Job Seeker Use of Job Searching Channels – Part II

In part I, Job Seeker Use of Job Searching Channels, we discussed the need to dig deeper and critically evaluate the specific story that is told by particular findings from different surveys seeking to understand the sources most frequently used by job seekers in their job search.  We discussed how LinkedIn’s approach at getting at the “initial source” of hire was a meaningful step forward in this type of survey research.  LinkedIn’s approach highlights the fact that different sources carry different relevance and importance to candidates, depending on the stage of their job seeking journey.

“Snackable” content is great when you are in a hurry but, like fast food, it’s also highly processed and probably not the greatest choice for nourishment.  Putting it another way, we trust survey authors/sponsors to draw the right conclusions from a large amount of data and provide us with the 5-second headline about what does that mean in practice. More often than not, they are accurate in distilling that information.  Sometimes, though, they may miss alternative explanations that may underpin the survey findings.  Unless we take the time to closely examine the data upon which those inferences are based, we would never know.

Let’s take, for example, LinkedIn’s conclusion, based on their findings, that generational differences in the sources used by job seekers is a result of the degree of comfort each generation has with technology. Is a candidate’s comfort level with technology the only possible explanation for those findings?

A Question of Age or Stage?

We found LinkedIn’s survey1 particularly interesting because it not only reported “first awareness” job source for the overall sample, but also segmented the results by generation.

The sources that appear in the overall sample results make intuitive sense – we typically first learn about job opportunities by either searching the marketplace via job boards or job aggregators or by hearing about it from others, be it referrals, recruiters, or professional networks.  Where things start to get interesting with LinkedIn’s results is when we look at generational differences in terms of how they first learn about the new job.

As one would expect, different generations reported initially becoming aware of their new (current) position via different sourcing channels.  Below are the sourcing channels each of the three generations was more likely to cite, compared to the overall average:

  1. Millennials:  Located it on third party website or online job boards
  2. Generation X:  A third party recruiter / headhunter / staffing firm contacted them
  3. Baby Boomers:  Heard about it from someone they knew at their new employer

LinkedIn’s report highlights those findings by drawing the conclusions that “Younger professionals are the most comfortable using online career channels.

Let’s look for a moment at the results from another survey, conducted by CareerBuilder in 20154.  This survey, among other things, investigated candidate behavior during the “orientation” phase of a job search (i.e., when a candidate first starts to look for a new opportunity).  CareerBuilder’s survey shows that all generations tend to use similar tactics during the orientation phase.  All generations search for jobs on major search engines, network with colleagues, family and friends, and visit job boards to assess the market.

Below we show CareerBuilder’s findings about candidates’ reported use of the online channels that correspond to the ones in LinkedIn’s survey:

Generation Rate of Google Search Use Rate of Job Board use
Millennials 72% 51%
Generation X 79% 54%
Boomers 69% 46%


Although Boomers report using online channels at a lower rate, their difference from the other two generations is not of a magnitude that would support a definitive argument that one generation is more comfortable with online career channels than another.

In light of this additional data, let’s pause for a second and ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Are those findings really suggesting that the three generations have a different comfort level with online job seeking resources?
  • Or is there something other than “comfort with online career channels” that may help explain the difference in how candidates from each of the three generations first hear about a new opportunity?

Based on our experience, we believe these findings have more to do with where candidates are in terms of their career stage and less with their comfort level with online job channels.  Candidates who are in their 50s are clearly at a different stage in their career and life than candidates who are in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.

Based on Donald E. Super’s life-span career development theory, we can reasonably expect the three generations to be, on average, at different stages of their careers2; namely:

    • Millennials: They are at a point in their lives where they are attempting to understand themselves, their vocational preferences, and find their place in the world of work (they are in what Super refers to as the Exploration phase).  The older members of this generation have probably progressed to where choices are narrowed but not finalized, or are at the early phases of the next career stage, which Super refers to as the Establishment stage.
    • Generation X:  They are well into the Establishment stage of their career.  Having gained an appropriate position in their chosen field of work, they strive to secure their position and advance to new levels of responsibility.  The older members of this generation are moving toward and working on what Super refers to as Maintenance stage of their career.
    • Boomers:  They are working on the Maintenance stage, where the main career-related developmental tasks are comprised of holding on, keeping up, and innovating.

If we consider the different career development stages that each generation is expected to be traversing at the time, the sourcing channels through which they initially become aware of their new (current) position makes logical sense.  The Millennials, being the most recent entrants in the workforce, still evaluating their options before committing to a chosen profession, and not having deep or wide established professional networks, cast the widest and quickest net to explore the available opportunities in the marketplace.  As such, Google searches, job aggregators, and online job boards are perfect job sourcing channel for this group.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, have been “around the block” of work, as the expression goes.  They’ve established themselves in their chosen profession, know where they want (or don’t want to be) and have, by now, an expanded and strong social support network of family, friends, co-workers/ex-coworkers, bosses/ex-bosses, and professional colleagues and acquaintances that new opportunities quickly reach them (whether they solicit them or not).

Finally, for us, the result regarding Generation X, was the most intriguing.  Those are individuals who have chosen a profession and have at least 7-10 years of related experience in their field.  For them, it is a time for stabilizing, consolidating, building momentum, and moving up.   At the same time, if they are relatively content with their current employer and how they expect their career to progress within the confines of that company, they are less likely to be actively looking to jump ship.  When one considers the profile of the professionals who comprise the Generation X milieu and the searches that companies tend to farm out to third-party providers, the fact that Gen Xers are more likely to cite that a third party recruiter/headhunter/staffing firm was how they first learned about the new opportunity comes as no surprise.

So What? Practical Implications of the 2-Part Armchair Conversation

Surveys are a great way to gain insight into job seeker behavior.  Each resultant statistic tells us a story about how candidates go after finding a new job.  We then take that newly acquired (or updated) knowledge about job seeker behavior and we translate it into best talent acquisition, selection, and hiring practices.  For example, corporate career sites matter – the stories told by multiple surveys in 2015 drive that moral home.  Same with job postings on job boards or job aggregators.  But are those channels equally effective for reaching all job seekers regardless of age or where they are in their career stage?

LinkedIn’s survey and the comparison of its findings with other similar surveys points to the fact that job seeker behavior is not that simple, linear, or unified.  Understanding the complexity of the job seeker behavior and what job search channels, branding messages, etc. carry meaning and relevance for job seekers at different moments in their career and at different stages on their job search journey will only help us run more effective talent acquisition, selection, and hiring operations.

1 Why & How People Change Jobs.  LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 2015

2 Super’s Theory.

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Job Seeker Use of Job Search Channels – Part I

Job Seeker Use of Job Search Channels – Part I

There is no doubt – we live in a data-driven world.  We crave metrics and data points that can shape our practices, and there is certainly no shortage on survey results that can guide our strategies.  But we are turning into a nation of “snackable” content.  In and of itself, snackable content is not bad, as it allows us to consume a huge amount of information in a short amount of time.  The question (and the potential pitfall) is what happens after we consume those tasty morsels of data.  If the “stat-du-jour” prompts us to read more in-depth surveys yielding the same statistic and we understand the limitations, generalizations, and inferences being told by the results, then we are on solid ground.  If, on the other hand, we latch onto that statistic and it’s that statistic alone that shapes what we do, we may find ourselves on shakier ground.

Multiple Surveys, Little Stats on Job Seekers’ Use of Job Search Channels

In our data-driven world there are multiple surveys conducted each year on the same (or very similar) concepts.

As professionals working in the talent acquisition space, we constantly scan the environment for data points that will allow us to acquire talent better and faster.  If you monitor that space, you are probably not surprised by the data bytes that come out of those surveys. But how many of us actually have the time to pull the reports for each of those surveys, thoroughly read the results, and compare their findings?

Since “data bytes” from each of those surveys hit us at different times, we tend to take them at face value and process them as discrete pieces of information.  If it intuitively makes sense to us and it does not blatantly contradict either our experience or past survey results, there is rarely a need to compare findings.  But sometimes a finding (or the absence of a finding) makes us raise a quizzical eyebrow.

Recently we had one of those eyebrow-raising moments that gave us reason to pause and, as quantitative psychologists, we formulated some hypotheses for what we were seeing in the results.  We then looked at findings from multiple surveys that addressed the question of how job seekers find their next job.

Two hypotheses were confirmed:

(1) how you ask a question matters, and

(2) the quality of the question asked moderates the conclusions drawn.

What’s in a Question?  The “how you ask” matters as much as the “what you ask.”

Earlier this year, LinkedIn published a report,Why & How People Change Jobs1, based on a survey of individuals who changed employers in 2014.  No surprise that LinkedIn, like most job seeker surveys, asked the ubiquitous question regarding “candidate source.” What did take us by (admittedly pleasant) surprise is that they asked it in a way that we believe is more meaningful and insightful than the typical job seeker survey.

In reviewing other surveys, we have always been perplexed by the omnipresence of corporate career websites on the “Top” list of sources reported by candidates.  In our experience with recruiting tens of thousands of candidates on an annual basis, we have found that corporate web sites become much more important to a job seeker once they become aware of an opportunity that they want to vet further (or they like what they hear about a company’s employer brand and they want to explore what other opportunities the company may have available).  Practice tells us that this indeed is true, but most survey results told us otherwise – at least until the LinkedIn survey results were released.

To demonstrate the point, let’s look at the “Top 3” sources reported by three 2015 surveys that captured candidate source, along with the essence of the question they used to elicit candidates’ responses.


Actions taken by job seekers to find a job six months prior to being hired

– Visited an online job site (49%)
– Looked at job opportunities on online job boards (47%)
– Looked at job opportunities on company career websites (46%)


Sources that would be most important to job seekers if they were job hunting

– Company website (67%)
– Job board (57%)
– Referral from a trusted friend (51%)

CareerBuilder4 Approach taken when searching and applying for jobs

– Look at companies’ websites for careers page (42%)
– Do extensive research on a company using multiple resources (20%)
– Online job boards (20%)

Now let’s look at LinkedIn’s “Top 3” Sources


Where a job seeker first read, saw or heard about the new (current) job

Referrals/someone they knew
– Staffing agency/3rd party recruiting firm
– Online job board

What’s missing from LinkedIn’s “Top 3” list –  If you answered “corporate career website,” you are absolutely correct!

Are LinkedIn’s results flawed?  Was their sample not representative of the typical candidate? Did they miscode their data?  Did something go wrong with how they ran their analyses?  We all know how critical corporate career websites are in the attraction and recruitment of candidates.  How can they be absent from LinkedIn’s list?

Such an omission may come as a surprise, but, from a methodological standpoint, it makes absolute sense!  The most likely reason corporate career websites did not make it on their “top” list has to do with the way they framed the question in their survey.  They asked “How did you first read, see, or hear about the new job opportunity (your current position)?”

LinkedIn’s question is substantively different from the ones used in the other three surveys.  It did not simply ask candidates, in a general way, about the source of their new job.  It asked candidates to reflect and report the source that made them initially aware of their current position. LinkedIn asked “How did you first read, see, or hear about the new job opportunity? This added specificity in how they asked candidates about the source. As it turns out, how you ask a question does make a difference!

Now LinkedIn’s findings start to make more sense.  Like we have written before in Source of Hire: Capturing both the chicken and the egg, it is rare that a candidate comes to learn, apply, and get hired because of a singular source.  Throughout a candidate’s job-seeking journey there are multiple stimuli that either cause candidates to be attracted to a job and/or a company or cause them to self-select out from pursuing an opportunity with a company.

In our work, we know that most job search channels have value in candidate acquisition. We also know that job search channels differ in relevance and importance to a candidate, depending on where the candidate is in his/her job search process.

Corporate web sites are hugely important in candidate acquisition, but they are probably not as critical and important in the initial stages of a candidate’s job seeking journey.  The reality is that most job seekers do not start their exploration of the job market by solely targeting specific companies (at least not to the exclusion of other sources).  As such, LinkedIn’s results and the glaring absence of corporate career websites from their findings makes good sense to us.

The Moral of the Story

So what are the key “take-aways” from looking at the results from the various surveys about the most frequently reported sources used by candidates in their job search?

  • It’s very helpful to compare data from different sources and critically evaluate the story that is being told by each survey’s findings.  In our hectic work lives, we tend to scan through the avalanche of data that hits our desks, laptops, mobile devices, etc., grab the data points relevant to our work, and use them to guide what we do in talent acquisition. (It’s no surprise that we all love infographics!)  But unless we take the time to fully understand what that data is telling us by examining what is the specific question they are trying to answer, we may be led astray in our talent acquisition strategies and investments.
  • LinkedIn’s findings poignantly remind us that not all sources are equally relevant and/or effective in reaching and attracting candidates at different times of their job search journey.  Certain sources are better at “spreading the word” about our job openings, while others are more critical in convincing intrigued candidates to move forward with actually applying to a position or continuing with their candidacy.

Nice job, LinkedIn, on asking a really well-crafted question that yielded some interesting results.  But life is never all good or bad, black or white In part II, we will be discussing the merits of a conclusion reached by LinkedIn on the basis of their findings regarding generational differences.

Stay tuned!

Part II


1 Why & How People Change Jobs.  LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 2015

2 Talent Attraction Study:  What Matters to the Modern Candidate.  Indeed, 2015

3 Job Search:  The Candidate’s Perspective.  Silkroad, 2015

4 2015 Candidate Behavior Study.  CareerBuilder, 2015.

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Backwards is Forwards: Missing the True ROI of College Recruitment

Backwards is Forwards: Missing the True ROI of College Recruitment

Backwards is Forwards: Missing the True ROI of College Recruitment

Fall is upon us!  And for those of us working on mid- and large-sized college recruitment programs, it’s the time of the year when all the thoughtful planning we’ve done over the summer goes into execution mode.

By this point, we have carefully selected our target schools and started lining up our onsite visits, career fairs, and interview days.  We are armed with engaging collateral, intern and new grad success profiles, and job postings that speak to the soul of today’s college student.  Our College Ambassadors are eager to get out and spread their contagious passion for our brand to future college hires.  Our Hiring Managers and their teams are prepped for what’s to come. They have strategically planned and mapped out the meaningful and challenging projects that next year’s intern and new grad hires will be working on. Right?

We hope it is, because college recruitment is not a cheap proposition, at least not if it’s done right.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the cost of an entry-level college hire in 2014 averaged $3,5821 (and that only includes the direct recruitment-related costs2 ; if one takes into account the time spent by hiring teams, that number becomes gaspingly larger).

A lot has been written about how to build and run a top-notch college recruitment program and for good reason – it’s a sizeable investment.  According to NACE, the average employer with a structured college recruitment program converts 51.7% of its interns and 37.8% of its co-ops3. They extend job offers to 74% of the students they interview, of which 38.3% accept the offers4. Retention rates of new college grad hires were reported in 2011 as 92% and 69.2% after one- and five-years of employment, with larger companies having a harder time retaining new hires. (It should be noted that 2011 includes the worst job market the U.S. has experienced in many years.  Thus, these retention rates are likely much lower today in our current improved job market.)

Based on our experience, as well as data from NACE, most companies with formal college recruitment programs do a good job on the operational piece the program. Where employers tend to miss the mark is with the explicit alignment of college recruitment outcomes to the ultimate business objectives.  To accomplish such an alignment, data analytics specific to the longer-term business objectives are far more valuable in helping to shape college recruitment strategies and design internships and recent grad programs.

NACE suggests a number of common metrics5 to evaluate college recruitment programs, which include:

Assessment Dimensions

Frequency of Use

Level of Importance













Applicant Interview Rate



Applicant-to-Hire Ratio



Interviews-per-Hire (Avg.)



Interview-to-Hire Ratio



Interview Offer Rate



Offer-Accept Rate



Intern Conversion Rate



NACE, in its Standards document6, provides an evaluation of the various metrics in terms of their relative use and importance as reported by NACE employers.  A review of that data is very interesting in two regards.

  • First, the metrics differ in terms of the data availability following the completion of an annual college recruitment cycle – i.e., some are proximal and some are distal to that end point.
    • From the above listed metrics, Retention, Performance and Promotion clearly require the passage of one-to-five years post-recruiting a group of interns or new grads in order to have meaningful data to analyze.
  • The second interesting observation, supporting our experiences in the field, is that distal metrics carry different degrees of importance and are used less frequently, overall, by employers.

However, aren’t those distal data points the ones that are the most meaningful to the business in terms of the bottom line?  Aren’t those the most critical metrics that should be shaping and driving our college recruitment strategy?

Let’s look at two examples of how that becomes quite important to the business with regards to, let’s say, developing target schools from which to recruit.  (Incidentally, the most typical selection criteria used by companies to assemble a target school list include geographic location, types of majors offered, accreditation of the school, perceived quality of the school’s programs, and recruiting experiences at the school.)

Example 1: Assume you work for a manufacturing company that recruits new MBA graduates for a leadership training program that prepares your future operations leaders.  There is a big push from the business to attend career events and recruit talent from the Ivy League schools in addition to other schools that are either within the same geography as your facilities or have MBA programs with an emphasis on productions/operations.  After five years of recruiting and hiring new MBAs from both groups of schools, you run your Retention analysis.  Your results show that MBAs from production/operations programs and regional schools have a retention rate of 78%, whereas your Ivy League schools have a retention rate of 42%, with most new hires separating between years 1 and 3 of employment.  Your Performance analysis shows the production/operations or local MBA hires consistently outperform your hires from the Ivy League schools.  If you factor in your investment in college recruitment efforts as well as in your leadership development program, there is a clear difference in terms of the ROI you get based on the type of school from which your hire came.  Shouldn’t those findings shape what schools you target in your next college recruitment cycle?

Example 2: Now, assume you work for a technology company that strives to be a leader in continuous innovation and product development.  Your college recruitment efforts are balanced between Ivy League schools and schools with strong technology programs, but when you look at your related expenses you see they are disproportionately spent relative to the number of hires you made from the two types of schools.  At the end of last year’s college recruitment cycle, your P&L shows an expenditure of over $45K for attending Ivy League School X’s career fair and getting access to resume books.  When you look at the Total Hires by School, you see that you made only one hire from Ivy League School X.  Was it worth it?  Should you keep that school on your list for this year or is your money better spent elsewhere?  Without having any distal data points to assess the ROI of the Ivy League School X’s hire, you might as well flip a coin at this point.  Fast forward 3 years out from paying that invoice to Ivy League School X for the single new college grad hire – your data shows that this hire, in her three years of employment with your company has developed and patented 3 products, which is 200% to 300% higher than any of her peers.  Do you still think it’s a good idea to drop Ivy League School X from your target list?

Staying focused on desired business results is what ultimately should drive your company’s college recruitment strategy.  And in order to stay focused, we need to be measuring the right things (or putting the right measuring processes in place to capture what really matters to the business), even if our patience for data availability may be taxed.  That is not to say that proximal process-related metrics such as Applicant-to-Hire, Interview-to-Hire, or Intern Conversion Rate do not matter – but without the ultimate goal in mind we may have a very efficient and effective process that yields all the wrong results to the business.


1  Recruiting Benchmarks Survey Report: Key Measures for University Recruiting.  NACE, Oct. 2014

2  NACE Worksheet: How to Calculate Cost-Per-Hire. NACE

3  Current Benchmarks.  NACE

4  Recruiting Benchmarks:  Offers and Acceptances. NACE, January 22, 2014

5  2011 Recruiting Benchmark Survey:  Executive Summary.  NACE

6  Professional Standards for University Relations & Recruiting.  NACE

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Why it’s hard to find talent for entry level and hourly positions…the worst is yet to come!

Are you ready for the talent shortage?Infographic About the US Labor Market

With a national unemployment rate expected to reach 4.25% by August 2016, we need to get ready for another war for talent4. As a result, over the next two to three years, we will see the fight for talent strongly intensify.


Because the number of individuals with current, relevant experience (supply side of the candidate pool) is quickly falling below employers’ needs (demand side of the candidate pool) — thus leading to a talent shortage.

As the available supply of labor with current, relevant experience diminishes, employers will need to use pay, benefits, fringes and other working incentives to woo candidates from competitors as well as implement programs to increase the supply side of the labor market.

Recruiting and Talent Acquisition professionals are already feeling the heat to hire experienced hourly employees and staff-level professionals. We are seeing a big push to attract experienced candidates for positions such as technical support, customer service, inbound and outbound sales, banking and financial services, and software engineers.

In Low Unemployment Rate Sparks New Tactics for Recruiters, we described how entry level and experienced, hourly hires have been the largest driver of new job creation. As a result, this demand has thankfully and dramatically driven down the unemployment rate both nationally and locally across states. As early as 2014, we began seeing employers offering many kinds of incentives to experienced, hourly hires including sign-on bonuses and relocation assistance — benefits often reserved for management only positions.

Based on the data being released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we have not seen this kind of labor market since 2006. But this impending talent shortage is nothing new for those of us who have been in the space for longer than we would like to admit. Remember the Y2K IT Talent Shortage? How about the dot com or the pharmaceutical talent shortage in the early 2000s?

Employers have been in the driver seat since 2008, when the number of unemployed individuals per job opening rose from a prior low of 2 to 1 to almost 7 to 1 by mid-2009; meaning there were almost 7 unemployed individuals for each job opening. As Chart 1 shows8, as of July 2015 there is clearly a talent shortage. There are now only 1.4 unemployed individuals for each job opening. No wonder the average time to hire has increased by 10.3 days and will continue to do so (New Labor Market Realities: Recruiting Friend or Foe?).

BLS Chart 1 Unemployed to Openings

Very few employers will be able to pay employees at the top of the pay scale as a strategy for attracting all the talent they need to address the talent shortage. Even the few who can and do, will not be able to do so for every new hire. Let’s also keep in mind that what has mostly driven our low employment rate has been cheap labor, with job gains going disproportionately to the least educated, and lowest-paid workers5.

Addressing the Supply Side of the Talent Shortage

There are other ways to increase the supply side of the candidate pool for employers without outsourcing or importing talent from other countries. But to do this, employers will need to broaden their talent acquisition strategy to address the impending talent shortage.

There is a big opportunity to do so.

If you combine the (a) recent unemployed and (b) long term unemployed (i.e, those looking for work for 27 weeks or longer) with (c) the marginally attached workers (i.e., those who are on the verge of giving up or stopped looking for work), the unemployment rate increases twofold from 5.2% to 10.4%6. This 10.4% does not include the almost 6.5 million workers who are working part-time (some working as little as an hour a week) but who would prefer full-time work7. With all these individuals sitting on the sidelines this is an enormous supply side – candidate pool – to tap into.

So why are we seeing the emergence of a “Talent War” for tech support, customer service, inbound & outbound sales, billing, collections, order processing, loan processing, software engineers and similar?

Answer: The demand for “Current, Relevant Work Experience” exceeds supply.

A talent shortage is partly the result of employers’ unwillingness to step outside of their comfort zone. There is comfort in hiring those who currently do the same job as the one you want to hire them to do for you. Candidates with current, relevant work experience are able to articulate and describe how they perform the job you need them to do and have recent examples to describe how they carry out their work. In contrast, an individual who has not worked in many months or lacks experience in your particular line of work requires a much stronger leap of faith that they will be successful within your company.

With over 5 million job openings, unless we hire everyone who has been unemployed for less than 6 months, we have to address the talent shortage with a strategy beyond passive, direct candidate sourcing and recruiting of individuals doing the same or similar job for a competitor. For entry level and hourly positions, employers should start building talent acquisition strategies to source, recruit, and screen candidates from the long-term unemployed and part-time workers with transferable skills, as well as retirees and parents who want to return to the workforce.

To address the supply side of the talent shortage many employers will need to add Return to Work and Apprenticeship programs for some portion of their talent needs. Many entry level & hourly positions already begin with structured training programs. Thus, adding content to training to bring individuals’ knowledge and skills up-to-date can pay big dividends. Partnering with local workforce development offices and other workskills development providers is a great way to give candidates the opportunity to ready themselves for your work requirements.

To source, recruit and screen candidates who do not have current work experience, employers need to use recruitment and screening methodologies that focus on aptitudes and competencies. Rather than focusing on recent work experiences, address the talent shortage by recruiting and selecting candidates who have the core work ethics, competencies and aptitude to successfully perform the job given a reasonable amount of upfront training. For insights on competencies for contact centers please review Call Center Agent Recruiting & Selection: Is a single competency profile enough? For specific recommendations on How To Find Great Talent Among the Underemployed Workers see Identifying Underemployed Workers: How to Find Great Talent.

1Schwartz, N. & Applebaum, B. (Sep. 4, 2015). Jobs Report Gives Ammunition to Both Sides of Fed Rate Debate, NY Times.
2Jackie Odum & Michael Madowitz (Aug. 6, 2015). The State of the U.S. Labor Market: Pre-August 2015 Jobs Release, Center for American Progress.
3 Hilsenrath, J. (May 22, 2014). More Gloom for the Long-Term Unemployed from Alan Krueger, Wall Street Journal.
4 Jakab, S. (Sep. 5 – 6, 2015). Jobs Report: What’s Not to Hate? Wall Street Journal, B12.
5 Achutan, L. (Sep. 10, 2015). Glimmers of Hope or Growth Slowdown for U.S. Economy. Bloomberg Business.
6 Republic 3.0 (March 2015). Jobless Rates Fall, But the Long-term Unemployed Still Struggle.
7 Innovate+Educate (2014). Skills Based Hiring.
8 BLS charts are from

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Call Center Agent Recruiting & Selection: Is a single competency profile enough?

Call Center Agent Recruiting & Selection: Is a single competency profile enough?

What’s The Business Value of Call Center Agents?

Call centers have well defined performance metrics. Want to grab the attention of the C-Suite? Then ensure your recruiting and selection efforts enable the call center agents to meet or exceed the centers performance metrics and deliver real value to the business bottom line.

When it comes to servicing customers — whether it be for technical support, product information, billing and payment processing, or online shopping assistance — quality counts.  Call center agents, whether in an inbound, outbound or blended contact center, perform a vital function that drives sales, maintains customers and most importantly, builds brand loyalty.

Sixty (60%) percent of buyers prefer to pay more for better customer service. Eighty-six (86%) percent will stop doing business with a brand because of bad customer service experiences.  Eighty-nine (89%) percent of buyers will migrate to a competitor after a poor customer interaction with the original brand1.  If these three reasons are not compelling enough to receive the recruiting budget and timeline you need to positively influence your company’s bottom line, then consider the following fact.  Buyers are more likely to share their negative experiences than their positive ones.  With the rise of social media, negative reviews can rapidly reach thousands of people and impact a company’s reputation in just a few short business hours.  Now more than ever, customers are the ones who promote a company’s brand. The ability of call center agents to deliver superior customer service, be it order, billing, account maintenance or help desk support, can give a company an edge over its competitors.

We are all in agreement that empty call center seats have real cost to the business, but so do seats occupied with the wrong talent. More and more, call centers are investing heavily in call center agent talent acquisition and recruiting in an effort to add good talent to their teams. As discussed in Recruiting Budgets, is it money well spent? investing in recruiting and selection can pay dividends.

Identifying Quality Call Center Agent Talent Is Simple Right?

In order to deliver quality customer service and maintain strong relationships with clients, companies need to identify and employ competent and skilled call center agents capable of turning each customer into a loyal brand ambassador.  Based on our experience in high volume call center recruiting, the biggest challenge for recruiting and HR professionals is determining how to select the best talent for such positions when the competencies needed to perform these duties change and evolve constantly.  Many contact centers use multiple channels to provide quality service to customers via phone, email, online chat, and in some cases video chat.  Each channel requires a unique constellation of competencies to perform well, and a call center agent who might perform well using one channel may not be able to perform equally as well at another.  This makes it important for recruiters to identify what competencies are most important for specific roles before starting the search for qualified candidates.

Recruiters should begin by deciding which relevant competencies can easily and reliably be assessed and how to sequence them in terms of priority for the selection process.  For example, listening skills would be more important for representatives responding to customers via phone or video chat compared to those addressing customer concerns through email and text chat, where reading comprehension plays a greater role. Similarly, written communication skills and attention to detail would be more critical for call center agents communicating via text chat and emails than over the phone.

Against our advice, a client of ours once promoted their best customer service agents from phone-based support to email and text chat support only to find many of them unable to satisfy customers.  One funny example that comes to mind, which was not so funny at the time, was when a well-intended call center agent responded with I am sorry our product damaged your sh*t when he meant shirt.  Clearly, not all competencies are created equal across the different call center agent roles. Identifying and assessing critical competencies for successful performance is key for selecting the right quality candidates.

Obviously, not all call center agent positions are the same.  The competencies important in customer service positions also vary based on the type of call center and the services they provide.  For example, inbound center agents may need high level skills with conflict resolution, problem solving, technical trouble-shooting, or empathy.  An outbound center agent may require greater skills in presentation, negotiation, and relationship building.  Likewise, agents who communicate with customers through multiple channels may require higher level skills across a broader spectrum of competencies than a representative that focuses on a single channel.

As call centers adapt and change into contact centers with multiple customer service channels, companies will need to refine their competency models and change the candidate profiles of who they recruit and hire.  Reviewing and identifying critical competencies for specific positions can significantly impact the quality of candidates selected and, as a result, contact center performance.  Since quality customer service plays a critical role in a company’s ability to maintain business relationships with customers and protect its brand, ensuring that call center agents have the necessary skill sets at the appropriate level is a critical factor in ensuring business success.

How Call Center / Contact Center Agent Recruiting Professionals Can Impact the Business

  • Critically evaluate the competency model with the hiring team to ensure it is appropriate for the specific role you are recruiting
  • Build your candidate sourcing strategy from the competencies established for each unique role
  • Screen candidates for the specific competencies associated with each call center agent role
  • Revise your sourcing strategy and candidate screening process as positions evolve
  • Look beyond call center / contact center experience and focus more on the underlying competencies required for successful performance to build wider candidate pools
  • Partner with the hiring team to ensure recruitment and selection strategies are yielding hires that positively influence the key performance indicators that impact customer satisfaction and help the business meet its objectives

For more information about how to identify and connect critical call center agent competencies to call center recruiting strategies, please contact us here at The WorkPlace Group.


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