2019 has been a record year for recruiting.

For the first time in modern history, five generations are working side by side. Gen X has entered the workforce with a vengeance. Meanwhile, baby boomers are taking longer to retire. At the same time, fewer people are immigrating to the United States looking for work. In addition, we’ve reached a peak low labor participation rate, meaning people of working age are neither working, nor looking for work.

All these elements added up to an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent as of November 2018 - the lowest rate since 2000 and a sign that the job market has become even more competitive.

It is, without a doubt, a great time to be a job seeker. But for those seeking to recruit, it’s a challenge. It’s especially challenging for industries that already have a hard time recruiting, namely, debt collection.

As a contact software provider specializing in high volume calls, we spent the year working closely with debt collection agencies.

The recurring theme we observed when we spoke to agencies about their highest hurdles was recruiting. We decided to do a little investigating. We spoke to recruiters. We spoke to agencies who see high rates of retention. We observed overall recruiting trends. We analyzed best hiring practices.

Here’s what we found.

Employees Want Flexible Schedules

We are living in a candidate-driven market. This basically means that, for the first time in a long time, candidates are allowed to be picky. They’re allowed to decide what they want out of a job, such as flexible work schedules.

Collection agencies are perhaps the most frustrated by the lack of top talent in their pool of candidates. Working as a debt collector requires a specific set of skills and not everyone can find success in the industry. As a result, agencies see a high turnover.

But we believe that there is a shift happening in the collections industry. Young candidates who are hungry for a challenge can find the environment they are seeking in a collection agency. All it takes is a little investment on behalf of the agency.

How to Offer Flexible Work Schedules as a Collections Agency

We spoke to Kim Schultz, a recruiter in Buffalo, N.Y., about what it’s like to recruit in today’s labor market in industries across the board.

As you might expect, there were underlying elements Kim observed that separated companies that could attract and retain talent from those that could not.

The first thing Kim suggested as a way to attract top talent is to offer and encourage workplace flexibility.

“Employers are starting to realize that people have lives,” she said. “We have families, friends, dogs. In addition, everyone has different times that they are most productive.”

You don’t have to take her word for it – An Ernst & Young global survey of 9,700 young workers found that workplace flexibility beat out just about all other job perks—including health insurance for some younger workers.

Kim recommends giving your employees the freedom to create the work hours optimal for their schedule. This is a way to attract talent that costs you nothing, and can be a huge selling point for a candidate who may be weighing their options.

You might be thinking – How can I offer flexible work schedules and still maintain productivity during my peak hours? Believe it or not, there is a strategy available to you that will keep your phones staffed and your employees happier.

So if you want to implement workplace flexibility as a recruiting tool and still maintain the amount of individuals you need on the phones, keep on reading.

We’ve created a schedule that collection agencies can use that will ensure they will have the staffing they need and still give employees complete autonomy.

Employees can fill out this schedule at least two weeks before so you’re never scrambling to fill the seats. You can even create incentive around it – agents with the highest numbers get first pick of their flexible work schedules.

Here’s what it looks like.

Flexible Work Schedules with Colored Post it Notes

 

And here’s how it works:

Turn one wall in the office into your calendar (yes, the entire wall.) Then, allow people with color coded sticky notes to claim their shift. In a call center environment, it can be hard to offer full workplace flexibility due to coverage.

We recommend you conduct a poll. What are the 4 most common shifts people want? Alternatively, you can base the shifts on what you need. You can still keep the most agents in the office during your peak hours.

In our template, those hours are between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in an office of 30 agents. The amount of staff and 8-hour shifts will, of course, vary from agency to agency.

Agents will select the shifts they desire two weeks in advance so you’re never worried about getting all the shifts filled.

You can even incentivize your agents by offering first pick of shift to the highest performing agent(s).

Your agents can see that interactive schedule at all times. You can utilize a dry erase board with color-coded markers if you don’t want to use sticky notes.

In addition, we’ve also created a customizable administrative version you can use to keep track of the schedule, downloadable for free here. (Select File -> Make a Copy before you begin utilizing the calendar.)

Using this method of scheduling, you’ll give your agents a sense of autonomy, and keep your office staffed.

This is a simple and free way to offer flexible work schedules, a highly sought after benefit – without compromising your customer service.

Employee turnover costs US companies $160 billion a year. This not a small or concentrated problem – it is a crisis.

An investment of any amount into preventing turnover and increasing retention rates will provide an ROI. How valuable that ROI is, is up to you.

Employees Want the Right Environment

Does office space matter when it comes to recruitment?

In a poll of 1,614 employees, researchers for the Harvard Business Review found that access to natural light was the number one sought after perk by job-seekers.

Furthermore, the study found that “the absence of natural light and outdoor views hurts the employee experience.” Keep in mind that other survey options were things like salary and health insurance, and natural light still came out on top.

We’re not suggesting we all take our businesses and move into glass houses. But there is a lot we can draw from this data.

Office Space and Culture

Unfortunately, we can’t all be Google. But recently, smaller companies started to integrate features they see working for larger Silicon Valley offices, such as a pleasant, inviting work environment, in order to help with recruitment and retention.

Google has been a leader in innovative office space where employees not only want to be, but are energized by.

To get insight on this topic, we returned to Kim Schultz of Acara Solutions.

When she is assigned a new client, the first thing she does is visit their office to find out what kind of office environment she’ll be working with.

According to Kim, things like comfortable chairs, good lighting, and workable desk space are huge contributing factors to the culture of a workplace. She takes note of all these things when assessing what kind of candidate would fit well.

“Make the office space an inviting place that someone is going to want to come to work in every day,” said Kim. “It’s one of the easiest things to do.”

It’s something we all can sense when walking into an office – is it dark, cramped and dirty? Or is it fresh, bright and inviting?

To prove the point, we’re going to close our eyes, leave our present lives for a little while, and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Painting the Picture

Imagine yourself in the midst of a career transition, seeking a position in a collection agency office. You have heard how much money one can make in the industry, you are smart and quick on our feet, and you want to give it a try. So, you get in touch with the first one you find and call to schedule an interview.

You press your pants, rehearse your answers, update your resume and feel confident you’re ready. You show up 10 minutes early and as soon as you walk through the door, you’re concerned. It’s dark, it smells, the cubicles are cramped and outdated. Then, to add insult to injury, you walk into the hiring manager’s office. Here’s what you’re greeted with.

It’s not only unprofessional – it’s disconcerting. You think to yourself, “Where am I?”

The interview goes as well as it can, but your mind was made up as soon as you walked through the door.

You think to yourself, “This isn’t somewhere I want to be everyday. As much as I want to work in this industry, I know this environment is not right for me.”

And you turn down the position when it’s offered.

A Different World

You begin to seek out other opportunities in the debt collection space. Eventually, you find another agency close by. You prepare the same way and hope for the best. This time, you walk in and it feels like a breath of fresh air:

You’re confident that the personnel will reflect the environment and think to yourself, “This is somewhere I want to be.”

Improving Your Office Space

Cosmetic changes that make a difference will range from a fresh coat of paint to hiring a cleaning service. It’s going to be a flat rate, one-time fee that will make a huge difference in the morale of your workplace, says Kim.

Let’s put the cost in perspective.

To give your office a face lift, you will need a couple things.

Cleaning Service

The most basic office cleaning service will cost somewhere between $30-$35/hour. You may decide you need them daily, a few times a week, or even less than that, depending. The investment, however small, will have serious payback. According to Clean Link, some experts say that the cleaning industry should be included under the umbrella of the healthcare industry, since cleaning plays such a vital role in keeping people healthy and productive.

Things like chairs, cubicle walls and computer monitors can, believe it or not, have a massive impact upon morale. It’s not just for morale, however.

Outdated technology and appliances slow down your business, dragging down efficiency and productivity. Updated technology and office furniture means less maintenance and downtime. Essentially, your overhead costs will go down.

Conclusion

Hopefully we’ve made our case and you will consider how your office space plays more into recruiting than you may have originally thought. If you’re having trouble finding and keeping good people, consider investing into your office space. You might be surprised what happens. Click here to listen to the full interview!

Employees Want to Know Your Culture

Social media is here to stay. It’s evolved into more than a platform to share pictures of our food or a place to keep up with our high school classmates. But, can social media help you recruit?

Social Media and Recruiting: An Introduction

A full 94 percent of professional recruiters network on social media, and use it to post jobs to an extensive community. Meanwhile, 59 percent of employees say a company’s social media presence was part of the reason they chose their workplace.

This means your social media recruiting strategy will work two ways. First, it’s a way for you to broadcast your open positions to a large, relevant audience. Second, it’s a way for you to develop your company’s reputation.

According to Statista, about 58.6 percent of American consumers interact with brands on social media about one to three times per day.

In our own independent study, we found that one of the first things a consumer will do after being introduced to your brand or company is to “Google” you. The next thing they will do is check your social media accounts. What is the best thing they can find there? We found a real life example.

Can Social Media Help You Recruit?: The ROCA Solutions Example

To get an employer’s perspective, we spoke to Marc Gracie of ROCA Solutions. Not only does he recruit successfully in an increasingly sparse market, he recruits to the collections industry.

“[Collections] is a tough job,” Marc said. “With my social media use, I want to make it clear that what’s really important to me is that people enjoy coming to work.”

Marc’s Facebook page is overflowing with motivational quotes, memes, questions for consumers and collectors, and posts celebrating the individual successes of his employees.

“Visitors can see people are here to help them, people are hustling, and that it’s different here,” said Marc. “You can enjoy your job, it’s okay to enjoy collections.”

Marc partially credits his social media presence to his high retention and low turnover rates. It’s not just a way for your to recruit, but a way for you to showcase your culture to potential candidates as well.

Can Social Media Help You Recruit?: Weeding Out the Right (And Wrong) Candidates

According to Forbes, social media is not just a way to get the word out about your open positions. It is also an excellent way to recognize if a candidate will be a good fit for your culture.“Someone who is passionately plugged-in (on social media) can bring that curiosity and drive to their work. And, on the other hand, for those who display highly negative or concerning behavior on social media, you should be mindful of how they would fit in with your culture,” says Kelly Ehlers. So, what should you be looking for? What should signal alarm bells? Alternatively, what should signal a candidate is highly “recruitable?”

Nowadays, candidates know that their social media accounts are being checked up on by employers, especially during the recruitment process. As Ehlers says:“Common sense keeps most candidates from posting questionable content on their public profiles, but that’s just the basics.”She recommends observing their activity. Are they interacting with content from thought leaders? Do they update their LinkedIn profile with recommendations, endorsements and relevant industry articles? Can they curate their own voice creatively and intentionally?

3 Ways to Start Using Social Media to Recruit

1. Research, research, research
The most important thing to grasp before you start tweeting, liking, sharing and double-tapping is that not all social media platforms are created equal. You will need to adjust your tone, message and content for each one.

Instagram is a great place to demonstrate a fun and welcoming culture, while LinkedIn is a place to demonstrate industry leadership and professionalism. Some brands use twitter as a way to showcase their “relevance”, which can sometimes backfire.

Make sure you are creating content appropriate for each outlet.

2. Engage Your Employees
Encourage your employees to curate their own social media presence, if they wish, to fit with your company’s culture.

A great place to start is with their LinkedIn profiles. Suggest they share internal links to your website, fun facts about their job, and recommend and endorse each other.

Wherever and however you can, use your platform to celebrate your employees. When candidates come across your company’s account, it will speak volumes.

3. Engage Real People
The best way to gain a “following” on social media is to engage. There is no secret formula other than genuine engagement.

It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of research. But social media is not going away. It will only become more and more important to your company’s reputation. And a simple way to become an industry thought leader is to not only develop your pages, but to interact with other thought leaders.

Research who is starting valuable conversations and sharing valuable content
Don’t just comment a cute emoji or insincere pat on the back. Instead, offer thoughtful feedback or say exactly why their content resonated with you.

 
How Do You Cultivate the Right Culture?

To get insight on this, we spoke to Jeff DiMatteo of American Profit Recovery.

His agency has been rated one of the best places to work 10 years in a row - so we know he is doing something right! Here were the main points he suggested for emphasizing a culture of motivation and job satisfaction.

  • Create a home for employees where they can enjoy coming to work. It's a tough industry to be in but if you can make them enjoy coming to work that's half the battle.
  • Have an open floor and open door policy where employees feel free to communicate and have management to talk to. It shows that their opinion means something.
  • Focus on helping not only your clients but helping consumers. If your collectors and collection associates go into it with mind frame, then it goes a long way to retaining your employees.
  • Make sure to spell out what collectors will be doing day to day in job interviews. This job just isn't for everyone.
  • Use referrals as a source of new recruits. When people get referred in, they know what they're coming into. Debt collection's tough, and they know what to expect.
  • One of the most important qualities to succeed as a collector is patience, empathy, and listening skills. Our industry's gone a long way in the past 5,10, 15 years from more telling people they need to pay now to more of a customer service approach. Make sure collectors understand this.
  • At career fairs, you have to have the same energy at the fair that candidates are going to expect at work. That's going to attract people to your booth and make them excited to work for you.
  • As a way to improve employee engagement, run contests, have employee appreciation week, run surveys and have one-on-ones to make sure everyone is happy.
  • If people see you're out there doing good things in the community and good things with your employees on social media, consumers will be more likely to put their guard down for your company.

Retainment is of course a key part of the process, but recruiting can be made easier from the outset. Let's talk about how to make the job interview process a seamless one.

Employees Need to be Vetted Properly

Hiring managers and job-seekers can both agree that the interview process is a challenge.

As a candidate, you want to come off as professional, but not stiff. Eager, but not desperate. Prepared, but not… psycho. And the list goes on.

As the interviewer, you want to see through all the smoke screens. You want to know whether the well-rehearsed answers, ironed pants and pleasant temperaments are sincere. How can you dig until you find the underlying traits or skills that cannot be faked?

We spoke to our own recruiter, Kim Schultz of Acara Solutions, about the interview process from her perspective. As someone who matches candidates to jobs all day, every day, she has seen countless displays of character revealed or proven. She shared 3 job interview tips that you can look for (or demonstrate) that are true displays of character. In other words, these are the things candidates won’t be able to cover up. Without further ado, here they are.

Strong Work History
Are there several gaps? Are there multiple job transitions over a short period of time?

While this should not rule out a candidate entirely, it’s important to take note of these kinds of trends on a resume.

It may indicate the candidate cannot hold a job, gets bored with a job quickly, or cannot maintain positive working relationships. This can be for a multitude of reasons. If you decide to move forward with the candidate in an interview, be sure to address these concerns directly.

In contrast, a candidate with smooth transitions between jobs, who has been at each position for at least a year, should not raise any red flags.

As a candidate, remember: You certainly don’t have to live for your resume, but be sure to navigate your career transitions with care and discretion.

Demonstrate Growth
According to Kim, recruiters and hiring managers look for indications that the candidate has demonstrated they can move up in their position. Look for whether they have moved from associate to supervisor, or even simply gotten a raise. Looking for this on a resume is an easy, surefire way to determine if the candidate embraces challenges and is seeking personal and professional growth.

As a candidate, do your best to proactively seek out opportunities in your current position. If there is no upward mobility in your position, work hard and take on more responsibility whenever you can. Be sure to indicate any kind of progression your position has taken on your resume.

Quick to Follow Up
Another way to determine a candidate’s “true colors” is to evaluate how quickly they follow up after their interview. According to Kim, a candidate who follows up immediately is demonstrating several admirable qualities.

First, aggression. You’ll know this candidate is serious about their job search. You’ll know they really want the job, and will do whatever it takes to get on your radar and stay there.

Second, courtesy. This person has a professional attitude and recognizes that your time is valuable. Any time you spent considering their candidacy, they genuinely appreciate. That kind of posture towards others will carry over into their tenure at any workplace.

Lastly, confidence. When a candidate immediately follows up after their interview, it demonstrates they are confident in their performance and ability. This kind of confidence will allow that candidate, if hired, to bring what they have to the table without hesitation.

Conclusion

Focus on your culture. We believe internal adjustments and intention will immediately translate to external results. Recruiting is an art and we hope you take the tools we’ve given to create a team you can trust, empower and build upon.