Where to Find the Best Hourly Employees

You might be surprised to learn that the best source of new employees in convenience retailing has changed very little over the past 25 years. The number one best source of great employees still is and always has been referrals—people you already know or who your employees know.

In surveys we conducted between Feb. 2007 and Feb. 2008 of over 500 hiring managers in industries as diverse as convenience store and petroleum marketers, foodservice, manufacturing, restaurants, hospitality, home services and agriculture, 55% cited these types of referrals as their best source of new, hourly employee recruits.


The cited sources stacked up as follows:

Referrals 55%

Miscellaneous media 39%

Walk-ins 21%

Schools 21%

Customers 15%

Internet 14%

Company Web site 9%

Job fairs 6%


Former Employees

Let’s look at how to tap into each of the most productive sources of referrals. When good employees leave to go to work somewhere else, they often discover that the grass isn’t greener after all. In fact, research shows that 20-25% of supervisory and managerial employees have gone back to work at a company they once left.

Imagine if 20% of all the good people who ever left came back to work for you! You’d have instantaneously productive workers, requiring little or no training and little or no downtime to become familiar with the organization.

All you have to do is ask. One or two months after someone good leaves, just call and ask if he or she would consider coming back. The worst they could say is "no," and you’ve just given them a wonderful compliment. What’s so bad about that?

Even if the answer is "no," former employees can be valuable sources for referrals. Simply ask, "Do you know anybody else who might fit our organization who you would recommend to us?"

Whenever another employer calls you for a reference on a former, good employee, you’ve just been tipped off that they are looking for work again. It’s worth a call to see if they’d consider coming back.


Employee Referrals

The next best kind of referrals is from all the good people who work for you now.

Research shows that employee-referred candidates in the c-store industry are three times more likely to be a good match for the job. This is because they already have a friend at work and your employee’s give these candidates much more detailed information about the job requirements and the real working conditions than you would.

As a result, candidates are only likely to proceed with the selection process if they feel they will fit the job. And because they’re a good fit, referral candidates who are hired are also much less likely to quit or be fired within the first few months.

The key is to continuously let your employees know that you need good people and what you’re looking for. If you don’t already have one, consider implementing a referral incentive or bonus program for employee referrals.

Add excitement to a referral program by giving employees a choice between cash and a day off with pay or make it a game (a drawing from a variety of prizes, a "wheel of fortune," or a departmental contest).



Traditional media advertising is still the second-best recruiting method, if it’s done right.

In some locations or for certain industries, alternative newspapers may be more effective than the mainstream metropolitan paper. Radio may deliver better results than billboards or vice versa. The best way to determine where to spend your recruiting dollars is to try all likely sources and keep track of the results.

In light of the fact that most hourly employees work within a five-mile radius of their homes, don’t overlook location signage. Whether it’s a storefront sign or display ad in the local paper, your message needs to answer, up front, the reasons why the people you’re trying to attract would want to work for you.

The headline must grab their attention and get them to act. This means "Help Wanted" won’t work. Here are some headlines that will:

• "Come grow with us."

• "Nobody else gives you the opportunities we do."

• "Invest in yourself."

• "You deserve the best—and so do we."

• "Take the first step toward a better future."


If this message is store signage, finish your compelling headline with your call to action, such as "apply inside."

Where you have more space, the rest of the ad must screen in those who are qualified and screen out those who are not. Basic elements include:

Who: The name of the company and a brief description of the ideal candidate.

What: Job title and one sentence description of job duties and responsibilities.

Where: Address or general location of the job.

When: Times applicants should respond and the deadline for responding.

Why: The reason the job is open if it’s due to expansion, growth or internal promotion.

How: Exact procedures for applying.

How much: While salary is always important to the reader, only include it if you’re sure that your salary range is competitive.

Drug policy: To make sure drug users don’t apply, include a statement about your company’s intolerance of drug use, such as "Must be drug free," or "We are a drug free workplace."

Remember, the goal of ad writing is to attract "a buyer." Sell the company and job by using relevant and compelling words in the body of the ad. For example, a moving company that wanted to attract people who work out at gyms had great success with: "Earn While You Burn."



It’s not surprising that walk ins are the third best source of hourly recruits given the fact that most of these employees tend to live within a five-mile radius of their employer.

Location signage is an obvious way to attract local recruits, but don’t overlook neighborhood posters, sandwich boards, zip code mailings, grocery store bulletin boards and local newsletters.



Employers who develop good relationships with local schools find that they routinely get the cream of the crop when it comes to job applicants. Introduce your organization to local high schools, junior colleges and universities. Check out adult education and English as a second language classes as well as intern programs.

Consider allocating part of your recruiting budget to sponsor a school event, activity or team. This is a win-win situation; good for the school and good for your business.


Your Customers

The fifth-best source is your customers. If they didn’t already like your products, your store, your location, they wouldn’t buy from you.

Some ideas: Flyers and bag stuffers and employee buttons and store signs that say, "Ask me about a great place to work."


The Internet

While this tool has tremendous potential, the fact that only 14% of survey respondents find it useful tells us that we’re not fully utilizing its capabilities. Part of the disconnect may be due to the fact that Internet tools deliver applicants much faster than the typical organization can respond to them. In this scenario, it’s truly first come, first served.

Another common criticism of Internet recruiting is that it delivers too many unqualified candidates. To avoid this, employers must screen applications otherwise hiring managers become frustrated with the waste of time and start to ignore all Internet applications. To overcome this obstacle, either use an automated workforce management or screening solution or build prescreening, qualifying questions into the application process.


Your Organization’s Web site

Only 9% of respondents found this tool useful. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this might be because the application process is too long, cumbersome and impersonal with no appreciable ROI for the applicant. The result is that many potential applicants "bail out" before completing the process.

If your organization recruits and takes applications via its Web site, walk through the process yourself and see if it’s helpful and efficient or complicated and frustrating. If it’s the latter, it may be better to refer potential applicants to their nearest location to apply in person.


Applicants as Sources of Recruits

A widely overlooked source is every applicant you connect with. Ask each applicant for the names and phone numbers of several people they’ve worked with as well as people they’ve worked for. Then call those they’ve worked with as personal references.

An easy way to make recruiting an ongoing activity is to create and use a recruiting card. It looks like a business card, but has a recruiting message on it like: "Great service! We’re always looking for good employees like you." The card invites the recipient to call for a confidential interview and includes pertinent contact information.


Non-Traditional Sources

It’s time to do some out-of-the-box thinking. Due to economic expansion/contraction and population shifts, there are more jobs to be filled than there are people with the necessary skills to fill them. Here are some non-traditional groups employers should consider as traditional sources dry up:

• Older people. Their wealth of work and life experience usually far exceeds whatever the job requires, so you get much more for your money. To recruit them, go to where they are, senior’s housing developments, volunteer organizations, mall walking and even bingo games.

• Physically and mentally challenged people. It’s not only the right thing morally and legally, but it’s smart. Track records prove that physically and mentally challenged people are good workers, requiring only minimal accommodations. One source is the National Telecommuting Institute (www.nticentral.org). It offers nationwide training and supervision to individuals with disabilities who want to work from home. NTI can get workers the computer equipment and phones they need and companies participating in the program are entitled to a federal tax credit for hiring individuals with disabilities.

• Welfare recipients. Welfare-to-work programs are aimed at getting the so-called "unemployable" employed. It involves more than placing people in jobs however. Usually basic training in good work ethics is required.

Most small companies can’t afford to do what it takes to hire, train, and assimilate people who have never worked. However, there is some incentive. The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 authorized the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) Program to help move people from welfare to work. By hiring certain job seekers, employers can reduce their federal tax liability by as much as $2,100 per qualified new worker or $1,050 per qualified summer youth. If you’re interested, you can sign up online on the Small Business Administration’s Web site, www.sba.gov/welfare.

• Parolees. Several states will provide bond for hired ex-cons and some, such as Texas, even have work-release pro-grams which train and support parolees entering the workforce. A major draw-back, however, is parolee employers have to be especially careful about negligent hiring lawsuits.

• Full-time employees looking for a second job. More than seven million people in the U.S. hold at least two jobs at once. To attract them, recruiting efforts should emphasize a second income, flexible hours, and other benefits that would appeal to people working more than one job.

• Parents with young children. Full-time workers may be interested in part-time work in order to be home more often with their children. A great place to recruit them is through daycare centers near your location where they drop off and pick up their children.

• Newcomers. People moving into your neighborhood may be very interested in working close to home. Even those who moved in because of a job they already have might have a spouse who’s looking for work. Realtors and your local "welcome wagon" are great sources for these recruits.


Why Bother?

As in any type of marketing, the goal of recruiting is to attract interest in your company in a cost-effective manner. It means reaching out through as many channels as possible to find where this interest may be. You want to stand out as the kind of organization that the best people want to work for. After all, the best you can hire can’t be any better than the best of those who apply.


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