Aug 3, 2011

[Call Centers] Rethinking Recruitment - A Strategy Discussion

Call centers have become a pretty big deal here in the Philippines. With over 400,000 employees bringing in about $6.2 billion in revenue during 2010, it's pretty clear that this is not some flash-in-the-pan deal that's going to go away anytime soon. And with CCAP projecting to more than double industry revenues and headcount by 2016, the call centers certainly have their work cut out for them.

Flickr: Brennan Mercado - IT Park
IT Park
by Brennan Mercado via Flickr.

But as any call center practitioner knows, the true challenge of the industry remains to be Recruitment. In order to reach the 15+% annual growth target that CCAP is setting for itself, it's going to take more than what a lot of call center recruiters are doing today. It means a lot of significant changes in how we do things in the hopes of keeping up with the constantly increasing demand for Filipino call center agents before the other countries look elsewhere for solutions.

Now while I'm not a Recruitment expert, I do think that in my 8+ years in the industry I've come up with some alternative ideas to explore. If anything, a fresh perspective may be just the thing that we need to revitalize this industry, right? Doing the same thing every day while expecting different results just won't cut it.

I think this might become a series of posts as I flesh out these ideas further. That also depends on the kind of feedback that I might get for this post - good or bad. Either way can still work - it'll just set the tone for things.

First, let's not obsess about increasing the graduation output of local colleges. That's something outside of our control and even if we could make changes (like how CCAP is trying to talk to CHED and private universities), it'll take years before we see any kind of potential yield from those efforts. Instead we need to look at our own Recruitment efforts and see what might be optimized.

If anything, the painful truth may be that we need to change how we go about our sourcing efforts rather than blame external sources all the time. If anything, I feel that there's a need to shift the sourcing paradigm over to one that is closer to the traditional sales cycle instead of treating it as a completely separate process. Allow me to explain what I mean shortly.

Flickr: uwgb admissions - Job & Internship Fair at UWGB
Job & Internship Fair at UWGB
by uwgb admissions via Flickr.

In the traditional Philippine recruitment model, you place an ad in a newspaper, you get applicants and then you hire based on the people who came in. Maybe you'll join a job fair or two or maybe even put out a colored print at or something. But if anything, the bulk of Recruitment's work used to be in the screening function itself and not really the efforts to get people into the pipeline.

From a call center perspective, recruiters know that broadsheets aren't as great a lead source as some people thing. In terms of sheer warm bodies yes, you will get a lot of people lining up after you run a Sunday ad in the Manila Bulletin or something. However majority of them will be unqualified for the post given the lack of a degree or equivalent experience, poor communication skills or any other skills relevant to the job. Many non call center specific job fairs yield the same results - thus padding your Recruitment queues with candidates that you have no chances of hiring but will eat up your time to screen and hire.

Thus the need to be more proactive - the right applicants will not come to you. And so more efforts need to be invested into developing more creative approaches to feeding your applicant funnel - true lead generation from a traditional sales perspective. But of course thinking about Lead Generation leads to the inevitable question of where to get quality leads. But that may be putting the cart before the horse at the moment. Let's park Lead Generation efforts for the moment while we think about our core Recruitment process first. It's hard to focus on filling a pipeline when the pipeline isn't there to begin with.

Flickr: ebatty - P1050279
by Paul Batty / ebatty via Flickr.

In order to get your organization working towards more proactive instead of reactive sourcing, we need to look at your Recruitment processes first. If you plan on changing your organization to take a more sales-align approach, then your team needs to be ready to work like a Operations group instead of a Filipino Recruitment team.

This means Operations-style metrics and understanding. You need to be able to break down your recruitment process into all of its various phases (e.g. phone interview, initial interview, testing, etc) and measure your success per phase. You need hard data to be able to analyze where people are falling out of your process and where they're getting stuck. Does it take an applicant all morning just to get to his or her initial interview? Do you end up pushing your sourcing team into overtime to meet the load of people in the lobby? Proper data gathering and analysis of your applicant arrival patterns will allow you to better schedule your team to meet the load of people brought in my your lead generation folks. And it means linking the performance evaluations of your various recruiters to their throughput per phase of the process that they handle.

If you're not measuring your results, then you can't really say that you're doing well or not. This goes beyond just hitting the target number of agents per scheduled training class. It means understanding each step of your process and using the data that you've gathered to determine possible improvements, identity process bottlenecks and eliminate redundancies. Your team will never be as efficient as it needs to be if you don't take time to study how they work and make sure they have all the tools that they need.

Flickr: lamont_cranston - aafad 167/365 call centre-kun
aafad 167/365 call centre-kun
by lamont_cranston via Flickr.

Now do you have the people in your sourcing team to begin with? If you want to have a lead generation sub-team feeding your pipeline, do they have the necessary phone skills? If your applicants keep failing the final / validation interview with Operations personnel, does this mean you have a calibration issue or do your recruiters lack the necessary profiling skills to conduct effect interviews? There's a lot riding on your sourcing team and they need to be able to read between the lines of resumes, assess the personalities of applicants in a short span of time and many other skills. It's not an easy job, I know.

If you're already measuring your results per phase, then you can use that data to evaluate your recruiters in their phase of responsibility. A person who does badly as a phone screener may better fit being an in-person interviewer and such - things that you'll be able to tweak as you go. But the hardest skill is finding recruiters who can really read the people their interviewing and not just repeat a resume or ask silly questions like "why are manholes round" and the like. Does the person who handles the job offer have the necessary sales skills to "close the deal" with desirable applicants and get them to sign up today?

Thus the effort you put into hiring agents also needs to be applied to your recruiters. Do they speak the kind of English you expect from your applicants? Do they understand how the call floor really works or have they been in HR all their lives? Have they listened to the calls of agents on the floor today? Do you truly understand what the agents do every single day? Your recruiters need the right training and coaching to be successful. They also need to be closely calibrated with the Operations team that they're screening for in order to be able to effectively determine if the person hoping for a job actually matches the skill requirements of the post. Phone skills, interviewing skills, negotiation skills - all of these need to be trained and developed whether by internal resources or through some external certification agency.

Flickr: charmingman - Comic Relief Call Centre
Comic Relief Call Centre
by Nathan Collins / charmingman via Flickr.

The gist of what I'm seeing is that too often we see Recruitment does not follow the best practices we see in Operations groups. It's not often that a recruiter can immediately quote how many people they've screen today and how many people are in each step of the process at any given moment. And yet on the Ops floor we expect managers to always know how many calls are in queue, how many sales have been closed and what the service level is like right now. It's a major mindset change that needs to happen today in this highly competitive job market. The agents that you want won't come to you - you need to go out and find them.

And that means an effective and efficient recruitment process that's run by the numbers. It means a steady inflow of people via lead generation efforts (e.g. securing graduation lists, aggressively mining online job portals for resumes, etc), getting them screened quickly without too much wait time (since this leads to walk-outs who give up and try another center instead) and making sure that the quality of applicant endorsed to Operations should be the best possible candidates based on your teams profiling and interviewing efforts.

I definitely need to continue this in another post as we explore more of these concepts. Plus we need to put some thought into creative lead generation approaches and how these can apply to the call center sphere. Expect another post in a week (at the earliest). But in the meantime, what do you think? What call center recruitment approaches have you found to be successful in the current market? Do you feel that recruitment efforts in cities like Manila and Cebu aren't working but still work in provincial locations? What are you teams doing to cope with the market? Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments!


  1. This is actually an interesting read, especially for one who's currently on the process of being interviewed by these HR personnel. :)
    I have to agree that these recruiters should be calibrated with OPS and the account they are interviewing for, because most often than not they lack the proper profiling skills to put the right agents where they belong. I should know, I was put into a sales account before, even though I specifically made it clear to the interviewer that I don't do well in sales and is more of a tech troubleshooter.
    I think calibration with operations processes will give these recruiters a better understanding of what they're really looking for in an applicant, instead of asking the age-old questions in the initial interview like "how can you explain the color red to a blind person?". These questions are getting old, and to be honest, they really don't apply much to the job. This can be beneficial to the agents too. If an agent feels he is well-fitted to his account, chances are he or she will perform and produce numbers. This can also help minimize the attrition rate-a problem with most call centers these days.
    It's also interesting to note that many call centers right now are engaging into other marketing gimmicks to attract applicants. Referral promotions are no longer the hype. From free McDo breakfast meals, to winning a free cellphone or iPad, it's like going to a raffle instead of a corporate interview.

  2. Yeah, I'm thinking about discussing lead sourcing strategies in my next recruitment-related post. The marketing gimmicks are cute, but I'm not sure what the ROI is like for these initiatives. In terms of the data that I've seen, best bang for the buck remains to be your internal referral programs and leveraging incentives there instead.

  3. Wow, an in-depth analysis of the call center's recruitment process. Cool. I want to add some input but I'm not really into recruitment. But based on experience, call center agents apply to another center call center because their friends told them that it has higher pay. That's basically it. Applicants would endure anything just to get that "rumored" higher salary package :)

  4. Glad you appreciated the post Elmer! Stay tuned for the next installment!