Santa’s Workshop – 2000 in Review

In an ERE article from last year (ERE December 16, 1999), we visited Santa’s Workshop to take a peek at how he was managing his recruitment during the 1999 labor shortage. What we found was that despite Santa’s remote location in the North Pole, his recruiting program was quite progressive. Apparently the Internet and newsletters/websites like the ERE have helped him remain competitive in this marketplace. To recap, in 1999 Santa began reengineering his recruiting program with very favorable results. Below is a list of some of changes he implemented:

  • Hired a talent manager who had innovative ideas for recruiting and retaining talent
  • Implemented an employee referral bonus
  • Posted jobs on local job boards like “” and “”
  • Implemented a web-based candidate management system
  • Actively mined the internet for the “Passive Job Seeker”
  • Developed an alumni group to keep in touch with past employees
  • Trained hiring managers on interviewing skills

While Santa achieved his hiring and retention goals in 1999, he learned some good lessons in 2000. The biggest lesson he learned was that the marketplace is changing every day, and that plans implemented in 1999 were not necessarily perfect for 2000. He constantly needs to stay on top of the industry and try new and innovative recruiting strategies. He also learned that having the right infrastructure, practices and processes in place is equally as important as developing a strong strategy. When I interviewed Santa for this article, he equated his “People Programs” to spinning plates. He said that the minute you think you’ve got them all spinning fine one starts to wobble, then another starts to wobble and before you know it, the plates are spinning out of control. Here’s what happened to Santa’s “plates” in 2000. First, while Santa improved the benefits and perks that he offered his employees to help stem the exodus to dot-coms, there was little he (or any company for that matter) could do to keep employees from wanting a taste of the market potential experienced in the first quarter of 2000. Where Santa got hurt the most was in his software engineering group. His plan for 2000 was to be completely prepared for the handheld PDA boom he knew was going to hit this Christmas. Unfortunately, by the time Santa got the right talent back in place, his timing was off. He could not produce enough product to meet the demand. (By the way, the result is that this Christmas Santa will not be able to fill my stocking with the Compaq iPaq. If anyone knows where Santa might be able to get one, my stocking would be very happy!) Unfortunately for the marketplace and fortunately for Santa, the dot-com gold rush dried up a bit in the spring and summer. Some of Santa’s biggest competitors in 1999 like Toytime and Toysmart were out of business. Because Santa had implemented an alumni group in 1999 he was able to bring back some, but not all, of his top talent. However, it was at a cost. They now wanted higher salaries and guaranteed bonuses because options were no longer appealing. To attract some of these people back to the workshop, Santa not only had the recruiting team contact “the alumni” but also had the “peers” of the alumni contact them. He even visited the Silicon Valley, Seattle, Austin, Boston and Chicago and held “alumni” parties which proved to be extremely successful. The parties all had a “Bring A Friend” component so Santa was able to extend his reach beyond past employees. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Another lesson learned in 2000 he learned the hard way. This was that the skills needed to be a successful recruiter are not necessarily the same as those needed to be successful at Internet mining. The result: too many “plates” got broken. While Santa had one member of his talent team dedicated to Internet mining, all 4 of his recruiters were also responsible for some mining. Finding the balance between researching the Internet and being on the telephone contacting candidates was extremely challenging. To help become more efficient Santa invested in a few mining tools: AIRS Search Station and Infogist. These seemed to help the researcher pick up more of the mining responsibilities and freed up the recruiters time to spend contacting and interviewing candidates. A good recruiter has strong marketing, sales, and interpersonal skills and can manage many variables at one time. A good Internet miner has strong research skills, loves puzzles and likes to dig into information. One set of skills is not mutually exclusive of the other, but typically a person with very strong recruiting skills does not have patience to keep peeling back, x-raying and reworking search strings to find candidate leads. Another issue Santa had not anticipated was the level of response he would get from his Internet ad campaign. It was enormous. The appeal of working in Santa’s Workshop attracted not only elves but lots of “munchkins” as well. It was taking his recruiters forever to sort through all the responses to find the few good candidates. Unfortunately the web-based candidate management system Santa implemented last year did not have a skills-based profiling function. As a result, there was no method for quickly targeting a “short list” of qualified candidates. Santa recently switched systems to one that not only managed candidate responses but one that also had the following features:

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  • Skills-based profiling that allows candidates to highlight skills and proficiencies
  • A search mechanism that searches current databases before postings go live
  • A job launching feature to launch jobs to the intranet and other Internet sites
  • A requisition building system
  • A job ad creation system

While the bugs are still being worked out, early indications are that the process is becoming much more efficient. The current bug is trying to get the new system to integrate with the current HRIS system (some things just never change). Finally, although Santa implemented a 48-hour turnaround on candidates presented to the hiring managers, the program is not without its flaws. The recruiters are still chasing down hiring managers trying to get them to make decisions. Hiring managers still want to look at more resumes and still want to interview “just one more person.” While the hiring managers have been pretty good at entering their feedback into the 1999 candidate management system, they are “too busy” to want to learn the new 2000 system. Santa’s working on it and is developing incentives to keep the process running smoothly. As another year comes to a close, Santa reflected on his “people management” organization and its accomplishments. He’s proud of the team he has in place and their willingness to constantly be challenged and remain students of the industry. He’s learned that recruiting in the new millennium is constantly changing and he is committed to keeping up with what is necessary to run a world class, international organization. Happy holidays! Enjoy, be healthy and safe during this season! And, last but not least, help Santa find that Compaq iPaq for my stocking!!!

Karen Osofsky ( is a co-founder of, an e-recruiting consulting firm that provides outsourced recruiting solutions to rapidly growing companies and new ventures. The firm provides a broad range of recruiting consulting, sourcing, screening, and strategy development services to help companies manage the front-end recruiting process. Tiburon Group is a Certified AIRS Solutions Partner.