If you’re like most, you are continually challenged to quickly and effectively fill classes with qualified applicants who possess the right skills to deliver an exceptional customer experience and are likely to return the investment on their recruitment and training.  Yet today’s job applicants have more employment choices, have higher expectations for job satisfaction, and demand more from their employers.

In today’s fast-paced, information-rich age, customers are better informed than ever before and their expectations for service delivery are the highest they’ve ever been. Therefore, your agents need to have exceptional service, communication, language, and critical thinking skills in order to deliver an outstanding customer experience. Training and coaching can help refine many of these skills, but hiring agents who already possess these attributes will yield better results faster. Your sourcing and recruitment strategies need to be developed with this in mind.

Here are eight tips that will help you improve your agent hiring process, increase the quality-of-hire, reduce attrition and enhance employee engagement.

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Treat candidates as customers.

Some of your best applicants may, in fact, already be your customers. They know your brand – they may even be advocates for your brand amongst their friends – and they know your strengths and weaknesses from a customer standpoint. As your customers, you work hard to establish a lasting image in their minds. The same thinking should be in play when you’re recruiting candidates who may not be as familiar with your company.

Market and advertise your open positions to prospective employees using the same branding and awareness tactics you use to attract new customers. The candidate and customer impression of your company should be the same. If they are not, your candidates will quickly discover that and wonder what the experience will be like if, and when, they become employees. Multiple employment surveys have shown that a superior candidate experience is necessary to attract high-quality, high-performing applicants.

Decide quickly.

For many companies, it can take several weeks to process a candidate’s application and make a hiring decision. Many applicants won’t wait that long and will quickly seek employment elsewhere if they think the process is taking so long. It goes without saying, but this is especially true with candidates who are not currently employed.

Research conducted by Texas Christian University and the University of Arizona and published inPersonnel Psychology concludes that job applicants are more likely to accept job offers that are made quickly. Furthermore, the early offer tends to have a positive effect on the prospective employee’s performance once on the job. Conversely, the longer the process drags out, the more likely it is that the applicant will form a negative impact of the company which subsequently spills over to the employee’s on-the-job performance.

Given that competition for qualified agent labor can be fierce, getting to a decision quickly means that your company also has the best chance to snag the best talent – the early bird gets the worm. You should eliminate any superfluous process steps in order to come to the hiring decision quickly. And, once you make it, communicate it to the applicant immediately!

Yes or no. Let them know.

According to a 2013 national survey by CareerBuilder, over 75% of applicants never hear a thing from a hiring company. Yet, eighty-two percent of these applicants expect SOME kind of response, even if it’s a perfunctory “thanks, but no thanks.” Do candidates view your hiring process to be a “black hole” – a place where applications go in, but hiring decisions don’t come out?

Carefully examine your hiring practices to ensure they reflect your company’s values and portray a positive image of your brand. The sheer number of applicants probably makes it impossible for your hiring team to respond to each candidate personally. However even just an automated, cursory e-mail to each applicant explaining your final selection decision can go a long way.

Know your shrinkage.

Shrinkage occurs in the hiring process and can have a significant effect on the size and quality of the candidate pool. Candidates “fall out” of each stage of the recruitment process. Some of this is by design – you want to disqualify unqualified candidates as early as possible – but some of it is because candidates grow weary of the process. In their minds, it takes too long, is too burdensome, or consists of too many steps.

Research conducted by HireIQ suggests that the recruitment shrinkage rate may be as high as 85%, meaning to fill a class of 20 new hires, your recruiting team needs to budget time and money to accept and screen as many as 135 applicants.

Attrition is just another name for post-hire shrinkage and most contact centers know this figure intimately. However, it’s just as important to know the timing of attrition, as it is its size. Key milestones to measure attrition include: hire to training, end of training, 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day. During the pre-90 anniversary, newly minted agents are not yet proficient and have not yet begun to return any value on the investment on their recruitment. HireIQ’s research suggests that as much as 60% of a company’s total attrition occurs during this period.

Stagger training start dates.

Consider staggering your training start dates in two week intervals. Some applicants may not be currently working and for them to get hired only to find out that they can’t start working for several weeks when the next training class starts, can be demoralizing at best and could cause them to keep looking for – and accept – another job in the interim. You spent good money sourcing and recruiting them, don’t lose them just because of a scheduling issue.

Collaborate and calibrate.

You may have a team of recruiters evaluating candidates and making a final hiring decision based solely on the requirements set forth in the employment requisition. And this may happen with little, if any, additional consultation with the hiring manager. Not calibrating with this key stakeholder results in poor-quality and/or short-tenured hires, which adversely impacts operational performance.

Record applicant interviews and share the most promising candidates with key colleagues to gain consensus on quality hiring decisions. This process also serves to calibrate the recruiting team – in much the same way as your quality assurance teams are calibrated – so that each candidate is evaluated fairly consistently.

Make friends with technology.

Effective agent recruiting is largely a numbers game – you need to attract a large number (relative to your overall agent population – see the shrinkage item above) of job candidates and action them quickly. Furthermore, organizational research indicates that a candidate’s perception of the recruiting process can have a positive and negative effect.

Here’s where technology can be your friend. Virtual interviewing – an online, cloud-based software application that records candidate responses to a series of job-relevant questions – can be used immediately after candidates submit their applications. This provides the dual benefit of giving the candidate some sense of control over his or her recruitment while trimming many days off the critical “time-to-hire” interval.

Fish where the fish are.

Many job seekers may know that they are looking for a contact center job, but they just don’t know about YOUR jobs. Your careers page and commercial job boards are great places to be found by candidates actively looking for jobs, but will miss the passive applicant.

Some of your best candidates come from the ranks of your existing customers – they know your brand; are loyal; and have the passion necessary to champion your brand. Attract these candidates in the social circles they are likely to frequent: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and others. You’re likely to find passive job candidates there who would not otherwise respond to another online job posting.

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