Drillin’ Down Deep at Cingular Wireless

Peter Cappelli’s not losing sleep over the aging workforce, but Cingular Wireless is a little short on shut-eye.

Cindy Mayer, the company’s executive director of staffing, easily rattles off a laundry list of statistics about how quickly the workforce is aging and how a crisis is impending because of too many jobs for too few people.

You’ve seen them in a suburban mall near you— the company hired about 6,500 to 7,000 retail sales consultants last year. It has been trying to increase the number of Spanish-speaking employees in order to better serve Hispanic customers, and is increasing the numbers of part-time employees. All the while, it’s trying to reduce time to hire and increase productivity.

Mayer, speaking at the Human Capital Institute conference yesterday in Phoenix (at the dreaded pre-cocktail-hour timeslot), is aiming for 30% store attrition. Her company gets about 15 applicants per hire, or about 100,000 candidates annually for those 6,500 or so hires.

These candidates are high-school grads, college students, and college grads. They’re not in it for the long haul; average tenure is about 2.8 years, she says. What’s more, “there are markets where there are just not that many 20-somethings.”

With that in mind, her team’s recruiting mature workers, veterans, military spouses, and as mentioned prior, Spanish speakers.

Among her sources of candidates: niche sites such as iHispano.com and salesjobs.com; ads on portals/engines such as Yahoo and ask.com; ads on news sites (as opposed to career pages); direct marketing by email; Facebook university usergroup sponsorships (targeting schools with appropriate coursework, such as on network technology); and high school coop programs.

In Florida, “I can’t compete with Disney” for young people, she says. The alternative is, alas, old people, and Cingular is using less-technical recruitment advertising to reach them. “They aren’t as nimble when it comes to understanding how cell phones work, on average,” Mayer says, saying that there are many exceptions.

Back to the high-tech: Cingular (a Peopleclick and TMP customer) is starting employee blogs for employees to write about their experiences working at the corporation. “We’re on the tight control side,” she says, so a blogmaster will be making sure posts are appropriate before the rest of the planet sees them. “This is viral,” she says. “That’s part of the beauty of social networks, that’s part of the beauty of the blog.” Customers, she says, will likely use the blogs to ask questions about their cell phones, which is fine.

“ROI is the key,” she says, saying that she’ll update her recruiting regularly when various sources of candidates don’t pan out. Cost-benefit isn’t just about quantity, but about quality. She wants to know what the cost per hire with, say, Monster and HotJobs, was, and then to renegotiate her contracts with these candidate sources based on what the vendors are delivering to her. “I can see why you don’t want to spend so much with us this year,” one vendor told her, agreeing that rates should be lowered.

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Using the vendor PreVisor, Cingular’s applicants are assessed and categorized into three groups: red (not recommended); yellow (recommended) and green (highly recommended). As it turns out, about a third of candidates fell into each of the three categories. In other words, about two-thirds of candidates can be hired; a third can’t be, even if the manager thinks they’re, as they say, all that.

DDI’s behavior-based interviews are used on candidates (after candidates are screened on the phone by recruiters), and if all this goes well (PreVisor assessment, recruiter screen, DDI-based interview, etc.) you get an offer. Eighty percent of the people offered jobs say yes.

Eventually, Cingular will tie the red-light, green-light system to store performance. If you put the greenest of the green-lighted employees — the best candidates — in a certain store, will that store sell the most phones, headsets, and carrying cases? That’s to be determined.

Cingular is piloting its assessments (which are in Spanish, too, by the way) for call center jobs, with the goals of improving customer service, reducing customer churn, and reducing call time, and more.

Thirty days after hire, Cingular will ask candidates how their experience was and is with the company. Cingular will drill down into how they heard about the company, what their media habits are, and while Cingular’s at it, it’ll find out what “retention issues” may be about to bubble up.

At Cingular, you can make some healthy commissions if you upsell customers on extra services like music downloads and roadside-assistance plans. With more text messages, more cell phones than old-style phones nowadays, more music, and, sadly, far too many car accidents, there are lots of upsell opportunties, and it seems that Cingular will find a way to calculate employees’ role in that sales, and to compensate them accordingly. Cingular, after all, seems to love metrics: Mayer can even explain, for example, that older employees at its call centers tend to stay on the phone longer than younger workers. Like many companies, it’s refining its quality-of-hire metrics. Says Mayer: “It’s data we need.”