Hiring Outside the Box: 4 Creative Solutions for Recruiting
With unemployment at a near-record low, the labor participation rate at its lowest point in more than 40 years, and the teen employment rate in continuous decline since 1980, it’s no surprise that restaurants nationwide are feeling the pinch of chronic staffing shortages. And, unfortunately, short- and mid-term labor market forecasts offer little reprieve from the current dilemma.
There are multiple attack points restaurant companies are using to address the labor crunch, from the introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence to menu reengineering and facilities redesign. Each of these tactics offers long-term benefits and will undoubtedly be part of the labor shortage solution. In the short-term, however, there are steps companies large and small alike can deploy to provide some temporary relief.
At Fazoli’s, a 225-unit fast-casual Italian chain, we have found success filling vacant positions by focusing on a four-part strategy that emphasizes the following proven tactics.
1) Increasing applicant flow. Taking a cue from our marketing colleagues, HR recruiters are finding that attracting applicants requires a similar mindset to attracting guests through every available medium. The use of mass media, social media, job boards, guest loyalty databases, PR, and a strong employee referral program are foundational to generating sufficient applicant flow to ensure staffing goals are met. Our applicant flow has been year-over-year positive for nine consecutive months, and up 8.4% year-to-date. At Fazoli’s, we think this is primarily a result of hosting a series of virtual job fairs, two national hiring events, aggressive use of social media and a robust employee referral program that produces 14% of total applicants – nearly double the average of most restaurant companies, according to Glassdoor.
2) Improving the applicant experience. An online application process is no longer optional, and most chain restaurants have long since deployed this technology. But is enough attention being paid to that critical point when the applicant first engages with your brand through the application process? Last year, we took a close look at the experience job applicants were having when applying for work with us and found our own process was cumbersome and time-consuming. The dropout rate (applicants who started but failed to complete and submit their application) was nearly 29%. We implemented chatbot technology through Humanly that dramatically streamlined the application process and added an element of “fun” to it. Whereas applicants used to take 12 to 15 minutes to complete a static online application, the chat takes less than 2 minutes to complete, which has led to a 55% reduction in dropouts.
3) Shortening the time to hire. In today’s hypercompetitive hiring environment, it is often the case that the employer who gets to the applicant first wins the day. At Fazoli’s, we have decreased the time-to-hire by a full two days through the Humanly chatbot tool. Traditionally, after someone applies, their application is forwarded to their restaurant of choice, where it languishes in the restaurant’s email inbox for several days until management finds time to review it. Then, the applicant and manager get bogged down in a frustrating back-and-forth communication loop trying to connect and schedule an in-person interview. The Humanly tool integrates with each restaurant’s Google calendar, allowing qualified applicants to schedule their interview at the same time they apply, minimizing time wasted through process inefficiencies.
4) Engaging applicants in real time. Last summer, we decided to dedicate additional resources to combat the hourly staffing challenge. A staffing specialist was selected from operations and charged with interviewing, evaluating, and extending employment offers to as many hourly candidates as possible each week. The staffing specialist reviews applications from all 57 company-owned locations, contacts applicants, conducts virtual interviews, and, when appropriate, extends job offers and coordinates the first day of employment. The staffing specialist typically hires 16 to 18 new team members each week, a rate that would equate to nearly 35% of the company’s total hourly hires each year. Nearly 20% of all job applicants are now being interviewed the same day they apply for employment.
The answers to our industry’s biggest problems require vision, innovation, and careful thought leadership. But sometimes part of the answer is hiding in plain sight. We simply took the hiring process we’ve used for years, modernized it, and removed barriers that today’s job applicants are no longer willing to tolerate — because they don’t have to.
Dave Craig is Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Fazoli’s, where he has worked in HR since 1994.
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