Online Shoe Retailer Creates Social-Media Network to Evaluate Potential Hires
A few months ago, online shoe retailer Zappos did away with job titles for its 1,500 employees. Now, the company is taking the ax to job postings.
Zappos, based in Las Vegas, plans to hire at least 450 people this year, but candidates won’t find out about those jobs on LinkedIn.com, Monster.com or the company website. Instead, they will have to join a social network, called Zappos Insiders, where they will network with current employees and demonstrate their passion for the company—in some cases publicly—in hopes that recruiters will tap them when jobs come open.
The retailer is attempting to fix a common problem, recruitment experts say: how to make the hiring process faster and easier by keeping a pool of willing and able candidates at the ready.
For Zappos, which prides itself on a company culture where Tutu Tuesdays and Kilt Fridays are the norm, the standard hiring process is too “transactional,” said Michael Bailen, who heads talent acquisition for the company, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. since 2009.
Normally, a company posts a job description, candidates apply with cover letters and résumés, and recruiters spend a few seconds reading each before firing off thousands of rejections if they send anything at all.
“We spam them, they spam us back,” Mr. Bailen said.
Last year, the company fielded 31,000 applicants and hired about 1.5% of those, according to Zappos. The high volume prevented the company’s seven-person recruiting team from “working in a purposeful way,” Mr. Bailen said.
Zappos expects the number of insiders to be bigger. To deal with the new influx, recruiters will use software from Ascendify, a maker of talent-acquisition technology, to help sort the insiders based on skill sets or personal interests, shuffling them into “pipelines” such as merchandising or engineering.
Recruiters instead will spend time pursuing candidates in the Insiders group with digital Q&As or contests, events that they will use to help gauge prospective hires’ cultural fit. Freed from sorting through applications, recruiters will also have more time to spend on targeted outreach, Mr. Bailen said, such as following up on employee referrals.
“It’s nice to know who your potential co-workers are going to be,” said Paul An, 28 years old, who works in digital marketing at an online retailer in Washington, D.C., but is seeking other opportunities.
Mr. An said he became a Zappos Insider last week and has since connected with Zappos employees on Twitter.
Zappos says it takes the privacy of its insiders seriously. They “can engage with us in a very public way or private way if they’d like,” Mr. Bailen said.
As social media makes it easier to stay in touch, other companies are cultivating talent pools long before jobs are open.
General Motors Co.’s “Silver Medalist Strategy” maintains ties with candidates who have been runners-up for past jobs. Silver medalists get emails and text updates as more job opportunities become available and are invited to join communities on LinkedIn and Facebook where recruiters field questions about life at GM. “We hire a ton of people from that group,” said Mark McKeen, who runs GM’s jobs website and career-related social-media accounts.
Bad hires can be costly, so employers must do more to help job seekers make informed decisions, said Gerry Crispin, co-founder of CareerXroads, a talent-acquisition consultancy that works with companies including PepsiCo Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
In a survey last year from the jobs website CareerBuilder, more than half of 6,000 hiring managers said that a bad hire had negatively affected their businesses; in the U.S., 27 of those who had made a bad hire said it cost them more than $50,000.
The Zappos initiative is a “move in the right direction,” Mr. Crispin said, though it is unclear whether potential candidates will remain engaged with the company if months go by without job opportunities.
Mr. Bailen agreed that not everyone will be satisfied but added that he thinks those who identify with the company’s vision will stay connected for as long as it takes.
In some ways, Zappos can seem less like a shoe retailer than an experiment in how a company can be run. Chief Executive Tony Hsieh has confessed in media interviews to having a “negative interest” in shoes and has set a corporate goal to “create fun and a little weirdness.” The company also practices holacracy, a management system that rejects hierarchy and instead spreads authority and decision-making evenly across an organization.
Mr. Bailen said he is surprised that Zappos appears to be the first to drop job listings. “We’re hoping a lot of other companies jump on board,” he said.