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Nationwide Speeds Up Hiring, Increases Satisfaction

April 16, 2001
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How long does it take a multi-billion dollar, Fortune-500 company to reducehiring time and improve manager satisfaction? Not as long as you might think.

    Like any large corporation, Nationwide is rather complicated. It essentiallyis in three different businesses--personal property/casualty insurance,financial services, and commercial services (helping other organizations withrisk management, workers' compensation, and a variety of other areas).

    Workforce recently caught up with Patti Cotter, vice president of recruiting& staffing for Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss how herteam is making life easier for managers at those three divisions:

Well, let's do a little before and after. First, the "before." Tellme how things were at Nationwide.
Culturally, it took awhile to hire people here. We didn't have a step-by-steprecruitment process. People didn't go through a defined process. Typically, ifsomeone would respond to an ad, his resume might sit somewhere. By the time weget to them, they've moved on to the next ad. When we did call them, we wouldsay on Monday, 'can you come in on Friday and interview.' It was all too long.It took 45 days to get someone in the door.
 
What did you to improve things?
Well, backing up…in December 1999 I went into the database and said, 'Ineed the name and zip code of everyone who's hired anyone in the last year.'Anyone who has hired someone was sent a satisfaction survey. I asked veryspecific questions about responsiveness, time to fill. Going into 2000, and wehad a 63, 63, 79 rating in our three divisions (personal property/casual,financial services, commercial). We asked in the survey how we could improve.Some of it was purely education. Some people thought it should take a week tofill a job.
 
In your industry -- should it take a week?
Sometimes no. I got all the benchmark information in our industry -- what'srealistic, how long it takes. I found out quantifying time-to-hire really varies. Somepeople include the whole time until you see the whites of their eyes. Othersit's when the job is accepted.
 
Ok, let's talk about you changed things to try to get those satisfactionnumbers up.
We used to not post jobs to our employees first. That frankly created a lotof bad will. Employees would think, 'If the human capital here is the mostvaluable thing, why don't you give us a chance before you put the jobs out andblast them out all over the world?'
 
So you gave an edge to the internal candidates. What else did you do toimprove your processes?
We weren't screening enough, so it wasn't uncommon for a hiring manager toget 14 to 15 internal candidates. Generally your hiring manager wasn'tcomfortable calling 11 of them saying 'you don't meet the qualifications.' Theburden of the internal process fell very heavily on the hiring manager. Managers would say, 'Thisjust isn't right. I can't weed through all these people.'Now, we send them three qualified candidates. The top three candidates go to the hiring manager.
 
And you're improving communication between managers and recruiters?
Now, all of our recruiters -- within 48 hours of receiving a requisition --arerequired to contact the hiring manager. They say, 'Joe, I just want to make sureyou know I got your job posted, and I'll let you know as soon as I get somecandidates.' If it's a higher-level job, they might say, 'We need to talk aboutthis in more detail.'
 
Have you made any online changes?
We've done a lot with our Web site to really enhance our careeropportunities. 'Careers' is in the upper-right hand corner of the Web site. My Webpeople tell me that's prime real estate. They say they've done studies and saythat's where people gravitate. If we want to continue to keep and attract newpeople, you want to put us there, not a product.
 
I bet you had to sell that.
Yeah, when you do a Web site, you're fighting all the product people.
 
What else did you do online, with your site?
The previous biggest compliant I got was the resumes fell in a black hole. Weget about 15 to 20,000 expressions of interest a month. We cannot possibly havepersonal contact with those people. Since they weren't getting any kind ofacknowledgment, the frustration was creating a lot of calls to us. A light bulbgoes off -- we really need to figure out a process that assures people don'tfall off.
 
So now there's more contact with the candidate.
It's nice from an applicant standpoint. You search jobs, and if you want toexpress interest, you cut and paste your resume, and hit submit. You get a noteback, and it will say 'Todd, thank you for your interest in Nationwide.' Within24 hours you'll get another acknowledgment at your e-mail address: 'Todd weappreciate your interest in Nationwide...'
 
What's your next step with the site?
What we're going to do is build a better technology to search that database-- asearch query that could be done at night. We'll say, 'Give me all the resumes that are 90-days old.' Everyone that has no workflow -- in other words, they haven't had aformal opportunity to be interviewed at Nationwide. We're going to e-mail atthat point and say, 'Todd, about three months ago you expressed interest inNationwide. We're sure you're a talented person, and if you'd like us tocontinue to search for the right job for you, let us know.'
 
That's cool.
That kind of personal touch will foster great relationships. I would venturea guess they would continue to be a loyal customer if they're treated with thatamount of dignity and respect. Many of our candidates are probably customers.
 
What were the results of all this -- the screening, the favoring of internalcandidates, the site, and so on?
We reduced the time to fill internal jobs over 30 percent. Before, itactually took longer to hire internal candidates, including sourcing,identifying, interviewing, hiring, and starting an internal candidate than itdid to hire external talent.
 
Wow. 30 percent.
It was 49 days to fill a job internally in the past. Last quarter we were atabout 32 days for internals.
 
How about the manager satisfaction surveys you talked about. How did thoseimprove?
Our goal for finishing up 2002 is 80 percent, 80 percent, and 85 percentsatisfaction in our three companies. I really believe anything less than 80percent is unacceptable. I think we're at 79, 84 and 85.
 
I saw you in San Diego and you were saying you hire people on the spot. Ithought that was pretty unusual for a $100 billion company.
You should put an asterisk in there. It depends on what industry you're in.In insurance and financial services you have to comply with (background-check)rules. When we do a really targeted job fair with very specific jobs we'll havea pre-screener and then an actual interviewer, then pass them on to the head ofthe relevant business -- people who have the actual openings. If they say it's a'thumbs up,' then we say to the candidate 'we're preliminarily interested inoffering you a job.'
 
So they're practically hired.
Yeah, I call it getting the hook. You get the hook in their mouth. Then weproceed with the things we need to have -- a background check, a drug test. We doit quickly. In fact, when we make a job offer, you have to take a drug testwithin 48 hours.
 
What positions do you do this for and how?
We've used this strategy in the IT world. We'll hold a job fair -- not alwaysin our work site. We actually did it at a bar/restaurant offsite. Some peoplehave concerns about going to other employers' offices. They're worried theiremployer might see them in the parking lot and think, 'what are you doing here?'It's got to be at a good location, got to be at a good time. We do it 4-8 p.m.We have appetizers, snacks, and a welcome table. It's very casual.
 
Is hiring on the spot common in the insurance industry?
We're a little more aggressive than your tradition financial servicescompany. We get the hook in. We've gotten it together to where the commitment isthat we can turn people around in a five-day period. You come on Monday tointerview, and if you want to come work the next Monday, there's a good chanceyou can do that.
 
And hardly anyone fails the background check, so it's basically a formality,right?
Right, it's the exception. If you're holding up the whole process for theexception, you're making a mistake. Do it fast, respond fast, and keep theprocess moving quickly.
 
I'm a job candidate in Columbus. Let's say I'm an IT person. Why do I want togo work for Nationwide when I could work for a start-up?
You know, the economy is working in our favor now. We've been in existencefor 75 years. We've had a stellar reputation in Columbus for being what we usedto call an employer of choice. Now it's called a 'great company to work for' Iguess. We've always been viewed as a family place. You can come in and grow,have a career. That's a little of a double-edged sword.
 
Double-edged sword? How? Doesn't every company want to be seen as an employerof choice, and all that good stuff?
One of the paradigms we had to break in the last two years was that manypeople on the outside felt that nobody leaves Nationwide. They felt like youcan't get through that huge wall. You'll get hired only if you know somebody. Wehad to break out of that paradigm. I mean we have 600 to 700 jobs open on agiven day. We're always looking for quality talent -- the best and the brightestall the time.
 
How else do you get folks to work there? Other than what you said --the abilityto have a career there and such.
We have so many different businesses (divisions) it's almost like working fordifferent companies. You don't have to leave to have a different experience. Wejust need to help recruits understand we do have different opportunities andthat they can get in.
 
Let's talk about layoffs.
We really don't do layoffs. We had an all-employee meeting yesterday. Our CEObroadcast live in Nationwide Arena, simulcast around the world. He said we don'thave plans to do layoffs. That doesn't mean no one's going to be displaced orlose their jobs. But we're still in a growth mode. At any given time we have atremendous number of jobs open. People want to work for a company that cansurvive the good AND the bad times. If we feel we are in an overstaffedsituation, we'd say 'as those jobs attrition, let's not fill them.'
 
So you haven't downsized.
Just normal changes. My division had a whole "internal displaced jobfair." We had a little systems group that was eliminated -- 30 people. Hiringmanagers from each of our divisions came in and did interviews. I believe everysingle person among the 30 who wanted to stay with Nationwide did so.
 
But there is no "nationwide lays off 5,000 people" type thing.
The economy isn't affecting us to the point we're reading about it. We don'thave these massive hiring freezes. We haven't put these strict processes inplace where every single requisition must go by someone. With these big layoffs,how many times do companies turn around and get contract workers, which they paythree times their own employees' salaries, or they hire the same people back ata higher salary?
 
In an economy like this, instead of bringing on more FTEs, do you ever go adifferent route?
Temporary employees, leased employees, contractors. We're doing more ofthat. It gives you the flexibility where you can let that flexible work staff gowithout having to fear paying severance, etc., and still have the opportunity tore-staff with an alternative solution.
 
I guess it's not cheap paying severance at a company like yours.
You begin laying off people with 15-20 years employment and that costs yousome money. If you're a department manager and you're meeting your budget, thehighest cost of the business is the people costs. We're a company withhigh-tenure people. Plus, there's the intangible attitude (of survivingemployees) saying, 'I am the next one?'
 
What do you pay for an employee referral?
It depends on the job -- it's a flex program. If we have a job that's ahard-to-fill job, we can go to that manager, and say 'are you willing to pay$5,000' and if they say yes, we can advertise that.
 
Is that typical?
Typically you can earn $500-$1,000 for referring a hire, depending on the joblevel. You can get some of the payment when you start and some later, about 90days.
 
At the conference where I saw you, someone suggested referrals based on"leads." So you'd pay someone for a phone number, even if the candidate wasn't hired.
I'm thinking about that. It doesn't have to be huge. And you don't have topay, you can reward. For every referral, you can give everybody two sets ofmovie tickets. Also, with our referral program, we want to improve thecommunication. We want to be much more timely. New employees may not know of theprogram, and referrals can be your number one source of hires.
 
Also, communicating with the employee who does that referring.
I haven't set that up but that's kind of where I'm going. Let's say Toddrefers an employee. Now does he want a note in the mail? Does he want to callBill himself? I'm going to ask our employees. I don't think recruiters have allthe intelligence. Just because we should be experts doesn't mean we have all theanswers. You need to go to the people participating in programs and ask them.

Recruiting Resultsat Nationwide

Recruiting Staff:40
Jobsfilled per month:300-400(appx. half from within)
Reduction intime-to-hire:30%
Managersatisfaction:up from63% to 80%

Workforce Online, April 2001 -- Register Now!

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