Finding excellent seasonal employees is one of the greatest challenges college stores face. Bookstore jobs require intelligence, commitment and solid customer service skills. What’s the best way to attract good workers?
Each year MBS hires more than 500 temporary employees for rush. We sat down with MBS Vice President of Human Resources Jerome Rader to discuss recruiting tips and tricks — as well as potential red flags in the hiring process. With 27 years of MBS HR experience, Rader offers a wealth of expertise for college retailers.
Why does MBS hire seasonal employees?
We have a two-fold need. For our warehouse operations, we’re hiring folks to help with rush. We’ve got books coming in, we’re processing the inventory and we’re getting those books prepared to send out to our customers. The hiring campaigns for the warehouse usually happen twice yearly. Last summer, we hired about 275 people, most of them college students. Students can pick their shift and we give them discounts on books. On Nov. 6, we started recruiting winter warehouse employees. This season we’ll hire 100-150 people to work over the holiday break.
We also do temporary hiring for our call center in the MBS Direct division. We hire about 60 individuals twice a year for that. We have a high volume of calls coming in during rush and we need to maintain our level of customer service.
How far in advance do you start hiring?
As I said, we just placed our winter ads Nov. 6. We anticipate that those positions will start Dec. 5 or shortly thereafter. It’s a short turnaround. For our summer periods, because we hire a larger number of people, we start recruiting in March. Those positions start in June — right at the end of the semester.
Have you found it’s better to have only a short time for the recruitment campaigns?
Yes. It’s better to have a condensed time. That’s an attraction for students, which is predominantly the application pool we want. We bring them in for the interviews, get them placed and started within a few weeks. If we start recruiting too far in advance, the process tends to drag out and we may not be able to get the numbers.
Would you recommend that college stores take a similar approach?
I think that could benefit them — definitely.
What advantages can a college store draw upon for recruiting?
They have resources to attract students on campus. For instance, private employers like MBS don’t have email addresses that allow them to send out direct campaigns.
How does MBS recruit?
We use digital recruitment through media sources. It’s referred to generally as geofencing. We target students accessing particular websites with pop-ups advertising of our employment opportunities. We aim for places in our community [Columbia, Missouri] like the campuses and apartment complexes. That’s how we’ve evolved most in the recruitment process.
What are the main challenges of recruiting seasonal work?
Finding the resources to attract the students, to make the selection and to meet the hiring need.
What do you look for in a customer service candidate?
We hire two different types. In the warehouse, we’re processing product. Customer service is a component of that, but it’s not the most important aspect of the work. We look for a candidates’ ability to adhere to a schedule. Then we look for those who are obviously putting forth the effort — showing up to the interviews on time, for example.
For our call center, it’s a slightly different process. We’re looking for candidates that may have some customer service background. It’s predominantly phone work, so we seek experience that dovetails with that. We also look for those who can maintain a flexible schedule.
What are some red flags you look for when hiring?
We aim to see whether people are able to work within our parameters. One thing we’ve done for years is bring candidates in and take them immediately out to the warehouse for a tour so they can see exactly what the job entails. That way they can know whether the job matches their specific needs and expectations.
What advice would you give college stores who become desperate for employees during rush?
I would offer that they could try to work more with their current staff — seek out referrals. We do that as well. We do far better by getting a referral from our current staff than we would by taking the applicant pool as it presents itself. The current employees have some idea of the candidates’ qualities. They don’t want us to hire somebody who’s not going to perform well. They’re selective.
What general advice would you offer our customers?
You need a pool of applicants you can select from. It comes down to that. Referrals really work. Some of our best examples have been family members. We have had entire families work for us and they’ve been great!
Do customer service trainees shadow an employee before working on their own?
They do. They go through the basic training, then through a period of listening in on calls. Eventually, they start taking the call with a trainer who’s monitoring the conversation. Then, they’re monitored on an ongoing basis.
Do you think college stores would benefit from allowing a day or two of shadowing during training?
I think they can only benefit from that.
How is the role of a human resources representative unique?
Human Resources is part of a management team. People in HR have to take a broad perspective with regard to the placement of individuals within jobs. That’s one of the attributes we try to have. When we’re hiring someone for a specific job, we want to maintain that broader perspective. If we have something that’s a better match, we’ll try to direct the individual that way, because that can only benefit them and the company.
Would you recommend college store managers also take a broad perspective in their hiring?
I’ve had opportunities to be in college stores and assist with buybacks. The bookstore managers I’ve known tend to look at operations overall. I think they do keep that broad perspective.