- Managing Me
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It’s 2009, and Jeremy Langhans, then an employment brand manager at Starbucks, has a problem.
More and more people are applying to work at Starbucks through the coffee chain’s online recruitment systems. And while this is efficient, it doesn’t sit right with him.
“For every thousand who applied, 999 would get a system-generated ‘Thanks but no thanks’ email,” he tells LeadingCompany from Washington.
“That was a very bad thing for Starbucks. After all, these people are our customers.
“If I have a queue of customers willing to pay $4 for a latte, who then spend time getting into our system just to receive a ‘no’ from us due to the sheer volume of applicants and the way the system was set up, are they going to get back in line for their latte?”
Even though the impersonal nature of Starbucks recruiting risked alienating the brands customer base, a personal response to every applicant was out of the question. “We couldn’t call everyone that applied,” Langhans says. “We just don’t have the resources.”
Luckily for Starbucks, another online trend offered a way out of the quagmire. Social media, Langhans decided, would be what Starbucks used to humanise its recruitment processes.
This dramatically changed recruitment at Starbucks. Today, people who apply still do so online, and if they’re unsuccessful, they still get an automated reply. But now they have somewhere to go if they want to understand why and to engage further with the company.
The coffee chain set up social media recruitment channels, separate from its broader consumer accounts, to better engage with jobseekers.
Starbucks recruiters put out their first tweet in October 2009. Their message was simple. It said Starbucks was a great place to work, and if people had any questions, they could respond and the Starbucks Twitter team would get back to them.
Langhans says engagement was slow at first, but over time, the team was blown away by the community response.
“It was all in a public forum,” he says. “People could talk to us, and they could talk to each other. We really created a huge conversation about the brand. That really changed the face of recruitment for us.”
“The main problem people have when they get rejected is there’s no reason,” Langhans says. “It’s a computer-generated message. You can’t reply. Usually, it literally says on these emails ‘do not reply’, and if you do it’s undeliverable. There’s no way to ask questions.
“What’s happened with our Twitter and Facebook recruitment accounts is people do ask us questions… If someone applied and didn’t get a job, we give them advice, even if it’s just broad stuff like how they should apply three months down the road.”
Today, Langhans works with travel company Expedia, rolling out its social recruitment system.
He says keeping in touch with unsuccessful candidates after they apply is one of the most important things an employer of choice can do. Of course, he says, that’s very difficult when you’re a huge brand such as Starbucks or Expedia.
Expedia employs 8000 workers, and currently has 500 openings. “But still, there are tons of great people we just don’t have openings for on that given day,” Langhans says. “The trick is to give them an easy, portable web experience through which they can stay in touch.
“If you don’t do Facebook for work, fine, use LinkedIn. We’ve created multiple channels segmented by interest, so people can chose which channel they want to use to keep in touch with us. Our promise is that if they put up a comment, or in any way attempt to reach out to us, we’re ready to respond.”
But isn’t it expensive to make such a promise?
Langhans says not when you consider it relatively. “For smaller companies, to get started, it’s free. It then costs more the larger you are and the more people want to work for you.
“But even then, it’s way, way less expensive than using employment agencies. It’s probably a tenth of the cost of traditional advertising.”
And it doesn’t risk losing customers.
Employers who use automated reply forms are taking a huge risk, Langhans says. It can seem cheaper to just have perspective employees spend hours filling out online forms. But if you don’t put back any effort in engaging with them, you risk losing them as both a customer or as a potential recruit.
“I think the state of affairs we’re in, it’s really sad,” Langhans says. “When I started, 13, 14 years ago, we didn’t have these systems. We’ve created this problem. And the top employers are moving away from it now. I’d say most of the Fortune100 don’t do it anymore.”
“The companies that are going to hide behind ‘apply online’, and are apathetic and insensitive to the human element, well, they’re going to get the second- or third-rate candidates.
“The best candidates expect to be able to access you. Those people will engage with my team, and we’ll hire them at Expedia.”
“If another big company makes them fill out all these online forms, and then gives them an automated negative experience, well, they’re going to choose my company over that other company.”
Jeremy Langhans will be speaking at the Australian Talent Conference in Sydney on December 4 and 5.