Lessons to be learned in mass recruitment

Looking to hire 6,000, Home Depot shows challenges, best practices of seasonal hires
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/04/2016

Home Depot will be hiring nearly 6,000 sales associates in Canada for the spring season — including full-time, part-time and seasonal positions. 


It’s a huge undertaking for HR, and it’s certainly not without its challenges, according to Alicia Gilmore, manager of talent planning and acquisition at Home Depot in Toronto. 


“We do have a centralized recruitment model so we recruit for 182 stores but from one location. So a lot of the energy is placed where that’s concerned,” she said. 


“Every year, we forecast what our sales numbers are going to look like for our spring season, and we work with a recruitment plan to make sure that we have the number of associates that we need to have in our stores.”


It takes an army of recruiters all working in tandem and making optimum use of all the tools in their arsenal — both old and new, said Gilmore. 


“From a recruitment perspective, it’s a lot of planning online, so partnering with job boards, making sure that we have a presence on the different aggregators (such as) Indeed, Simply Hired, Google,” she said, adding other partners often include Monster, Workopolis or Facebook. 


“We’re trying to make sure that we get that presence, ultimately, to get the candidates online to apply.”


Home Depot also has hiring events across the country, often at the same time and on the same day, she said. This way, it’s driving candidates into the stores, and then they can set up interviews with the store leaders at the same time. 


“We find it absolutely helpful when you’re doing seasonal hiring to have career events because you can have interview events,” said Gilmore.


“We can do the screening and then sometimes, depending on the volume, have a setup where we have interview rooms,” she said, adding it’s basically one-stop shopping. 


“We can get through a lot of the process at the career event.”


The retailer also tries to highlight its employee referral program, said Gilmore. 


“So we do have the referral events as well before (the job fairs), trying to encourage our associates to refer friends or family that they would like to work for the Home Depot, so we give them that chance as well.”


There are recruiters who are responsible for recruiting for each district — with about 10 to 12 Home Depot stores per recruiter. 


“And they’re provided with additional support during those times. So they may have a seasonal worker there who is helping them with booking interviews and scheduling interviews,” said Gilmore. “So we do ramp up a bit in terms of our staff.”


They also work with partners such as Monster and Workopolis, she said.


“They will help to promote some of our current events or they will also help to promote that the Home Depot is hiring,” she said. 

“We use social media to create awareness and to try to drive traffic to our career sites.”


Because it happens every year, human resources has the whole routine down to a science, said Gilmore. 


“We adjust our staffing levels to adjust for wherever we’re going to peak,” she said, adding that the company moves staff and resources around to where it requires the most help at different points during the process. 


And Home Depot has an overarching focus on excellent customer service, so that key value is built into the phone screens and pre-screening before a candidate even comes in for an interview, said Gilmore. There are also assessments on the value throughout the application process. 


And a training program combines product knowledge training and job shadowing. 


“We build those outwards into the onboarding process, so we’ve factored that into our staffing timelines,” she said.


Lessons for large-scale recruitment

There are a number of best practices HR professionals can take away from Home Depot when it comes to seasonal recruitment, according to Dianne Hunnam-Jones, district president at Robert Half in Toronto. 


For one, it’s important to remember to evaluate the organization’s needs, not just hire bodies, she said. 


“Fill the need, not the desk. What happens so often in seasonal hiring is you think you need to fill that spot. But really look at what skills are required for that job.”


The next step is to thoroughly create the job description. 


“What are you looking to accomplish? What do those people need? And what are the skill levels required?” she said. 


If that job description is fleshed out properly, each new hire knows what she is coming in to do and exactly what’s expected of her. 


“It’s amazing to me that when we work with our clients, so many of them leave that out — even if they have an HR department,” said Hunnam-Jones. 


“They think, ‘It’s a seasonal effort so why do I have to go to all that effort of a proper job description?’ But in my experience, it makes a big difference.”


There are also key considerations Home Depot takes into account when it comes to finding seasonal workers that are high-quality talent, she said. 


“With most seasonal hiring, I would say digital — that’s where you’re going to find your people. Don’t think just Facebook, think everything digital. If you’ve got a Twitter account, send it out that way — Snapchat, whatever it is. Because if it’s seasonal, you’re probably going to be attracting the generation that is all digital. ”


But it’s not just about digital — employers should not forget groups such as associations, university alumni groups or affiliation groups, according to Hunnam-Jones. 


“(It’s about) all those kinds of things that maybe aren’t your typical places to go to fill jobs but where you now need to go to find a mass of people in a quick space of time,” she said. 


It’s also a strategic move to develop a simple, streamlined system for collecting data points on a large number of applicants, said Rick Lash, director at Hay Group in Toronto. 


“Most organizations will use some form — especially for mass recruitment — they will probably use some form of objective data that is relatively easy to collect, but also will kind of differentiate to a degree so you’re able to kind of narrow the field in terms of who you want to go forward with.” 


Employers should also consider collecting information about personality types and job preferences, he said. 


“Some organizations also use an individually completed personality measure that might look at things like preferences, the degree to which somebody might prefer more detail-oriented work, the degree to which somebody enjoys working with others versus somebody who tends not to be all that communicative and kind of keeps to themselves — so that’s important to know if you’re going to be in some kind of retail environment. You want to make sure that you’re hiring people who have a preference for dealing with people as opposed to that being a stressful thing for them to do.”


Also, when moving from the screening process to the interviewing process, recruiters should focus on experience-based questions for seasonal employees — particularly if the people will be in a customer service role, said Lash. 


“The interview would usually (look) for the kinds of experiences and the kinds of competencies that people would bring to the role. And typically the kinds of competencies we would want to target are those interpersonal skills. And an interview that would ask people to talk about their past experiences, for example, dealing with difficult customer situations; past experiences of working on a team; past experiences of trying to solve a difficult problem,” he said. 


“So getting people to talk about what did they actually do — not what would you do, but give me some actual examples.” 


Then, you can get a sense of the kinds of behaviours this person is likely to demonstrate, said Lash. 


“That gives you another data point to decide whether you want to bring them onboard.”

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