Even without the coronavirus crisis, finding and hiring new employees can be a challenge. But the current marketplace is an especially tough one in which to recruit new employees, says Robin McMullen, HR specialist at Innovative Office Solutions, Burnsville, Minnesota. In February she pulled a report showing that while 2,000 customer service positions were open in the area, just 200 people were looking for work.
“As an employer, we are not only looking for people that fit our job description or that check all the boxes as far as the technical skills are concerned,” she says. “We also look for people who understand our culture and our environment, and who will fit in really well with the team.”
Steve Klaver, chief operating officer at DBI, Lansing, Michigan, observes that to a large extent, the recruitment process has moved online: “In years past, you had people coming in and applying for jobs, or coming in and dropping off résumés. Now it’s all by email and through your website, or through sites like Indeed or ZipRecruiter.”
Klaver goes on to suggest that word of mouth also plays a greater role these days. He recently attended an evening meeting of the Small Business Association of Michigan, where he spread the word that he was looking to hire salespeople. Michigan State University is based in Lansing and DBI has consistently used job fairs there as an opportunity to find interior designers.
Hourly wages have increased
In central Tennessee, the hiring market has improved over the past 12 months, according to Robbie Clark, president of A-Z Office Resource, Nashville. “Hourly workers got really tight about a year ago,” he says. The market has since started to loosen up some; although at the same time, starting hourly wages have jumped from $12 to $15 over the past 18 months. Clark says that when it comes to recruitment methods, “We typically use something like ZipRecruiter. But the most luck we’ve had for skilled office and sales employees is through relationships that we have with other business leaders, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings.”
When screening job candidates, A-Z considers a variety of factors. “Most importantly, in the last five years it has become really important to hire people who fit our culture,” explains Clark.
Finding job candidates in Nebraska presents its own challenges. “We still use a lot of traditional approaches, such as newspapers and postings on job boards,” says Kevin Fries, HR manager at Eakes Office Solutions in Grand Island, Nebraska. For entry-level positions, he still sees a lot of action from “help wanted” ads” “Depending on the location of our needs in some rural parts of Nebraska, candidates still go to the newspaper to look for opportunities.”
The current hiring market in Vancouver, British Columbia definitely favors job applicants. “It’s a little bit tighter,” observes Calvin Johnson, president at Lykki Coffee and Office Supplies. “The tide has definitely turned and it is a little harder to find people.”
The dealers interviewed would all agree that the best way to recruit new staff is through referrals. Many offer bonuses for successful employee referrals after three or six months of employment. “Our number one way to find the best talent in this type of marketplace is through employee referrals,” says McMullen. “People really enjoy working for a great company, with a great culture and a great environment. They’re going to tell their friends and their neighbors and their relatives about a great company.”
“We love referrals,” agrees Johnson. “If we have a job posting and an employee refers a friend, we’ll pay them $500 if the new recruit stays three months.” Where someone outside the organization makes a successful referral, they won’t get a cash reward, but recognition does follow: “We’ll give them a gift—something like a box of chocolates.”
Update job descriptions
Every time there is a job opening at Eakes, the job description is examined to see if a refresh is needed. “If we haven’t had a position open for a while, then it will probably need to be updated,” says Fries. “We know that over time functions change, and we want to make sure that we have a clear understanding of what the job entails. We think that’s super important – we don’t want there to be anything hidden from candidates, or anything that they don’t know when they come to work for us.”
Over the last year, two new teams have been created at A-Z: one for inside sales support and the other to set sales appointments. “Since those were new positions and we were ironing out the details and the workflow, it was important to document those duties,” recalls Clark. That way, if there were turnover or if new job duties needed to be added to either team, this could easily be addressed.
If positions have not been open for a long time, job descriptions can be an issue. When a 16-year veteran in the purchasing department announced recently that he would be leaving, it became apparent that not all of his duties had been documented, so an effort was made to learn everything about his job before he left. “Most of the positions we don’t have documentation for are older positions filled by people who have been here for a long time,” says Clark. There are quite a number of these at the company, so a wider initiative is now underway to ensure these roles are fully documented.
Klaver agrees that job descriptions are vital: they must not only be clear in terms of salary and benefits, but also be specific about duties. Once upon a time, if a driver were asked to sweep the warehouse, he would likely do it without thinking. “Nowadays, younger people take the attitude, ‘Well, I got hired as a driver. I didn’t get hired as a janitor. That’s not my job,’” says Klaver. “So we’ve added a line at the end of each job description that says, ‘…and anything else the company needs.’”
Social media is critical
In the current labor market, social media plays an increasingly important role. It starts with dealers posting job openings on their Facebook pages; even if the only people who will see them there are customers, it’s still a good start. “If you’re looking for a job and you know DBI, then you might go to our website and see what’s posted there,” says Klaver. That certainly applies for warehouse, delivery and sales people.
Eakes currently posts job openings on Facebook in the traditional format, along with a stock photo. “But we’re actually in the process of starting to do a 15-second video clip about each position,” says Fries. The idea is that a video should stimulate different senses and help the post to stand out.
“Our theory is that if we can get out in social media, the spiderweb effect will come into play,” says Fries. In other words, one person who sees it may forward it on to friends, who may forward it on in turn themselves. “We can hit a lot more people than we can with some of the older methods,” he continues. “We use social media – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – all the time.”
The importance of social media simply can’t be underestimated. All applicants at Lykki are asked if they have researched the company in advance. Any candidate worth their salt will say yes; and if they did, this would most likely be on Facebook. “That is the first place to show your mission, vision and values,” says Johnson. If a dealer does any outreach in the community, this is also where it should be posted.
“Use social media to show that you’re a real company with real people,” continues Johnson. When a job applicant visits a dealer’s Facebook page, they can see if the dealership hosts barbecues or has a volleyball team, or cleans up public areas. “Social media is your billboard to who you are as a company,” he adds.
Innovative posts a lot of its activities on Facebook because it appreciates that this is a key channel through which people research companies they’re interested in working for. “We partner with numerous charities and we put that on social media, so people get a small glimpse of our culture,” says McMullen. “We have what we call a culture book and we post that on our social media pages as well.”
The Innovative culture book covers events over the past year, together with pictures, testimonials and quotes. It includes company activities such as give-back opportunities, as well as fun events. “We post the book online and give a copy to every person in the company; and then we hand it out to all new hires who come on board,” adds McMullen.
Onboarding at Innovative starts with a company overview and brand promise training. During the first two weeks, new hires take part in what is known as “Innovative University.” Meetings are set up with each different department in the company and new hires sit down with a representative to learn about operations.
“They really get immersed in our culture, and get the big picture of our company and how it works,” says McMullen. After this two-week induction period, they graduate from Innovative University. “It’s a really fun program for them not only to meet people from different departments, but also to understand a little more about our company.” And in between sessions, they’re learning the ropes of the job.
A lot of dealerships produce a similar welcome book to present to new recruits. “It could be on the internet too, but it’s nice to have a tangible book that has your core values and the history of your company,” says Johnson. “It takes time to commit to that, but it’s a really great thing to hand to somebody on their first day.”
The millennial promise
Social media is especially useful when it comes to recruiting the younger generation, which is important to the future success of every dealership.
“We struggled to figure that one out,” say Clark. Some younger workers started at A-Z six or seven years ago, but they didn’t fit the culture. They required different kinds of coaching and a lot of positive reinforcement. “We felt that maybe these types of folks just can’t work here, because those hires didn’t work out,” says Clark. “Then we figured out the problem was us.”
Last June, A-Z polled all of it employees under the age of 30 to get a measure of what it needed to do to keep them fully engaged. They were asked what the dealership should be doing to retain them over the long term and to encourage their friends to join too. “They told us that the referral process within the younger generation is much more present than it was with previous generations,” Clark continues. If they like their job, they will recommend that their friends come and work at the company as well. The image and culture that a company presents on social media is thus a vital part of recruiting success.
Clark says that he frequently hears other dealers asking how they can get millennials to work for them. They insist that younger hires just don’t work out and either have to be let go or leave of their own accord; and the dealers can’t figure out why. “But they have to figure out that piece of the puzzle, because if they’re not hiring millennials, they will be left behind,” cautions Clark.
“A lot of companies struggle with finding and keeping good people, or have trouble onboarding employees,” says Johnson. So before they can find the best job candidates, dealers need to have a firm understanding of their culture. “Knowing your values, your mission statement and who you are as a company is critical,” he continues. “A lot of companies struggle with that—not really understanding who they are as a company or what they’re trying to achieve.”
Challenges for job applicants
Lykki has a lengthy process for interviewing new hires, inspired by the book Topgrading by Bradford Smart. It creates a pipeline in which a series of potential roadblocks are placed in front of applicants. “Those people who make it to the end are the people you want to hire,” says Johnson.
For instance, near the end of job advertisements is a suggestion reading: “If you want to move to the front of the line, send us a video about yourself. (Seriously).” Those applicants who take the time to make and submit a video are bumped to the top of the queue, because they followed instructions.
Candidates are also asked to fill out a 17-page career history form, supposedly on the grounds that this standard format makes it easier to compare applications. “Over half the people, we never hear from them again,” says Johnson. That is another aspect of the Topgrading methodology: “You’re not trying to scare people away, but you’re trying to get them to put in a little bit of work and effort.”
There is no HR department at Lykki, so the manager in the department doing the hiring conducts the initial interview. A second interview is then conducted by a panel of co-workers, asking personal questions aimed at getting to know the candidate better.
“The most important element we look for is cultural fit—do they fit in with the team?” explains Johnson. He suggests that dealers hire for will and train for skill: “You’re seeking to hire somebody who is a personality fit that will create great relationships; that will add to the team.” The successful candidate can then be taught any specifics they need to know to function successfully on the job.
Culture fit is crucial
This is likewise the priority in Nebraska, where there is a surfeit of applicants for every job. “The big change that we’ve seen is that you have to look for candidates who will fit your culture and have soft skills,” says Fries. He agrees with Johnson that the right people culture-wise can quickly be taught everything they need to succeed at Eakes.
Fries also agrees that the best way to test for cultural fit is through in-person interviews. For most positions at Eakes, at least two individuals at the company will conduct the interviews. “We ask questions about them as a candidate that push them towards what we value in an employee,” he says. Candidates are also exposed to attitude and personality testing. Eakes uses DISC and PSR tests—which incur a cost each time they are used—to provide further insight in the decision-making process. “We are looking for someone who is a hard worker,” he adds.
Personality plays a big part in the interview process at A-to-Z. “In today’s environment, you have to look at things such as likability, whether or not they are articulate and how they dress,” says Clark. “We might be able to find a qualified candidate; but if they won’t really fit into the culture here, we keep looking. Companies that don’t focus on their internal culture and hire employees who fit are behind the eight ball and will be forced into the wrong decisions.”
At Innovative, the second interview is known as the “culture interview.” “Our company lives and breathes by its set of core values and we have a set of questions around these values that we ask all candidates,” says McMullen. The interview is conducted by peers whom the candidate would work with, as well as employees from other departments.
To assist with determining cultural fit, DBI added a HR person to the staff about five years ago, when the dealership surpassed 50 employees (the workforce currently stands at 98). Today, quarterly meetings are held with all employees to update them on how the business is doing. Meetings with supervisors are held more frequently, and those managers are charged with passing on information to their employees.
At A-Z, Clark contends that the culture rubs off on new employees. The dealership hosts a monthly lunch for all employees, at which there is usually some group activity. New recruits have the opportunity to get involved at those lunches, as well as with games, contests and promotions that are run regularly. The culture is evident from the moment a new employee walks through the door, he suggests.
“We don’t really focus on teaching culture; instead, we continually push culture through the whole company on a monthly basis,” Clark continues. “New employees either like that, and become a part of it quickly; or they don’t like that, which becomes apparent to us very quickly.”
Throughout the onboarding process at Eakes, an effort is likewise made to ingrain the company culture in new hires as much as possible. “From day one, we try to get them involved as quickly as we can, to the level they want to be involved,” says Fries. New employees are encouraged to participate in different functions, such as meetings and fun events. “Hopefully they will jump on board and understand what we do from a culture standpoint right away,” he adds.
Pitfalls to avoid
Just as with every business function, when it comes to recruiting, hiring and onboarding new employees, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for. “As a small business, we’re always in a hurry to fill an empty spot, because it’s a void,” says Klaver.
While a large company with a 20-person department might weather the loss of one employee easily for a couple of months, the same loss in a one or two-person department could send a dealership into a tailspin. But if you’re under pressure to hire, you can end up choosing the wrong candidate in your haste.
“In some cases, you might end up settling for the best of the worst, because you need to fill that spot,” continues Klaver. “Instead, it might make more sense to accept that none of the candidates fits the bill and you need to keep looking.”
Clark agrees that dealers often tend to be in too much of a hurry to recruit. The old-school approach of interviewing a handful of candidates and picking the best of the bunch has been scrapped. “We’ve stopped doing that,” he says. “Now, instead of taking the best of six or seven candidates, we wait until we find one who actually fits.”
At Eakes, Fries cautions managers that they will seldom find the perfect candidate: concessions must usually be made in terms of skill levels, experience, personality or other factors. “Typically, good candidates turn into great employees,” he says. “We just have to make sure that we don’t get caught up looking for that perfect person, because they’re going to be really difficult to find.”
Michael Chazin is a freelance writer specializing in business topics, who has written about the office supply business for more than 15 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.