Tailor Recruiting Best Practices for Service-Sector Hiring

By Roy Maurer Nov 25, 2015
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Retail and service-sector employers can reduce their notoriously high turnover by implementing recruitment best practices such as tailoring a talent acquisition strategy, crafting an attractive employer brand, engaging candidates via social media and mobile applications, and building robust talent pools.

“Selecting, engaging and retaining your hourly workforce is critical to organizational success,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc., a South Florida-based training and human resources consulting firm and author of the popular HR Bartender blog.

That’s because hourly workers are often customer-facing and can directly impact your company’s bottom line, so it’s crucial that you get the right people on board, said Sheridan Gaenger, director of marketing for talent acquisition platform Findly.

The problem is that most employers are unsuccessful in their efforts to attract quality front-line workers in sufficient numbers and retain them long enough to realize a return on their investment, said Mel Kleiman, a leading authority on recruiting and hiring hourly employees and the president of Humetrics, a provider of training and resources for the service industry.

According to the PeopleMatter Institute’s 2014-2015 How Hourly Workforces Work survey, the average annual turnover rate for hourly workers is 88 percent. “Because hourly employee turnover rates run historically high in most industries, it’s easy to understand why their employers have wrongly come to assume that there is nothing they can do to control or mitigate the enormous drain on profitability caused by turnover,” Kleiman said.

Half of the survey respondents said that recruiting enough qualified applicants is the top hiring-related challenge. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of employers said they need more applicants than they receive in order to find the right workers, and 9 out of 10 (88 percent) don’t find recruiting enough qualified applicants easy.

One fundamental difference between recruiting hourly workers and exempt professional staff is that when you’re recruiting hourly talent, you’re constantly recruiting, Lauby said. “When I was recruiting hourly workers, I did so on an everyday basis. It didn’t matter if there was an open requisition sitting on my desk. I figured out by looking at my time-to-fill that I couldn’t ever stop the recruiting process.”

Speed in responding and maintaining a constant message are critical, she said. “Yes, you could argue that answering candidate questions and following up in a timely fashion is important when you hire salaried staff. But with hourly talent it’s constant. You cannot slow down if you want to keep the pipeline filled.”

Kleiman agreed, adding that if you recruit only when you have job openings, you won’t get the best people because “the pressure to hire quickly causes you to be less selective and sometimes even results in a bad hiring decision.” Constant recruiting will result in a greater quantity and higher quality of applicants to choose from, and you’ll increase your chances of finding the best employees when you need them, he said.

Evaluating hourly applicants’ resumes for indicators of success also differs from reviewing resumes for higher-skilled roles, said Melissa Llarena, the owner of Career Outcomes Matter, a New York City area firm dedicated to helping business executives prepare for job interviews. “The emphasis is more around reliability. Hiring for a reliable worker who will follow rules is more critical than hiring for intrapreneural skills, for example.”

The job description and interview process should “center on the hourly worker’s character and ability to learn,” she said, adding that “there are many times when hourly employees do not show up to work for a myriad of reasons or are late, and in those instances you want to be sure that you have staff that are able to wear many hats.”

Target the Talent You Need

To attract the best hourly candidates, employers must have a solid understanding of who the available talent is and what kind of people they really want to fill their open positions, according to Kleiman.

“Many employers target their recruiting efforts toward young people, overlooking responsible adults who are seeking hourly work,” he said. “Many recruit for full-time positions when most hourly workers prefer part-time employment, and they focus their energies on finding people who are currently unemployed and available to work rather than on top performers who are already working and would be open to a better job.”

According to the PeopleMatter survey, 71 percent of service-industry employers are currently sourcing applicants from employee referrals, followed by careers sites (59 percent), job boards (59 percent), walk-ins (48 percent), social media (34 percent) and local advertising (34 percent).

Whether you advertise for openings in the local newspaper, hang up a help-wanted sign or use online job boards, experts recommend taking the time to tailor your recruiting strategy to match your target audience of candidates.

“Many companies who employ both salaried and hourly positions don’t think they need a separate recruiting methodology to attract qualified applicants, but since the audience’s needs are different, your recruiting strategy needs to be, too,” said Susan Stavitzski, a marketing engagement analyst for Snagajob, an hourly employment network.

Lauby advised understanding how candidate characteristics vary with the advertising medium and platform. “All recruitment channels are not created equal. What you want to do is figure out the channels that your candidates spend the most time on and make sure that you’re there, too. If you’re not collecting data from your candidates on where they are finding out about you that would be a great place to start.”

Online job boards can provide breakdowns like age, gender, education and experience level to help you attract the right talent, Stavitzski said. “Think like a job seeker,” she added. “If you were looking for an hourly position in today’s market, how would you do it?” You’d look on a search engine like Google, she answered. “If you’re looking to hire servers, cashiers or other hourly positions, start with a simple search and see what websites are on the first page. Those are typically the most relevant sites and most used when searching for those jobs.”

Traditional Recruiting Best Practices Work for Hourly Hires, Too

After tailoring your talent acquisition strategy to focus on hourly workers, the recruiting techniques that experts commonly recommend for professional exempt staff—such as building a magnetic employer brand, optimizing employee referrals, and utilizing mobile accessibility and candidate relationship management (CRM) technology—are the same best practices used for attracting hourly employees.

Build your brand. Being able to constantly recruit successfully is dependent on your brand. First, you need to know applicants’ perceptions of your company, your competition and specific jobs, Kleiman said. “A marketing approach to recruiting includes being conscious of the message communicated by everything an applicant sees, including ads, application forms and company facilities.”Recruitment marketing also includes creating a brand that people are drawn to and making it easy for candidates to find your company, Lauby said.

“In today’s recruiting market you need to know SEO [search engine optimization] basics. You need to know how to market on the Internet. Don’t let SEO intimidate you,” she added.

The process doesn’t stop with just building a brand. Lauby recommended testing your hiring processes. “Do a search on the Internet for the kinds of jobs you are currently recruiting, and see where you stack up. That will give you some sense of: Is your message getting to the right people? Is your careers site showing up where you want it to be?”

Take it a step further and create a small beta test group to apply for jobs using your application system who can then provide feedback, Lauby said. “I know from buying shoes online, if the site doesn’t work, I don’t spend a lot of time there. You want to impress people with an effective and efficient candidate experience.”

Utilize referrals. Let your employees know what you’re looking for, Kleiman said. “Employee-referred candidates are three times more likely to be a good match for the job because your employees give these candidates detailed, accurate information about the job requirements and working conditions. As a result, candidates are likely to proceed with the selection process only if they feel it’s a good fit. And because they do fit well, referral candidates who are subsequently hired are much less likely to quit or be fired within the first few months.”

You constantly hear that referral programs deliver the best cost-per-hire and the best quality candidates, but most companies are not administering these programs well, Lauby said.

For one thing, “employees grumble about the amount of the referral bonus.” Lauby suggested calculating the cost-per-hire and using that metric to figure out a fair bonus amount. Another sore spot is when the bonus gets paid. “The employee who made the referral did their job. They should get paid at the point of hire and not based on any retention metric,” she said.

Embrace mobile applications and social media. Your career site must be mobile-optimized going forward, according to experts. “How many talented people are you not seeing because you don’t have the ability for people to easily apply for a job?” Lauby asked.

“Chances are, if you are hiring hourly employees, you are attracting a good deal of current students or Millennials who expect you to be hiring via social media channels since the lines between off- and online are blurred for this target audience,” Llarena said.

As a further incentive, Google gives preference in search results to websites that are mobile-responsive. Having a social media strategy is also important, Lauby said. Most experts believe that Facebook and Twitter are better options than LinkedIn for sourcing, engaging with and recruiting hourly workers because that’s where potential job candidates tend to spend more of their online hours.

Cultivate and engage talent networks. Employers often recognize the value of using talent communities and CRM technologies to cull and nurture candidates who have particular skills, but they can also use these tools to create what Findly’s Gaenger calls “on-demand talent,” people who are ready to apply when the right opportunity comes along.

“Allow interested candidates to be able to stay in touch and engage with you, whether through Facebook or through a technology solution that allows you to message candidates with job alerts,” Lauby said.

CRM technologies target and personalize content for candidates to keep them informed and encourage them to apply, “driving all the microengagements prior to a recruiter picking up the phone,” Gaenger said. As a result, recruiters are able to get the right hourly talent into the recruitment funnel more quickly, she added.

Staying in touch with former employees can be another winning tactic. “Boomerang workers know the company and the company knows them, and if the circumstances are right, you may want to bring them back into the organization,” Lauby said.

All you have to do is ask, Kleiman added. “Shortly after a good employee leaves, just call and ask if he or she would consider returning. Even if the answer is negative, former employees can be valuable sources for referrals.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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