October 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Recruit and Retain

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It’s important to look for technical workers at such gatherings, she believes, because the good ones aren’t looking for jobs-“they are sitting at their desks working.” Yoh’s Koutroubis agrees, saying 30% to 50% of the technical personnel Yoh hires have never put their resumes on job boards.

Another tactic is to bring people to you, as GSI does by hosting meetings for local technology-related organizations at its headquarters. “50 to 70 people show up for wine and cheese and to listen to a speaker,” Flanagan says. “Quite honestly, it’s thinly veiled. We hope to build relationships and recruit.”

GSI also has recently begun leveraging employees’ connections to their college alma maters, encouraging them to network with other alumni in hopes of identifying good candidates. “Instead of going to a campus and being just another face, we work through the alumni network to get people to refer people,” Flanagan says.

Hiring people you know increases the chances of success, and GSI follows that principle by hiring about 30 contractors each year sent by an outsourcing firm that has agreed to let GSI hire from its talent pool. AbeBooks participates in the work/study programs of local universities, bringing in computer science students to work for four months to a year, and then offering jobs to standout performers.

A p.r. offensive

AbeBooks also tries to keep resumes flowing in by raising the profile of the company in the news media, including filling out sometimes lengthy applications to be considered for best-employer awards handed out by publications. The company has appeared five years in a row on the annual list of 100 top Canadian employers published by Maclean’s Magazine. “People will check out our job boards because of the press generated around our awards,” says Judy Hamza, human resources director.

Faulkner of Onlineshoes.com agrees that a little publicity goes a long way toward piquing the interest of “the passive job seeker, someone who doesn’t have their resume posted. If our CEO is interviewed or quoted in the press that will help a lot,” she says.

For all the ways online retailers have learned to recruit, they have yet to take advantage of the social networking sites so popular among the young. Charlene Li, an analyst who specializes in online social networking at research and consulting firm Forrester Research, recently told attendees at Forrester’s Consumer Forum 2007 that she found only one company recruiting on Facebook: accounting firm Ernst & Young.

She recalled one Facebooker expressing surprise at seeing Ernst & Young’s job openings, and wondered why the firm was recruiting French majors. “They responded, ‘Because we’re opening an office in France and you’ll be able to use your language skills. And, by the way, we’re going to be on your campus in November,’” Li recalled. Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace may be an untapped opportunity for retailers looking to fill technical jobs.

One more tip: when you find a good candidate, act quickly, says Rebecca Bamman, a retail specialist at answerQuest, part of recruiting firm Management Recruiters International Inc.

“The companies that are the most successful in filling open positions with top talent have expedited the hiring process,” Bamman says. “They make quick decisions and notify candidates within 24 hours to ensure they get their first choice.”

Hanging on to good hires

Recruiting is just the beginning: retaining good technical workers is just as vital. And that’s not easy when techies know they’re in demand. Nearly one in 10 tech workers plans to seek a new job within six months and 21% in the coming year, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey.

AbeBooks has cut its turnover rate to about half the British Columbia average of 18% in the past couple of years through a concerted campaign that includes subsidized gym memberships, social events like a tenth anniversary party at a local castle and flexible hours. The last may be the most important.

“For the employees we’re interested in, work/home life balance is a big issue,” Hamza says. “They tend to be younger professionals, just out of school or working for a few years, just starting their families. Being able to take the kids to the dentist in the middle of the day is an important thing,”

The retailer conducts a satisfaction survey each year, and Hamza has been struck by employees’ thirst to understand the company’s strategy and their role in it. “I was surprised at the importance that current employees place on being able to participate in the process and be heard,” she says. “That’s a very big issue.”

To keep employees informed, Shutterfly conducts quarterly “all hands” meetings at which management reports on the company’s progress and prospects. At a recent gathering, Housenbold acted as a talk show host, questioning other top executives and taking questions from employees. In addition, each department has its own “all hands” meeting each month.

And employees who want to speak directly to the CEO can do so over breakfast meetings Housenbold hosts from time to time. “The first 20 people to sign up can come and ask any questions they want,” he says.

Shutterfly also offers on-site dry cleaning, massages and car washes, increasingly typical perks in Silicon Valley where robust growth has led to an annual turnover rate among high-tech firms that Housenbold puts at 21%.

In addition, department heads each have a “morale budget” to subsidize taking employees out to lunch or a movie, or, as recently occurred, for the engineering team to go co-carting after completing a big project. “I want to encourage people to have fun,” Housenbold says.

Gathering places

GSI encourages employees to gather by offering free bagels on Wednesdays and beer and soda every Friday at 4:10 p.m.-the exact time GSI’s first web site went live several years ago. Bradley, the web developer who joined GSI early this year, gravitates at lunch to the company ping-pong table, both to play a game and to meet people from other departments.

“It’s one of the little things necessary to promote creativity and community among people who normally wouldn’t be communicating,” he says. “I don’t know if it was planned that way, but it’s very positive.”

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