Hire drills: A look at innovative recruiting policies

How Flight Centre and Rona fill positions

Travel agents looking for a job at Flight Centre need not bother. Recruiters at the Vancouver-based discount travel agency don’t want people with travel agency experience. They look instead for people who have actually travelled. And even then, applicants will make the cut only if they’ve been to at least two continents.

“When you sell something, you have to have experienced it,” said Hilary Ewart, vice-president of PeopleWorks, the company’s name for its human resource department.

And if people have prior experience as travel agents, they’re less likely to absorb Flight Centre’s go-getter culture. What most travel agents consider as going above and beyond, said Ewart, would be what Flight Centre “consultants” — the company’s term for entry-level front-line staff — do on a daily basis.

Flight Centre’s recruiting process aims to identify people with the right psychological makeup. Candidates who pass the first phone interview then take an emotional quotient assessment, an in-house psychometric test developed at the company’s Australian office and based on the scores of the company’s best performers. If they pass that, they sit down with two other job candidates for an interview that’s heavy on behavioural questions.

And in a final step, they’re asked to come to a storefront to meet their potential colleagues and team-members. If the chemistry isn’t right, they may be turned down. Candidates who don’t click with the first team may get a chance with another team, said Ewart, but if a fit is lacking with both groups, “we usually call it quits,” said Ewart. Given the company’s flat structure — there are only five levels between the entry-level consultant and the very top — front-line staffers are held accountable for business results, said Ewart.

“Our philosophy is ‘the customer’s paramount,’” she said. If a customer wants a ticket delivered to their home, the consultant would not hesitate.

And as the company puts emphasis on people who want to move into other careers in the firm, recruiters insist on candidates having a university education.

“(A university degree) demonstrates the ability to complete something; it shows dedication and follow-through. It says you have been a success, and you have shown results, because we’re all about results.”

At Rona, the Montreal-based network of more than 500 hardware stores in a variety of formats (some are small neighbourhood stores, other are big boxes; some are franchises, others dealer-owned), retail work is primarily seasonal, so students and part-timers make up the bulk of the company’s workforce of 20,000.

Still, given the boom of the do-it-yourself home renovation trend, Rona employees have to be ready to help the customer who walks in expecting quick tutorials on how to drywall or how to fix the plumbing. The company tries to hire older tradespeople looking for a less strenuous job where they can share their knowledge. But as solid customer service abilities remain paramount, these people typically make up about eight per cent of the staff on the floor at any time, said company spokesman Sylvain Morrissette.

“It sounds old-fashioned, but if a customer comes into your store, we have to smile and greet them and guide them to the right place in the store. And only after that do we draw on our expertise and provide them with solutions. So the first quality we look for is the ability to serve.”

The company does most of its hiring in February, usually in open house formats where jobseekers are guaranteed a 10-minute interview. Once hired, employees receive regular training sessions, mostly seminars conducted by suppliers showing people how to use their tools. Some of the training is delivered via the company’s own DVD program on tools and products; people who complete the modules on the DVD receive a certificate.

Given the investment in training, the company wants to retain workers. Students hired for the summer are offered incentives to come back in the form of educational grants. If a first-year employee comes back for a second summer, he gets a $200 stipend to spend on books and school material, said Morrissette. That stipend goes up to a maximum of $600 for the students who come back to work for a third or fourth season.

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