The end of job postings?

Zappos decides to can traditional job ads, build relationships with ‘insiders’ instead
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/14/2014

Online clothing and shoe retailer Zappos has always prided itself on taking a different path, focusing on a strong culture that keeps employees happy, as seen in its infamous “pay to quit” program.

So its latest move shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — the company has announced it will “shut off job postings.” Instead, the Amazon entity has created a new careers site featuring information — on the employees, culture, roles — about each of its departments. Rather than apply for a specific position, jobseekers can introduce themselves to a department and become a “Zappos Insider.”

“We will no longer need to send inhumane rejection templates. Instead, we can begin to focus on long-term engagement,” wrote Michael Bailen, senior HR manager at the Zappos Family of Companies, in a blog post.

“Job postings are so one-sided. We ask the candidate to sum up their existence on a sheet of paper and quickly rush to judgment without giving much in return. In our model, we want to be super transparent and accessible. Zappos Insiders will have unique access to content, Google Hangouts and discussions with recruiters and hiring teams. Since the call-to-action is to become an insider versus applying for a specific opening, we will capture more people with a variety of skill sets that we can pipeline for current or future openings.”

Recruiting has become a walking contradiction, he said, as employers say they care about the candidate experience but only spend five to seven seconds looking at a resumé .

“We consider ourselves marketers but we blow up social newsfeeds with job postings and send generic, templated InMails. We care deeply about company culture and quality of hire, but we strive to fill positions as quickly as possible. We know employment brand and company brand are one and the same in the eyes of candidates, but we still allow candidates to slip into a black hole and ignore their existence.”

And Zappos’ recruiters are too busy, said Bailen. Last year, the company received more than 31,000 applicants and hired just 1.5 per cent of them. Instead of posting openings to job boards, Zappos will market openings and headhunt in a targeted and direct fashion.

“We will use our existing employees for referrals, run targeted ad campaigns and aggressively headhunt on various channels. These actions will provide a feeder into our insider pool,” he said.

Zappos is very much about living its culture and core values, said Jon Wolske, culture evangelist for Zappos Insights, part of the Zappos Family of Companies in Henderson, Nev.

“We want to get to know you and have you get to know us so by becoming an insider... when there’s a job posting internally that we have that matches your skills and passion, we can then say, ‘Hey, here’s a heads-up, here’s a position we think you’d be good for,’” he said. “The recruitment process, really, in the standard form, has been very corporate so we want to make it about personality.”

Zappos has a strong employer brand and corporate culture, so people are drawn to it, said Tara Talbot, vice-president of human resources at Workopolis.

“They’re also so engaged in social (media) already, so they have a really strong presence. So they would be amongst the few that would already have that degree of ability to stand on their brand from an employment perspective, not just the product or service that they sell,” she said.

“Obviously, for a small or medium-sized company, this is probably not a sustainable approach.”

It will be intriguing to see how Zappos engages with the community once people sign up, said Talbot, as this requires good resources and sustainability to keep people involved and active.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they keep the life going in it and the momentum. But we’ve got to try new things, different approaches and they’re out there innovating, and hats off to them for doing that.”

However, Zappos may limit itself in terms of the pool of candidates, she said.

This new model will cut down on the volume of people who just want to submit an application to see what sticks, said Wolske.

“This’ll get rid of that aspect of people just applying for the sake of applying because they’ve heard of the company… It’ll actually be people who have done a little bit of research, really get what we’re about and then have decided to take the next step and communicate with us.”

Nowadays, it’s so much easier for people to take a chance on applying for something without a lot of thought, which creates a huge number of applicants for each position, said Dana Shaw, a job description analyst at a government organization in Toronto.

“The current jobseeking system, whether you’re on the jobseeker end or the recruitment end, is broken because it’s become so decentralized and automated to make it more efficient, that it doesn’t really work as a great recruitment tool,” she said.

Recruitment is changing quickly for seekers and employers, and everyone is trying to sort through this with social media and different networking opportunities, career sites and traditional job boards, said Talbot in Toronto. And people are realizing there’s a real balance between art and science on the whole match piece.

“Technology can’t necessarily decide fit and figure out fit, so the whole industry is trying to figure out the balance between how much can you do with an algorithm versus actually having conversations and understanding the culture of an organization. And what someone truly brings as far as work ethic and ability to problem-solve and creativity doesn’t necessarily come across in a profile.”

Employers still want a good volume of job candidates, she said, but it’s about having the ability to tailor those down to a core group of people that you really want to take further.

But it’s not clear whether Zappos’ approach will lead to better-quality candidates, said Shaw.

“(People will) be more specifically interested in their organization, and I think that’s what their target is. It just will make it harder for people to hear about them unless they keep marketing… they lose out if they’re looking beyond the pool of people who already know about them as an organization.”

But there are pluses to what Zappos is doing, namely to develop relationships with potential candidates, said Shaw.

“One of the disadvantages of the current process is that if you’re looking for people with specific skills that have written resumés that are targeted for a specific kind of work — that’s great, that’s going to work well.

“But if you’re looking for somebody who has a broader range of experience and skills, you’re going to find it much harder to meet those skill requirements because describing breadth instead of depth is much more difficult in the current standard of what people are looking for in recruitment, because they’re targeting to key words and ideas.”

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