Sodexo Starts From Scratch With New Recruiting Technology System

Sep 27, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Foodservice giant Sodexo has gone live with what its talent acquisition VP Arie Ball calls an “absolutely huge” implementation of a recruiting system to manage candidates, resumes, and interviews, including internal employees, external employees, and alumni.

Though Ball admits any company would say this, Sodexo, she says, is highly focused on talent. Indeed, that’s what increases curiosity about Sodexo’s ATS selection process and all else the company does with human resources: the outfit has won multiple awards for human resources and recruiting, including the ERE Recruiting Excellence Award for the recruiting department of the year in 2010.

“This is a big deal for us,” Ball says. “We’re in a growth mode. We need to have the right tools. Our ATS is kind of like the plumbing in the house.”

The plumbing wasn’t broken, but it was aging. Sodexo had tinkered so much with its Kenexa system, which as of this year was nearly 10 years old, that it didn’t have easy access to Kenexa’s system upgrades. “Because of the tremendous degree of customization as technology evolved,” Ball says, “we were still working with old technology. We knew we wanted to do something different. We wanted to start from scratch.”

In 2007, Sodexo put in a three year-plan that would ultimately result in a new technology system for its 59-person recruiting team. In 2008, it sent out an approximately 28-page Request for Information to eight vendors.

A very structured scoring process was used to narrow down the vendor list to five. At the end of 2008, those five companies were sent a Request for Proposal. That document began with a template from the Recruiting Roundtable (now called CLC Recruiting) that was modified by Sodexo’s IT experts and others.

Sodexo narrowed that list of five to three companies, with two the clear leaders. Recruiters, procurement employees, the legal department, human resources professionals, and others watched demos of the products. Not everyone – not legal, for example – had voting power. HRchitect, a consultancy, was brought in to help with the final decision.

Icims had very heavy support among the recruiters in particular on the selection team, and was the preliminary winner. Selecting it wasn’t the last step, however. Ball had to convince an IT governance committee that this purchase was necessary. The committee, which included the CFO and CIO of North America, only met certain times. A year ago, they gave approval.

iCIMS seemed to have the customer service record that Sodexo liked. It appeared easier to use than some of the other systems, with what the demo-watchers felt was a good user interface, and search capabilities. The reference checks Sodexo conducted went well. The system also was able to provide candidates a similar look and feel as they got on the Sodexo career site (a challenge I wrote about in more detail in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership recently; often, fancy career websites lose their mojo when you get to the part of the site where you apply for a job or search for one).

Cathy Barton, a critical player in this process, said that the Kenexa customization had “backed us into a corner” (not due to a fault of Kenexa’s, she notes) and that iCIMS would give them flexibility to change as time went on. Barton is a director of talent administration, managing back-of-the-house functions like recruiting systems and metrics tracking.

Other key players, by the way, included Sherie Valderrama, handling communications and change management, and Anthony Scarpino, handling the branding in the various portals (internal, external, alumni).

Long and Winding Road

Sodexo chose the system last fall, and just went live this August. So, it took a bit less than a year to get it all done.

The first three months were centered around figuring out all the requirements of the system, such as how the reporting hierarchy would work. And the company found that as more and more areas were affected by the implementation, it became a challenge to keep other day-to-day work going on as normal. It was not only installing a recruiting system for candidate management, but also moving away from the “bolt-on” products for interview management and scheduling it had been using, and toward third-party systems. So this wasn’t about moving from “Kenexa to iCIMS” but rather “Kenexa to iCIMS and others.”

Sodexo also has three different portals (something that affects the pricing of its iCIMS system). These are for internal candidates, external candidates, and alumni. Sometimes jobs are posted just for internal candidates; other times just for internal candidates and external candidates; and so on, for other combinations. The messaging a candidate receives changes depending on whether they are internal, external, or alumni.

Anyhow, recruiters who were working on the implementation had some of their requisition workload reduced. Cathy Barton also got relief from some of her responsibilities handling competency interview management.

There were a ton of moving parts to manage during that time, and a steering committee of Ball, Barton, HRMS and finance representatives, as well as Dawn Atwood, met monthly to handle any major decisions that needed to be made. Atwood is a project manager who’d worked on other projects, like payroll, and was brought on to do this for about a year and a half.

The timeline of the system’s rollout went roughly like this: On July 3, Sodexo implemented a blackout period for a couple of weeks, with no new jobs posted. (“Since not a lot happens” the week of July 4, Ball says.) Ball says that it took “an incredible amount of communication” to handle that period. Heavy training on the new system happened around July 12, for all recruiters. On July 19, the iCIMS system was launched at the same time as the Kenexa system was still in use.

On August 6, the old system went dark. Data was migrated to the new system, which was no small potatoes. Sodexo moved over many employee profiles, as well as information related to the interview process. Barton notes that they didn’t want people to have to sit through a 45-minute interview again, just because the information was lost in transition.

The new system launched on its own August 24.

“Recruiters are very pumped about it,” Ball says. “But it’s a lot to learn all at once. And you can’t postpone this and learn it next week.” What she means is the system is part of everyday work, not an extra tool.

Sodexo has been doing some major training on the new system. As the launch approached, recruiters were given tips and “pre-training”; they were provided with things like “top 10 reasons you will like the new system” and were taught the new lingo that goes with it. Hiring managers have been watching 60-minute webinars, and for HR partners 90-minute webinars, on the new system. Ball says having recruiters teach recruiters was critical. Webinars, particular surrounding the most frequently asked questions, continue.

With the old Kenexa system, Sodexo couldn’t tell when a candidate dropped out of the process — only that they dropped off. Now it can tell at what point the candidate bailed, something Ball feels should allow it to tweak the system improve drop-off rates.

Ball didn’t add in any headcount savings with the new system. In other words, Sodexo doesn’t plan on cutting recruiters because of it. But, she feels recruiters will be more effective, with fewer administrative tasks and more time to focus on candidates and hiring managers.

Sodexo will be working with iCIMS to see if the system can accommodate the various ways social media is changing the management of candidates. As an example, Sodexo would like to have only the jobs individual recruiters are working on to be fed to their Facebook pages.

Also, it’d like its Softscape system for succession planning, and its background checking system, to interface with this new talent acquisition system. It might add the iCIMS onboarding system eventually, too.

This raises the question of why Sodexo didn’t go with one company to handle all HR processes. It thought about this, but in the end wanted to find the best recruiting system for its hiring needs, and not the company that could do everything from recruiting to payroll. “A lot of companies do all of it,” Ball says, but outside of their area of expertise, “”they’re not as good at the other stuff.”

For now, Ball, Barton, and team are happy to have most of this out of the way. “It was absolutely huge,” Ball says. “So many details, and the devil was in the details.”

Just Say No

Sodexo does a better job than most at keeping in touch with job candidates, and letting those who don’t make the cut know they didn’t. It sends out, for instance, a newsletter to candidates in its pipeline, featuring jobs and career articles about the food and nutrition field.

I applied for a senior vice president of operations job September 17. It asked me to upload a resume. I didn’t have one, and there wasn’t have an easy way around it, so I loaded up a Word document with some random verbiage just to progress through the system and become part of Sodexo’s “talent community.” Regarding this resume requirement, Barton and Ball say, without a lot of specifics, that they’re working on it. They’re looking at some sort of system changes that would make it more flexible and allow people to upload some other format of resume.

I received an email back that read: “Sodexo USA Careers – Welcome to the Talent Community! ?You have been added to the Sodexo talent community, which will help keep you notified of when great opportunities are available that match your interest.”

Barton says that this is one of 100 different emails that Barton says Sodexo now sends candidates.

I also got this email:

Dear Todd,

Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with Sodexo. The success of our organization begins with our employees looking for career growth and development opportunities.

We have received your application for position 2847, Senior Vice President – Operations and will be reviewing your qualifications. We will contact you as soon as possible by phone or e-mail to provide an update regarding your status. In the meantime, please click on the link to learn more about our Hiring Process.

We encourage you to continue to visit our Career Center at where we post new and exciting positions every day. You may search for open positions, create a Job Agent, review and update your profile or check your status for jobs to which you’ve applied at any time.

Diversity and inclusion, sustainability, wellness and fighting hunger are fundamental to Sodexo’s commitment to making every day a better day for us all. We are known throughout our industry as a top employer of talented individuals, and are proud of our track record in providing a highly rewarding work environment, with opportunities for professional and personal development, and career growth.

Again, thank you for your interest in Sodexo.


Sodexo Talent Acquisition

This was on September 17. That email came with a job search widget, courtesy of Jobs2web and pictured at the top of this article, for me to put on my computer and keep up with future job openings.

On September 21, I got a rejection that went like this:

Thank you for posting your resume to the Senior Vice President – Operations position – (2847). It has been determined that you will not be forwarded for further consideration of this position.

We encourage you to continue to visit our Career Center where we post new and exciting positions every day. You may also create a Job Agent so that we can e-mail to you newly posted positions that match your pre-set search criteria or review and update your profile to ensure that you do not miss new opportunities in your area of interest.

Again, thank you for your interest.


Sodexo Talent Acquisition

The fact that Sodexo said “no” to me was nice, as it provides the closure that candidates wish they got from many companies. So I’m now in its talent community, which on the back end means I’m in its new talent acquisition system, one that Ball says will make life easier for the 300,000 annual Sodexo job candidates, as well as the recruiters who sell them on jobs and the managers who hire them.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.