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Recruiting “Retail Consultants” at The Container Store

Kevin Fuller talks about his favorite college, his two favorite job boards, three essay questions and four things the company looks for in a candidate.

September 18, 2003

Who: Kevin Fuller, director of recruiting and training, The Container Store. Fuller is in his 10th year at the 25-year-old chain, which is nearing its prime hiring season right now because of all the back-to-college shoppers.

Favorite job boards: When the Dallas-based company advertises on a big job board--something Fuller says it doesn’t need to do much of--it likes Craig’s List (mainly for California jobs), and of the major national job boards, it prefers CareerBuilder, though it has experimented with others. "I really like the partnerships that CareerBuilder has," Fuller says. "It basically gives you a national presence with localized familiarity." In other words, he says, the site is used in most parts of the country, but candidates often get to it through a local site, like MercuryNews.com in northern California. The Container Store rarely uses newspapers and rarely uses search firms.

Favorite college: Texas A&M. "We’ve had a long-standing partnership with them," Fuller says. "They just turn out amazing students."

Four things the company looks for in employees: Fuller says, "The underlying characteristics [that we look for] are people who care about excellence, who have a passion for our products, who love to help people get organized and who are creative." A job at The Container Store is almost like a consulting role. When someone wants to bring some order to the area under his sink, this isn’t a job where you just say, "Here’s the product you need," Fuller says. "Those things [complicated sales] take a lot of skills and talent." An employee asks questions such as, "Tell me about the space under the sink. What are you trying to accomplish? What aesthetics do we need to take into account? Do you like wood? Metal? Plastic?"

Three essay questions: On the company’s Web site, applicants are asked open-ended questions: 1) What can they uniquely contribute to the company? 2) Describe their experience visiting The Container Store. 3) Why they would like to work for The Container Store? Fuller says the essays are judged on how clearly candidates can communicate, as well as whether the qualities like those mentioned above--excellence, passion, love of organization, creativity--show through in the essays. "Frankly," Fuller says, "you get a sense of ‘do they care?’ " If you’ve never picked up a drill or built something, that’s OK with store managers. "If you have passion and you care, and you’re reasonably intelligent, we have a training program to take care of that [mechanical skills]. You can’t train people to care more."

Turning customers into employees: Container Store employees are encouraged to recruit customers they think would make great employees. Fuller says, "An employee will say something like ‘You know what, Todd, this is your third trip in the last month, and you’ve got your office taken care of, and you seem to love our store. You should think about working here.’ " Then an employee will encourage the customer to apply online by handing him a glossy card listing the company’s Web address and the company’s selling points, including 40 percent off merchandise. The card says, "If you love shopping here, we’d love to talk to you about working here! Our customers make great employees."

Employee referrals: Anyone on staff who recruits a part-time employee gets a $200 referral bonus 90 days after the new hire’s first day. For referring a full-time employee, you get $500. An employee gets an additional $500 after the third referral. "The money’s nice," Fuller says, "don’t get me wrong." But The Container Store’s referral program, he says, is successful not because of the incentives, but because employees like their jobs, want the company to succeed and therefore want people who will help the company. "People come from the mind-set of continuing to protect this great culture," he says. Recently, Fuller met with cofounder and chairman Garrett Boone and told him that referrals make up about 40 percent of the company’s hires, and that it cost The Container Store only $38,000 to pay referral bonuses in 2002. "I’d love to double that figure," Boone said.

The two-part interview: A group of candidates spent about an hour in the store (we observed the interview process at the Costa Mesa, California, location), where they talked to a Container Store employee about the company’s history and culture. Three people--about half the group--were told afterward that there was something missing from their applications and were invited to the employee break room (this was done so that the rest of the group, who weren’t asked to continue, didn’t feel awkward and left out).

This group of three--now told they were the most desirable candidates--spent an hour in the break room learning more about the company, talking more about what they liked about the store and what they liked about retail. Meanwhile, the leader of the group from The Container Store watched to see who displayed the most enthusiasm, and who by virtue of their questions really loved the company and its products and would shine as employees. The Container Store hired about 6 percent of all the people who applied in 2002. "In some stores, there are waiting lists of people we interviewed and we love [but can’t yet hire]," Fuller says. "That can actually frustrate people."