SOI 2014 - Staff Supplement

Are Distributors Ready To Hire New Generation Of Workers?

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Staff SupplementAre distributors ready to hire and retain a new generation of workers?

This year the 305-person team at Top 40 distributor HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000) will increase by at least 15 people. Most of those will become employees through word of mouth. That is, via the company’s hiring incentive program, which pays staff up to $500 per new hire if the person they referred to HALO ends up working there for more than six months.

The program is one of the company’s best tools for finding top talent, says Terry McGuire the Sterling, IL, distributor’s senior vice president of marketing. In a way, it’s like “prescreening the candidate when referring someone, because an employee is not going to refer someone who would make them look bad,” McGuire says. And while the company also advertises job openings through online job sites, “in terms of getting prequalified candidates, the employee referral program is absolutely the best way,” McGuire says.

That’s key among distributors who complain that the industry gets robbed of top talent, particularly younger applicants fresh out of college. Jason Robbins, CEO of ePromos Promotional Products Inc. (asi/188515), a New York-based distributor, says he believes the industry tends to lose out on some top young talent because “it’s not that sexy” of a market. Ultimately, he says, it’s hard to attract top young employees “away from software companies or Wall Street.” Still, others say they’re able to combat that talent drain among millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 33, who might, in fact, be eyeing Wall Street over wearables.

StaffFor its part, McGuire says, HALO hasn’t experienced a huge problem with millennial disinterest and considers their company profile to be one of their greatest recruiting tools. Citing one recent hire with an MBA from William & Mary, McGuire says the applicant found the position at HALO randomly through an online job search, without any interest in advertising specialties. The job seeker “did research on the company and said, ‘You’re a $200 million company in an $18 billion market. That’s really attractive to me.’” McGuire recalls.

Growing Payrolls
Distributors increasingly say they’re expecting to grow their employee ranks this year. In fact, 34% of distributor respondents to the State of the Industry survey said they plan to increase their number of company personnel this year, whereas only 1% are expecting a decrease to their payrolls. Those numbers compare favorably to last year, when 29% were expecting staff increases and 4% said they were planning on employee cuts.

Yet, in a fiercely competitive market that’s accustomed to high growth, finding the most skilled employee, surprisingly, isn’t always a distributor’s number-one hiring goal. Just as often, they’re concerned about a new hire’s ability to fit in and meld with the company’s corporate culture. “Is it better to hire for culture or competency? I would say that you hire for attitude and train for skill,” Robbins says, meaning employees who fit the culture are more likely to stick around and thus are better for a distributor’s long-term success.

He may be on to something. The cost of turnover “can be up to 30% to 35% of that person’s salary,” says Gustavo Pena, managing partner at Ascendo Resources, a staffing firm based in Coral Gables, FL. Heavy turnover can also be a major morale buster, experts insist.

Identifying that right fit can be tricky, however. At HALO, McGuire says every applicant is asked a series of 10 questions, but of particular note to McGuire is whether or not an applicant has a certain zeal for the job and other activities in their lives. For that reason, he always reviews resumes for volunteer experience and asks applicants about that when they come in.

“There aren’t as many people doing volunteer work, I don’t believe, as there were five and 10 years ago,” he says, despite its being made popular perhaps by philanthropic celebrities and college admissions boards. So McGuire questions job candidates about what makes them passionate. “If they put down that they raised money by participating in a 5K, you know they’re really a runner and not as passionate about the cause.” For those truly passionate about an activity or organization outside of work, that kind of enthusiasm often translates to the workforce, McGuire says. “To find people passionate about serving others is a key component.”

So is presenting your own passionate view of your company, says Stephen Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead LLC, an organizational and performance improvement company based in Stow, MA. In fact, to gauge initial interest in your company, Balzac suggests distributors craft a simple phrase, sentence or paragraph – essentially a corporate elevator pitch – that describes the importance of your company to your clients. It’s essential today, especially with young talent, to appeal to their desire to fit in and connect with a higher mission for the company they work at.

“Make that description brief and exciting,” Balzac says, then present it to the applicant. An interviewer should ask himself, “does the potential hire respond to it? Do they find it interesting or exciting? If not, odds are strong they won’t be a good fit,” Balzac says. And “if they don’t care, everything else becomes difficult or impossible” in terms of training the applicant and expecting long-term success at the company.

StaffOne other device distributors can call on are personality assessment tools. Essentially they “measure tendencies of behavior that don’t always come out in an interview,” says Matt Poepsel, vice president, product management for PI Worldwide, a firm in Wellesley Hills, MA, that offers behavioral assessment testing. The tests, which take as little as 10 minutes to complete, not only help companies better understand how a job applicant might behave, but they also provide information that helps firms create more targeted questions during the interview and hiring process, Poepsel says.

Moreover, experts say, added tools like personality assessments can help speed up the hiring process, something that’s becoming an increasing concern as the market picks up and the applicant pool of qualified and highly talented candidates tends to shrink.

Still, most within the industry say they’ve developed internal processes that help them weed out unwanted candidates and pluck the best from the applicant pool. For Top 40 distributor National Pen (asi/281040), that means everything from interviews with multiple staff members to aptitude tests. The company hires upwards of 200 telesales workers a year, says Dave Thompson, the company’s president and CEO, and they need an efficient and effective hiring process to make that happen.

Depending on the position, job applicants might undergo a number of interviews with various company reps, but also a series of tests that assess an applicant’s technology know-how or sales abilities. In addition, National Pen has created a weighted rating system where each applicant interviewed is scored in several different categories by each person who interviewed him, and then given an average score over all. Doing so, Thompson says, gives the hiring team a more objective view of the applicant and helps quantify their potential against other applicants.

For top candidates, the company often asks them to come back and meet with a few company reps for an hour or so, just to gain a better sense of them and see if the applicants could fit with National Pen’s corporate culture. Such a thorough, intricate process means the company spends 20 to 30 days evaluating many of its prospective hires.

Thompson says the extra effort is definitely worth it. “Recruiting is probably more of an art than a science,” Thompson says. “Fortunately, every day it seems we get a little bit better.”