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Candidate Care Counts

September 25, 2007
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Career Development, Candidate Sourcing, Employee Career Development, Featured Article, Staffing Management
How does a relatively small, relatively unknown printing company go head-to-head against Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Intel, Monster and Microsoft for top talent and score a 97 percent win rate for offer acceptance? How does it pull in enough new technology and marketing hires to support annual global revenue growth approaching 70 percent? And how does it continue to fill almost half of all its positions with a referral program that pays a modest flat fee of $1,500?

The answers to these questions emerge each morning as 19 recruiters file into the recruiting war room at VistaPrint Ltd. for their daily 30-minute strategy session. Every week, the same recruiters sit down with the company’s entire collection of C-level executives to examine the latest business developments and the best tactics for pulling talent away from the top technology and marketing companies. Six additional recruiters based abroad are in constant contact with the home office in Lexington, Massachusetts.

VistaPrint’s success in beating out the competition for top talent lies in its ability to communicate to candidates the palpable excitement of working for a disruptive company with killer growth rates. In addition, the company’s recruiters practice an extreme form of candidate care designed to appeal to double majors from MIT and MBAs from Harvard.

"If you don’t bring your A game to the recruiting table, you don’t get a shot at these people," notes Austin Cooke, VistaPrint’s vice president for global recruiting.

Printing is not a sexy industry, but VistaPrint has carved out a very sexy niche and developed a high-tech approach that one news report dubbed "Gutenberg 2.0." The company provides graphic design and printing services to 10 million customers in 120 countries through 18 localized Web sites. Headquartered in Bermuda, VistaPrint employs 1,000 employees worldwide in offices in the U.S. and Spain, printing plants in Canada and the Netherlands and a call center in Jamaica.

Using automated presses, robotic cutters and proprietary software, orders are completed with as little as 60 seconds of production labor. The real work lies in technology and marketing, and recruiting centers on those two high-demand fields.

Domain knowledge
   To provide the staffing necessary to support rapid global growth, VistaPrint hired away top recruiters from top companies. A recruiter pulled in from Korn/Ferry now heads up VistaPrint’s team for executive recruiting. Another recruiter hired away from the Boston Consulting Group heads up campus recruiting for technology and marketing positions and MBA recruiting. A third recruiter, brought over from Google, leads the recruiting team for specific technology domains.

VistaPrint draws in applicants through its Web site, where current job postings include a Web analyst in Lexington, a manufacturing engineer in Windsor, a merchandising manager in Barcelona and a copywriter in Montego Bay. Campus recruiting events for fall 2008 span 14 campuses. The company is adding recruiters at its overseas locations, but Cooke maintains a policy of hiring recruiters with detailed industry expertise regardless of their geographic base.

"I believe in hiring recruiters who are experts in the domain and are geographic generalists rather than hiring geographic specialists," he says. "They need to be experts in the business. They need to know the companies and their candidate profiles. When our recruiters talk to candidates from Google, they know Google inside and out—they know the candidate’s world. You can’t bring these candidates in without that knowledge."

This knowledge of the tech world is reinforced at the weekly leadership meetings.

"We do a complete deep dive into what is going on in the business and how we can pull candidates from the best companies," Cooke reports. "Our recruiters have to understand every detail about why our company is disruptive and has great career paths."

With their knowledge of the industry and the company’s role in it, VistaPrint’s recruiters can construct the kind of conversation that will hold the interest of top-drawer technology and marketing candidates.

"The perks get attention, but a compelling discussion about the company is more important to the candidates we are looking for," Cooke notes.

Candidate care
   VistaPrint’s recruiters begin each encounter with a candidate by asking the questions necessary to gain an understanding of what it will take to make that candidate leave his or her current position.

"For the top talent that we are interested in, we hear a lot about career paths and building long-term wealth," Cooke says.

Recruiters focus on the company’s competency-based career growth model.

"A recruiter can show each candidate how he or she will move from position A to position B, or across functions, from software engineering to marketing, for example," Cooke says. "You have to match the pitch to the candidate’s drivers. Candidates see that they can advance more quickly and have a much greater impact at a 1,000-employee company than a 60,000-employee company."

VistaPrint’s recruiters address candidate interest in long-term wealth by outlining the company’s equity plans and rapid revenue growth.

"We pay very well for the space we’re in and we expect excellent returns," Cooke notes. "Every employee is an equity holder with skin in the game."

Compensation is tied to company performance, and employees commonly see bonuses equal to or greater than their base salary.

VistaPrint places a high priority on its candidate care model. The recruiters follow the proverbial golden rule, treating all recruits the way that they would like to be treated. Candidates receive a timetable that they follow along the recruiting process. Every VistaPrint employee the candidate encounters knows the candidate’s name and exactly where the candidate stands in the recruiting process. When candidates arrive for their interview, their favorite soda is sitting in the fridge.

"We see our approach to the candidate experience as a strategic advantage," Cooke says. "We want every applicant to send us referrals."

VistaPrint uses a direct e-mail campaign to keep in touch with the rejected applicants about positive events in the business. For the few candidates that decline a job offer, VistaPrint stays in touch on a quarterly basis.

"The interview process is difficult but fair and may take multiple days," Cooke says.

All of the VistaPrint employees involved in an interview are pulled out of their offices into a neutral space with the candidate. The space includes a round table and lounge chairs to encourage a conversational approach and set the candidate at ease.

Only one in 10 candidates make it through the interview process. "We set a very high bar," Cooke says. "Because of our rapid growth, we have a lot of open positions, but we’re not so desperate that we will hire B players."

VistaPrint also hopes that candidates who don’t make the cut will re-apply when they have more experience, rave to their friends about how well they were treated by the company, and refer their friends and co-workers.

New hires attend detailed, intense onboarding sessions to immerse them in the company’s culture. The HR department holds training sessions that are available to all company employees regardless of their position in the company. The company’s recruiting and retention success is evidenced in a total turnover rate well below 10 percent.

   Cooke worked with VistaPrint’s CEO to develop an employee referral program that now generates almost half of all new hires. The program begins at orientation with new hires, who are asked to refer potential applicants. VistaPrint pays a flat fee of $1,500 to every employee who brings in a successful candidate. In addition, the employee’s name is entered into a quarterly raffle for prizes such as a trip to Hawaii or a home theater system.

"Employees obviously like the fee payment and the prizes, but the feedback we get is that the most important factor for them is that the candidate is treated well," Cooke says. "Our employees know that every applicant they refer will be handled with respect."

VistaPrint is now extending the employee referral program to applicants with a fee paid for every successful candidate they refer. The fee paid is lower than the $1,500 paid to employees, but still meaningful.

VistaPrint takes a nontraditional approach to evaluating its recruiters. Each recruiter works toward personal goals based on measurable business outcomes, not the number of starts or time-to-fill or other traditional recruiting metrics.

"We are interested in the value of the hires to the business, not just the recruiter’s ability to fill jobs," Cooke says.

Performance objectives set for each recruiter may require a shift in the recruiter’s sourcing, for example, or greater involvement in a specific project, such as building the online career site. Evaluations and bonus payments based on the results occur quarterly.

Candidate care alone cannot pull in top candidates, but as VistaPrint demonstrates, it can be a powerful tool when it is combined with attractive career paths and a lucrative equity compensation plan. And for companies that need what Google already has, candidate care can make the difference.

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