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Usual Hiring Practices Don't Apply to Katrina Victims

September 26, 2005
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As recruiters flock to the Gulf Coast hoping to help displaced workers find new jobs, they’re discovering that the usual rules and corporate procedures have to be adapted to the unusual circumstances the job seekers are in.

“This is something that people in our industry need to get their arms around,” says Craig Silverman, executive vice president for sales and marketing with the recruiting technology vendor Hireability and a founder of Recruiters for Katrina.

Recruiters for Katrina is a Yahoo discussion group he started that now has some 120 HR professionals talking about how best to help displaced workers find jobs. Some of the members have volunteered to help job seekers write résumés. Others have volunteered to help place workers directly, while a few corporate recruiters have listed job openings.

As valuable as these efforts are, Silverman says the most important contribution of the group is planning for future disasters and educating companies about the special circumstances they need to consider when recruiting displaced workers.

What this means in practical terms is illustrated by the challenges Waste Management faces as it attempts to recruit upwards of 400 workers in the region to help with the cleanup. Last week, the company set up an RV and two recruiters in Baton Rouge as a test. Radio commercials and ads in the Sunday paper invited job seekers to call an 800 screening line. Those who made the cut then met with one of the recruiters.

Because federal regulations require drug screens and a physical for some of the jobs, the company hired a paramedic to stand by to do the exams. Those who passed got a job offer on the spot.

“We were very careful to consider the special circumstances,” says company spokesman Wes Muir. For candidates without transportation, “we’d get them to us. We did the prescreening (by telephone) to make it easier on them and to make sure they had the qualifications before making them come in.”

Four people were hired--getting a $100-a-day bonus plus a $35 per diem food allowance-- before the company had to evacuate the staff in advance of the arrival of hurricane Rita.

Wal-Mart, which had 34,000 employees working in the affected area of the Gulf Coast, set up phone lines and posted information on company Web sites. Wal-Mart’s Web site served to help employees locate family members who became separated during the evacuation.

Wal-Mart spokesman Marty Heires says the company offered dislocated workers immediate employment at any Wal-Mart store in the country. About 2,400 workers are now working in stores as far away as Nevada and California. The company is also looking into converting unused stores and space into temporary employee housing.

Recruitment consultant Gerry Crispin, who toured the Gulf Coast region by RV in a trip underwritten by HotJobs to see firsthand what kind of recruitment help was needed, says that the most critical element in the hiring process was speed.

“Be prepared to operate with a sense of urgency. Forget that ‘We’ll get back to you’ stuff,” he says. “These people don’t have the time to wait and they may not be there, wherever there was, when you decide to get back to them.”

Crispin offers four recommendations for recruiters heading to the Gulf Coast:

  1. Maintain your standards, but simplify the application. Make applying as easy as possible. Make sure the applicant understands the process.

  2. Job seekers may not have all the necessary paperwork. Put the applicants to work right away, but make all job offers conditional on completing the review process. The I9 requirement (proof of eligibility to work in the U.S.) was suspended for 45 days to give workers time to replace or locate lost documents. It could be suspended longer. For some jobs, such as an emergency room nurse, it may be necessary to first confirm background, but for other jobs not requiring as much licensing, be flexible in how that is accomplished.

  3. Be quick to make a decision. Let the applicant know on the spot if he or she is hired. If that’s not possible, do it in 24 hours.

  4. Help your new hires. They may need a salary advance to buy clothes or food. If the job is out of the area, pay the relocation costs upfront. They may also need help or at least time to work out arrangements for family members who are staying with them. Help them make connections.

--John Zappe

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