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The Pickup Artists

July 15, 2004
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article, Staffing Management

MTV viewers saw something unusual in May. The network aired a segment showing the real-life job hunt of four college grads named Mario, Jennifer, Joe and Angelique. They had submitted résumés for manager-trainee jobs at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, positions that pay between $20,000 and $30,000 a year, plus benefits.

    The camera tracked the foursome through the interview process, and provided a rare glimpse at the inner workings of Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s recruiting. This mighty operation, based in St. Louis, relies on a mix of recruitment strategies, some providing a strong return on investment, others not as fruitful.

Doubling in size
Enterprise is one of the nation’s largest recruiters of college grads, and will take on some 6,500 people, more than 90 percent with bachelor’s degrees, in 2004. The company hired 6,000 in 2003. To find college grads who are also rental-car-company material, Enterprise will screen thousands and thousands of candidates, many with little workplace experience. In the New York City region alone, Enterprise has about 4,000 applicants for each 100 hires.

    The company’s voracious appetite for college grads has only increased in recent years. This privately held firm, once thought of as the third player in a field dominated by Hertz and Avis, is now the nation’s largest rental-car company, in both number of rental locations and fleet size, according to research by Betsy R. Snyder, director of corporate and government ratings at Standard & Poor's in New York City. The company has revenues of $6.9 billion, 54,000 employees, a daily rental fleet of 600,000 vehicles and 5,000 rental locations in the United States. Just 10 years ago, Enterprise’s rental-car fleet was less than half as large, and its workforce was more than one-third smaller, says Lee Broughton, company spokesperson.

    To feed this prodigious growth, Enterprise has to convince an ever-growing number of high-caliber college grads that working behind the counter at a local rental-car company is a smart career move, and good business training to boot. ("An MBA without the IOU," recruiter Debbie Brill chirped into MTV’s camera.)

Branding Enterprise
    Enterprise is determined to keep the details of its inner workings close to the vest. The company allows its local recruiters to determine the day-to-day details of their activities. Enterprise employs 200 recruiters, scattered across the country. But instead of reporting to Marie Artim, assistant vice president of recruiting, these recruiters report to vice presidents at the local level--operating groups, in the company’s lingo. Operating groups have a lot of autonomy, she explains, and therefore, so do the recruiters.

    This decentralization is part of Enterprise’s corporate DNA. "It’s not just recruiting," Artim says. "We’re very decentralized across the board. The idea behind it is that things bubble up [from the branches], instead of being pushed from the top down." For example, the company’s trademark "We’ll Pick You Up" service--rental-car customers are picked up instead of having to go to the branch--started as one Florida branch manager’s idea and then spread throughout the company.

    The company’s genetics are evolving a bit, at least when it comes to recruiting. There’s more "top down" action going on at Enterprise than there has ever been in its 47-year history. The company, Artim says, has developed and is adhering to its firstemployment brand, called My Personal Enterprise, which is the backbone of all its recruiting efforts, influencing its brochures, videos and so forth. An integral part of this brand is the company’s careers Web site, which allows for only minimal local customization.

Learning "so much, so fast"
    The company’s employment brand was initiated in the late 1990s, a time of great change and tremendous growth for the company. "One, we were growing to the size where it had become a bigger and bigger task to hire the people we needed to continue our growth," says Artim. "Two, 1996 to 2000 was a crazy job market"--referring to the scarcity of qualified workers during that period--"and we realized that we needed to develop one step further, to identify the best practices that could lead us into the future, and roll that out, do that well, and with consistent effort," she says. "We wanted to have the same company with the same opportunity no matter where you go. The idea was, we wanted to bring everything together."

    To develop My Personal Enterprise, the company hired Cambridge Consulting Group in 1999 to research its target market of the young and college educated. Enterprise learned that it would have to communicate two primary messages: First, that contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to have a meaningful career at a rental-car company. And second, that Enterprise is a fun place to work. "In our employment brand, we needed to counter the perception of what our competitors generally are: rental-car companies, where you stand behind a counter, wear a uniform and rent cars," says Artim. "We wanted to show that Enterprise is really a career opportunity."

    One of the company’s key selling points, for instance, is its long tradition of promoting almost exclusively from within. Artim, for example, started out as a manager trainee and came up through the ranks, as did many of the company’s senior management. This is a selling point that the company wants to emphasize to potential recruits. "My Personal Enterprise stands for all we are as a company: autonomy; friendly work environment; real marketable business skills," says Artim.

    The My Personal Enterprise brand was launched in 2000, along with its primary vehicle, the company’s career Web site. The site’s home page features comments of an Enterprise employee that neatly sum up the message the company wishes to send to recruits. "Every day, I'm thinking on my feet. Managing a balance sheet one minute, conducting sales calls the next. Enterprise trains me, supports me and really rewards me when I perform. I've never learned so much so fast."

    There are corners of the Web site where local recruiters can post their contact information, or information about community events, but for the most part, the Web site is "the same and consistent across the board," says Artim.

Viral marketing
    One of the largest draws at the company’s site is its online game Give Me the Business: The Enterprise Game. It’s the third-most-visited page on the Web site, Artim says. The game has three components: picking up packages while avoiding dangerous obstacles, delivering the right food to customers at a restaurant, and throwing hot dogs at customers in a crowded sports stadium. You either gain money or lose money, depending on your alacrity, and the site lists the highest scores.

    Artim points out that the game is tied loosely to challenges faced in a service-related business. "It’s fun--and kind of goofy," she admits. But behind the goofiness, the game has a larger mission: it’s actually a "viral marketing" ploy aimed at quickly spreading the word about Enterprise jobs.

    Players have the opportunity to tell their friends about it, with either of two predesigned, customizable messages that they can e-mail through the site. Using drop-menus to modify their messages, players can splice together a sentence such as "Hey Dunce Cap, have I told you lately that I think you reek at video games? And that I am the king of the world at video games? I hereby dare, no, taunt you to play this addictive online video game and try to beat my score…"

Compensation tied to 40 percent referrals
    The online game seems fairly silly, but its value becomes clear when you consider the company’s top recruitment channel:employee referrals. Forty percent of the company’s new hires come about through employee referrals, says Artim, a larger share than any of the company’s other recruitment channels, includingon-campus recruiting, the Internet and employment agencies.

    Ron Selewach is CEO and founder of HRMC, a human resources technology company in Tampa, Florida. He says that Enterprise’s Web site and centralized brand strategy address career progression, which speaks directly to the interests of a college grad. To have a good brand, he says, "you need to emphasize the ‘what’s in it for me,’ from the college student’s perspective."

    While the brand and the Web site may be acting as backup for employee referrals, Enterprise also isn’t shy about using more direct means to encourage employee referrals. Indeed, Artim says, every recruiter in the company is charged with bringing in employees through referrals. Recruiter compensation is tied in part to being able to hit the company standard of 40 percent of hires through referrals. Each recruiter is expected to hire 30 employees a year; 12 should come from referrals.

    Enterprise’s emphasis on employee referrals reveals its bottom-line focus. From a return-on-investment perspective, referrals from current employees can have the greatest payoff, says Fran Luisi, principal of Charleston Partners, an executive search firm in Rumson, New Jersey. The only direct cost per hire to the employer is the incentive for the referring employee, and internal marketing of the referral program, he says. Incentives to employees usually range from $500 to $1,500. If Enterprise hires 40 percent of 6,500 employees through referrals, and if each referring employee receives an incentive payment, those costs may be in the range of $1.3 million to $3.9 million.

    Every recruiter is free to encourage referrals in his or her own way, says Artim, harking back to the decentralization that Enterprise cherishes so. Internal-marketing costs appear to be quite low. In the New York City region, for example, employee referral programs are promoted using the company’s e-mail system, attaching fliers to paychecks, says Dylan Schweitzer, group recruiting manager. Incentives, on the other hand, can be more elaborate. In his group, there have been cash incentives, $1,000 to $1,500 per employee, but incentives have also been known to include dinners with a regional vice president, trips to Aruba and big-screen TVs.

    Even with incentives that can lean toward the elaborate, all in all, employee referrals are a bargain, Schweitzer says. "When you hire someone from an employee referral, there are so many benefits. One, your employees get money into their pocket, which makes them feel great. Two, the new hires know the employee who referred them, so they have a mentor that already works for the company. And we have a higher retention [rate] with our employees that are hired from referrals," he says.

    After referrals, the next-largest source of new employees is the Internet, including online job boards and Enterprise’s own career site. Enterprise also does extensive on-campus recruiting activities, including participating in career fairs, building relationships with college professors, throwing out T-shirts at sports events, presenting seminars for college students on how to change tires, and so forth.

    From an ROI perspective, the Internet provides the best return on investment. "We spend more time on college campuses," Schweitzer says, "but we don’t get equal return for the amount of time we spend there." But the time is far from wasted, he says, because while he may bring in more résumés from a Web site, Enterprise’s on-campus activities make it easier for him to seal the deal with a promising candidate.

    "Very often I’ll interview someone who has heard about us through a friend, or through a job fair or staffing firm. That brings them to us, but they wouldn’t have come on board had it not been . . . that they saw us on their college campus. In combination with that, they went to our Web site and were impressed with how great our career Web site is," he says. "Branding is important, no question about it."

Evaluating Enterprise candidates
    Enterprise relies onbehavioral interviewing, Artim says, a practice that’s been in place since 1997. Behavioral interviewing asks candidates to explain in detail how they handled a situation in the past, instead of more general questions such as the perfunctory "Tell me about yourself."

    Considering that many of Enterprise’s recruits have yet to start a career, candidates are encouraged to think expansively. In other words, Artim says, if she’s looking for someone with sales experience, candidates don’t have to have actual experience selling a product. They could describe a situation in which, as part of a campus organization, they’ve sold their peers on an idea.

Perfect Enterprise material
    On MTV’s show, the camera tracked each candidate’s progress through two rounds of behavioral interviews. When asked by recruiter Debbie Brill where he pictured himself in a year’s time, Mario answered, "It depends what’s on the table. If there are 20 things to grab, I’ll grab 20 things and create a 21st."

    Angelique, late to her first interview, rolled her eyes and made a face after she gave a weak answer to the question "What from your past indicates you’d be successful in a competitive sales environment?"

    Jennifer repeatedly referred to her responsible, organized nature when asked about her strongest qualities. Joe, when asked the same question, paused for a long time, licked his lips, glanced around the room, and finally answered, "Probably leadership?"

    In the end, Enterprise surprised the audience by hiring three of the four candidates--everyone but Angelique, who didn’t show the requisite self-confidence, Brill explained. Schweitzer, who helped coordinate the MTV program, says it just happened to work out that way; the hiring process was real, not staged for the cameras.

    The other three showed leadership, flexibility, good communication skills and sales potential--perfect Enterprise manager trainee material, in other words. "Oh my God, thank you. I feel like I just won the lottery," Jennifer trilled upon hearing the good news. Mario screamed his joy out loud, right into the phone, while Joe, all smiles, talked about paying off student loans and moving out of his parents’ house. Three new Enterprise manager trainees were on their way and, if all goes well, will soon be ambassadors of My Personal Enterprise--part of the mighty, high-ROI Enterprise employee-referral machine.

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