organisation, and time available to contribute to the project or industry sector.

Include the broad criteria you will be using to decide if the applicant's project will be accepted at this stage. This can help an applicant decide whether it is worth applying, and can help conversations later regarding whether or not a project can be included. For example, does your project require that an external collaborator meets with students once per week and attends a final presentation? or do students need to conduct a full site visit? 

Always consider carefully what data you actually need and what would be a “nice to have”.  A minimum set of data might be:

  • Full name 
  • Email address
  • Telephone number 
  • Organisation name 
  • Project concept/output 
  • Availability 
  • Location 
  • Website

Build a relationship

Alongside any technology you are using, you need to build a relationship with your prospective client. Indeed, clients can be recruited through ongoing dialogue and discussion by the module coordinator and other university staff - this can be as, or more, effective, than using an online form. In any case, you will need to build a database (e.g. a simple shared excel sheet) of these contacts.

Consider automating the communications

The process of recruiting external collaborators can be lengthy and therefore any steps that can be taken to automate the process can be beneficial. 

These can be small but will enable activity to be streamlined and resources to be used in a meaningful way. These can include:

  • If using an online form, check that an automatic email is sent to any applicant confirming their application and outlining the next steps in the process.
  • Map out the application process before asking for applications; this will help all staff know what steps to take and shortens response time to applications, allowing decisions to be reached quickly.

Communication is very important during the process of soliciting for applications and recruiting projects. Inadequate communication can instil a lack of confidence in potential collaborators and can be perceived as poor customer service. Good communication can help build a rapport with potential collaborators and ensure the recruitment process runs smoothly.

Layout a communications plan to be followed throughout the recruitment process; including initial contact, acceptance of application, notification of inclusion in the project, steps following being accepted onto the project.

Think about what methods will be used for each stage of communication and the strengths of each. For example, email is simple and easy to automate but can be impersonal.  It may be that a telephone call or face to face meeting is better in later stages.

Keep communication relevant and don’t bombard applicants with excess communication. 

Provide a method for applicants to ask questions regarding the project, this could be a simple Frequently Asked Questions document or section on a website page, alongside the contact information for your module.

Selecting your clients

Once you have a pool or shortlist of potential clients, you will have to select which ones to work with. Look at the Selecting Your Client tool for details.


Adopting these practices should help support you when selecting and recruiting external collaborators to work with your students. Ensure that you gain as much information about the external collaborator as possible before you agree to work with them so that you don't run into any road blocks later on in the process.


Please download these additional resources and worksheets.

References used in the creation of this tool:

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