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What? No Job Postings?!?

by May 22, 2014, 2:38 am ET

Inside Zappos profile pic - updatedIf you ask my team, they will tell you that I love change and innovation. In the last couple of years I’ve helped push our team to new heights in sourcing, pioneering, and exploring new HR technology, building in efficiencies and finding unique ways to connect with potential candidates. When I look back at all of those “innovative” initiatives, I now realize that I was just iterating on a fundamentally broken process.

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Recruiting has become a walking contradiction. We care about the candidate experience, but we spend five to seven seconds looking at a resume. We are dedicated to get back to all candidates in an effort to provide great service, but the vast majority of candidates get a rejection email. We consider ourselves marketers, but we blow up social newsfeeds with job postings and send generic templated InMails. We care deeply about company culture and quality of hire, but we strive to fill positions as quickly as possible. We know employment brand and company brand are one and the same in the eyes of candidates, but we still allow candidates to slip into a black hole and ignore their existence.

What’s our purpose? What’s our value add to the company? I want our recruiters to build long-term, sustainable relationships with people. I don’t want our first interaction with someone to be over a rejection email template. I want our team to deliver the same WOW experiences that have made Zappos … Zappos. The problem is, our recruiters are too damn busy. Too busy to build real relationships, too busy to WOW our candidates, and too busy to strategically seek out thought leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs who will advance our business and drive our culture forward for years and years to come.

But why? What could be more important than seeking out, identifying, and building relationships with amazing people doing amazing things. Last year, we received more than 31,000 applicants and hired about 1.5 percent of all those applicants. Our recruiting team and hiring teams were constantly on their heels trying to keep up with the volume. Applicants would apply for multiple roles, weren’t qualified, or weren’t a culture/team fit. We’ve been committed to getting back to every single applicant (which surprisingly is a differentiator in this recruiting world we live in).

What this means is that we had to reject more than 30,000 unqualified applicants. That’s 30,000 times a recruiter had to click and scan through a resume and cover letter, 30,000 times a rejection template had to be sent, and 30,000 missed opportunities on doing something more meaningful. What’s even more crazy is that we had over an 80 percent bounce rate from our careers site last year. Thus the majority of people who might have a great skill or were the perfect culture match couldn’t even find the appropriate opening at the appropriate time and left our career site most likely never to be heard from ever again.

After a few sleepless nights, lots of brainstorming, and some liquid courage, we decided the answer is to shut off job postings. Yes, you read that right. No job postings. Let’s not let our first interaction be through a crappy job description and a lifeless resume. Let’s remove the front door that keeps us catatonically busy. And most importantly, let’s put people first. The knee jerk reaction to this no-job-posting model is always “that’s crazy” and “how are you going to capture and connect with job seekers?”

Capturing and connecting with job seekers is still important. In fact, the word “connecting” is taking on a whole new meaning. Anyone coming to our new careers site will see information about each department — our employees, the department’s unique culture, and which roles that department typically fills. Job seekers will have an opportunity to make an introduction to that department rather than apply for a specific position. The whole concept is to “take a look Inside Zappos.” Job seekers will get to take a look “Inside Finance,” “Inside Merch,” etc. If they look inside and like what they see, they can introduce themselves and become a “Zappos Insider.” Without the ability to apply for specific roles, we will no longer need to send inhumane rejection templates. Instead, we can begin to focus on long-term engagement.

Job postings are so one-sided. We ask the candidate to sum up their existence on a sheet of paper and quickly rush to judgment without giving much in return. In our model, we want to be super transparent and accessible. Zappos Insiders will have unique access to content, Google Hangouts, and discussions with recruiters and hiring teams. Since the call-to-action is to become an Insider versus applying for a specific opening, we will capture more people with a variety of skill sets that we can pipeline for current or future openings.

With our renewed focus on relationship building and two-way interaction, our recruiters will have the ability and insight to pair up Insiders with potential roles for Zappos. By removing the redundant nature of screening, reviewing, and rejecting candidates, we will redirect that energy into creating proactive pipelines of talent. When our managers have an opening in the future, we’ll already have Insiders pipelined, prequalified, and ready to be interviewed. Instead of posting openings to job boards, we will be marketing openings and headhunting in a very targeted and direct fashion. We will use our existing employees for referrals, run targeted ad campaigns, and aggressively headhunt on various channels. These actions will provide a feeder into our Insider pool. All of our energy and resources will be directed in a purposeful and meaningful way.

I’m excited to move away from the transactional and redundant nature of recruiting that exists today. Let’s live up the promises we make to ourselves, our hiring teams, and most importantly, our candidates. Going forward I’m committed to innovate rather than iterate … no matter how crazy the idea appears to be.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.techtrak.com Maureen Sharib

    This is revolutionary and I can see you guys headed for the Awards Table at the next ERE function.

    Are you going to allow conversations into your staffing department and who’s going to field those calls? One of the comments I make to gatekeepers (as a phone sourcer and here’s a secret phone sourcing tip) when they want to shunt me “to HR” is, “okay, but you know how HR is – they never answer their phones!” and then we laugh conspiratorially and they invariably send me somewhere I originally wanted to go.

    Rather than being a source of frustration to the jobseeker wouldn’t it be nice if there were a few people in staffing who could answer the phone with, “Hi, my name is Maureen. We’re glad you called Zappo’s Staffing today – how may I help you?”

    Sure, it might be a step or two inside the Zappos Insider process but a promise to a phone that gets answered inside the Insider network is a mighty big worm on the hook.

    I was surprised (but shouldn’t have been) yesterday to learn that the #1 Most In-Demand Skill In IT is – guess what? Oral and Written Communication Skills. Sure, they’re soft skills but top the list nonetheless. i guess you have to know those to be able to make yourself heard programming – that makes sense to me but Communication Skills are what are missing in recruiting and you all have picked up on that.

    Please don’t forget the phone. It’s a lowly but mighty hunter.
    Maureen Sharib
    Telephone Ensorceler
    513 646 7306

    ensorcel: to enchant, bewitch; to engage
    Sourcers (and recruiters) are challenged today to ensorcel candidates with their message!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/robmcintosh Rob McIntosh

    Michael – I have to give you and your team major props for this. We (the recruiting industry) have been complaining about JD’s for decades and you did something more than talk about it, you created something.

    I was so impressed I started to join the Corporate Insiders on your careers page to see how it all works and feels from a candidate perspective (I like to reverse engineer like that :-)).

    I would be interested to know one particular point. Since there are no formal JD’s with no formal requirements, it seems to me that from a OFCCP perspective you cannot be seen as discriminating given there are no minimal requirements to rule people in or out with. I gather though, at some point your recruiters have to make a judgment call on requirements for positions. Even if you have not officially shared what that might be with a candidate since they are not an applicant at this stage (or are they?) when deciding not to contact a candidate who has become an insider at Zappos. How did you define this in a way that the US Government would not see Zappos process as potential creating adverse impact if a candidate/applicant does not know why they might get ruled out behind the scenes if there is no traditional job to apply too?

    I applaud your creative disruption and our industry needs more thinking, but most importantly, more acting/doing like this.

  • http://www.celanese.com Robert Laseak

    Amen Brother!

    Excellent points regarding our own contradicting behaviors and actions and perhaps one of the best ideas in talent acquisition in decades!

  • Bob Bonos

    Sure looks like job postings to me – http://jobs.zappos.com/careers. Call it what it is, Zappos has created a talent community.

  • Richard Araujo

    Checking out the Zappos site I’m not sure how much the reality lives up to the hype, as Bob pointed out the JDs are still there and it looks like a talent community more or less.

    The approach is certainly interesting in terms of shifting recruiter focus to more productive pursuits, but I don’t think you can ever get rid of JDs for most companies unless their brand is so strong that talent communities can attract enough people to cover their needs. So, companies without a strong brand could eliminate JDs, but they’d need to invest in a more marketing oriented approach to build the brand, and most will not make that investment. And then there’s the brand gap, because what they want to sell as their brand very often isn’t their real brand, and it won’t take long for that disparity to feedback into the talent community.

  • http://www.avanade-jobs.com Glenn Gutmacher

    Good talent sourcers are always proactive and don’t depend on job postings to find and engage candidates, anyway. In general, specific jobs are usually too narrowly defined: companies should be looking more toward hiring for a set of competencies, behaviors, etc., that tend to define success at their company, which in terms of job presentation can be presented as functional areas/hotskills where the candidate has 80% of what’s required and then train them on the missing 20% that’s company/job-specific once onboarded. Potential A-player candidates will have no trouble handling that and they’re more affordable than people who have already proven their A-player status. We post jobs primarily because the recruitment management and marketing folks tell us it helps with SEO and employer branding. But I agree that those 2 goals can be achieved through other types of content (which most smart companies also do, but not enough volume of quality content that enhances the conversation goal). We’ll look forward to your sharing some metrics on how things have improved in the months to come!

  • Michael Bailen

    Thanks for the great feedback! Our legacy tech postings are in the process of being phased out in upcoming months and are a legacy of our former model, not a sign of our new one. All postings for all other departments are gone from the site and Tech will be following shortly.

    @Rob – feel free to email me at mbailen@zappos.com and we can chat!

  • Bob Bonos

    @Michael Bailen, thanks for the clarification? How do you propose to drive seeker traffic or are you betting that candidates will naturally come to Zappos to look for jobs? Outside of Zappos how would another large enterprise demonstrate to potential candidates which office locations house which departments or for your purposes does this not matter?

  • Miles Jennings

    @Michael, this is certainly an interesting and really innovative approach. It’s one of the only things I’ve heard about in corporate recruiting for a while that made me stop and think. It will be really cool to see the results of this after a year.

    The questions that immediately come to mind for me – if you get a similarly huge number of applicants, won’t it still be impossible to provide more than a template rejection? Without a huge amount of work, I could see it potentially becoming an ever darker “black hole”, where not only do the candidates not hear much specific feedback, but they don’t even know if there are positions actually open.

    I’m sure you’ve hashed this out to death though. Congrats on a bold move!

  • http://www.verticalelevation.com Carol Schultz

    Michael: Fantastic article. Any true recruiter reading this know what a “goat rope” (it’s a Westernism) recruiting has become, both on the corporate and agency side. You’ve summed it up perfectly. You’ve summed up the problem of a “hot” company and the “order takers” that work for their recruiting department. “Why should we actually recruit? Everyone wants to work here, right? All we have to do is “post and pray.” Bravo for working to find a solution!

    I do have a few questions for you:

    1. How many open reqs do your recruiters typically have on their desks at any time?
    2. What percentage of the jobs you’re filling are in customer service and warehousing vs. the high paid engineering and managerial jobs?
    3. What percentage of their time do your recruiters actually spend proactively seeking out potential candidates? You mention “job seekers”, which leads me to believe there’s still no proactivity.

  • http://opportunitiesproject.com Tracy Brisson

    We eliminated job descriptions and moved to a similar structure at the NYC Department of Education in 2009 when I was Director of Teacher Recruitment (system is still in place even though I left in late 2010). We received 20K+ applications per year for our 5-8,000 positions and had to manage a long hiring process- educator recruitment happens in the spring, but people do not start the new school year until fall. There is a lot of ebb and flow, waiting and refilling of positions that had been already closed and filled.

    After our a redesign in our 2007-2008 hiring season, we surveyed applicants and found they were dissatisfied (imagine that after a 6 month timeframe!) and were leaving our recruitment process early on due to frustrations, some you mention. We changed everything around and implemented a talent community called the New Teacher Finder where applicants had access to the recruitment team, invitations to online and in-person community events and were funneled to hiring managers as applicable positions opened up. We had high participation in the New Teacher Finder and better metrics at the end of the hiring season. However, we found that applicants really valued the transactional nature of the old job description/application process, even taking into consideration flaws in our process. I have a feeling you will find that also as you roll out your changes and might consider a hybrid.

    Please keep us updated on how this works!

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Michael. ISTM that you’re working to develop a relationship-oriented recruiting process. I’ve found the following to be more typical: “If you have time to develop a relationship with a candidate, you don’t have enough reqs.” (As per: Carol’s questions.)

    As a job seeker, I don’t want a “relationship” with a company to “explore options”- I want a GOOD JOB, STAT!
    As a recruiter/hiring manager: I don’t want someone who may or may not be interested/available for something I have in 3 6, or 12 months- I want a qualified candidate who can INTERVIEW, NOW!

    Q: “What could be more important than seeking out, identifying, and building relationships with amazing people doing amazing things.”

    A: “Putting quality butts in chairs on time and within budget.”
    That’s MY purpose and value-add to the company.

    It has been my experience that companieswhich claim to value how people are treated often seem to leave out one particular group in that respect: recruiters. We’re rarely asked for our opinions on how we can make our own jobs better or for decisions which will effect us, when in reality- no one knows better or more than *we do.

    Cheers,

    Keith

    *or virtually anybody else asked the same question(s).

  • Richard Araujo

    I think in the end there’s always going to be an inherent dissatisfaction with the recruiting process, because at the end of the day only one applicant gets any particular job. That’s a lot of also-rans who will be dissatisfied. The fear of litigation, and the inherently random nature of most hiring processes, will always choke off much meaningful feedback for people who aren’t hired, always leaving them in a black hole of sorts.

    Until the ‘art,’ roughly meaning the BS, gets removed from the process, I don’t see things improving. I heard mention a couple times of a couple of companies that ran experiments, hiring people via their regular process and hiring people off their resume and skill assessment only, and not finding any significant differences in tenure and performance between the groups. I haven’t been able to track the companies down to confirm, but this would not surprise me.

    To improve, the process requires one thing that people are averse to injecting into many situations: honesty. On the part of all parties, employer, prospective employee, and recruiter. There’s too much hype. Recruiters hype their abilities, employers hype their opportunities and cultures, candidates fluff up their resumes. There’s too much ‘sales’ and not enough actual needs fulfillment.

  • Michael Silcox

    @Michael. Thank you for trying to change the current transaction driven recruiting process. What you described is what any good agency recruiter knows, it is better to call the right candidate than get multiple calls from the wrong candidates. As a 17 year veteran on the agency side, we get a chance to develop key relationships, first to put the right candidate in the right job but just as important to get qualified referrals. But we have the time to do this and we are lazer focused on what to look for. I am not so sure that a large company can pull it off. While that purple unicorn passive candidate may be in a position to wait a few months for the right job, most applicants are either unemployed or ready to make a change now rather than sometime in the future. The ebb and flow of available candidates could be a real challenge for this method, I know it is something I deal with every day. Regardless, I hope this works Michael, the recruiting industry is broken and again I applaud you on taking a different approach to get back to the people side of recruiting.

  • Michael Bailen

    @Bob Bonos Good question! By freeing up our time from job postings, we will run targeted marketing campaigns seeking out the skills we need at Zappos. We’ll also have more time to actively source passive candidates.

    If I were another organization I would highlight the culture of each office as it’s the living, breathing employees that potential candidates want to see and interact with. What do they do there, what types of positions do you typically have, and what is the environment like in the office? The more transparent, the better.

  • Michael Bailen

    @Miles Jennings Really good points and you’re right. We’ve worked hard to prepare and organize Insiders as they come in. We are partnering with a company called Ascendify (Matt and Lauren are awesome BTW!) which is serving as our CRM. When Insiders join, we not only tag them, but we move them into distinct pipelines based on their skills and what their interests are.

    The advantage of this is we can serve them up content/information/games/contests that are actually relevant to their interests. Once we have an opening down the road, we’ve already gotten to know them, their interests and skills, and can proactively place them into an opening.

  • Richard Araujo

    @ Michael Silcox

    I agree, that was always the challenge in corporate. Now that I’m back on the agency side it makes a lot more sense to talk to people even if they’re not specifically for something I need right now, because chances are something will come up shortly for which they are suited. Or, in the case of a really strong desirable candidate, we can try and make something happen. That’s a lot easier at an agency than in a corporate setting. As an investment of time and resources it’s a lot more likely to pay off for us than for a specific company.

    I think a corporate recruiting department can pull it off, but only if the company is behind them and willing to make the investment and view talent acquisition as a longer term process. Of course, key to this is trying to also measure quality of hire and see if there’s any perceivable improvement. If there’s not, it’s harder to justify and you may see a slide back to a more traditional role.

    Still, hats off to Zappos for having the balls to try. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s valuable experience to add to the recruiting profession.

    Question for Michael Bailen: I know some companies take their internal departments and sometimes use them to outsource for other companies; ie, an instructional design department will produce modules for another company sometimes, something like that. As way to up the ROI on this approach, do you guys think you’d potentially also serve as a pseudo agency for other companies in the area? It’s an admittedly problematic idea, but it could also potentially bring in more money. Kind of like those insurance companies who provide competing quotes and admit if they’re not the lowest priced for you, you could potentially fill roles elsewhere.

  • Mitch Heinemann

    An interesting approach for Zappos but would that work for the generic Midwest manufacturing company? (insert your fav avg run of the mill company name here) You know, like 90% of the companies where people are not beating down the doors to work there. Innovation is great and I hate the “transaction” model too but unless you have the golden goose I am not sure I see this model taking off for the non-Amazons of the world.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Mitch. Well-said. Personally, I would find it much more useful for a dozen no-name, nowhere, nothing-special companies (where the vast majority of hiring is done) to tell us how they’ve improved their hiring than how an Employer of Choice does it, unless the EOC described what real-world, transferable steps they took to go from a no-name, no-where, nothing-special company to an EOC.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Stacy Phillips

    Love it! Sometimes a person wouldn’t even think to apply for a particular position – and yet would have thrived in the new area or a more senior role. Bravo, Zappos!

  • jer langhans

    don’t believe the hype – zappos DOES do job postings. proof:
    http://jobs.zappos.com/careers/position/job_b50c61000000000043632

    follow me on twitter
    @bluelabeltalent

  • Tarik Taman

    This sounds like an innovative and bold approach. One purpose of job descriptions is to ensure a systematic, objective view of the job requirement. How will you ensure your headhunting is using objective criteria to find candidates with the right characteristics rather than using gut feelings which , however much we believe in, are no better than chance when it comes to recruiting quality candidates.