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Hiring for Culture, the Candidate Experience, and Your Brand

How branding throughout each step of the hiring process works at Zappos.

Christa Foley,
Senior HR Manager, ZapposChrista Foley

"This ain't your mama's HR!"

In this Talent Acquisition Channel Podcast from the Recruiting Trends Conference in Las Vegas, Peter Clayton interviews Christa Foley, Senior HR Manager, with The Zappos Family of Companies. Christa shares how Zappos has developed an entire company culture and hiring process based on the company's 10 Core Values, and how to provide a WOW candidate experience by incorporating your Brand throughout each step of the hiring process.

Christa Foley is the Senior HR Manager at Zappos.com. She heads up two groups at Zappos. "First, an amazing team of Recruiters who scour the planet for people that are fun and a little weird! Those may not seem like typical 'skills' but we run our business and life at Zappos by our 10 Core Values which are the basis of our Culture. These include 'Create Fun and a Little Weirdness.'"

"Our team hires for all job openings in our Las Vegas office. Everything from technology roles like software engineers to merchandisers/buyers, customer loyalty team/call center, and accounting/finance folks."

"I also oversee our fabulous Zappos Insights team. Our job is to share the Zappos culture with the world. Mwahahah. :) No really, many people - from individuals to small business owners to big business - have expressed interest in wanting to not only know what we do at Zappos, but how we do it. This, along with our belief in being completely transparent in sharing what we do, has lead us to creating a whole team offering lots of services whereby you can learn about Zappos culture. This includes tours of our office, as well as 1/2 day, full day, 2 day training events and a membership site."

TotalPicture Radio Transcript: Christa Foley, Senior HR Manager Zappos

Hi! This is Peter Clayton, our Special Talent Acquisition Channel Podcast with Christa Foley, Senior HR Manager at Zappos. We'll begin right after this brief message from Career Cloud.

TotalPicture Radio's coverage of the Recruiting Trends Conference and Sourcing Summit in Las Vegas is brought to you by Career Cloud's new social recruiting platform launching this November. At careercloud.com employers and recruiters will be able to search social media profiles across Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and even Facebook all at once. Go to careercloud.com and get on the launch list today.

Christa Foley joined Zappos in 2004 and is currently the senior human resource manager. She leads the recruiting employee relations and HR admin teams within HR. In this role, she and her team scour the planet for people that are "fun and a little weird" and work to provide employees with a culture where they come first. Since culture is the #1 priority at Zappos, the main focus of HR is to help protect and preserve the Zappos culture. Prior to Zappos, Christa spent over 8 years in the staffing industry.

Christa, thank you very much for taking time to speak with us here on TotalPicture Radio. I really enjoyed the presentation you and your associate, Mike Bailen, at the Recruiting Trends Conference in Las Vegas titled 'Hiring for Culture the Candidate Experience and Your Brand.'

My first question is obviously Zappos is based in Las Vegas. We know what the unemployment rate has been in the State of Nevada, not good -- over 11%, so you must be deluged with résumés. How do you deal with that?

Christa: Yes and no. We do definitely get a lot of résumés for a lot of our general positions. I wish we had more of a flood of résumés coming in for our technology positions. That's an area that I would assume across the country people are struggling to find talent there. But yeah, in general, for general positions, positions that may be a little bit less skilled we do have a pretty good success rate with résumés coming in. On average, we have about 40,000 candidates applying a year.

Peter: So to follow up, Christa, how does Zappos handle the candidate experience when you're getting that volume of résumés?

Christa: Zappos is known for providing WOW Service and being known as a customer service brand and that's something that's really important to us. I really strongly believe and kind of one of our recruiting philosophies here at Zappos is that your candidates are your customers. That may seem fairly logical but I think sometimes in the recruiting space you can kind of forget that.

We do a couple of things from the candidate's experience to make sure we get back to all of those people. First I would say we try to have really good pre-screening questions in place so we don't waste the candidate's time or our time if it just not a fit from a skilled and experience standpoint.

The other thing we do is we manage our requisition flow so that we'll open a position and if we get 100 people right away, we'll place the position on hold so that our recruiters have time to go through each of the 100 candidates and either decide to move forward or decide to send a notice letter so that we make sure we're getting back to every single candidate because I think that's really important. Recruiting can certainly at times be felt from the candidate's standpoint as a black hole. You send your résumé into a company and you never hear anything back, and we really want to avoid that.

We'll go through the candidates that have applied and then if there's no one that's a fit, we'll reopen the requisition, get kind of another wave of candidates in and we'll just kind of keep doing that until we find the right person.

Peter: I think it's terrific because you invest the resources necessary to communicate with each candidate that does take the time to apply for a job at Zappos because let's face it, often times they just want to know am I being considered for this position. It's as simple as that.

Christa: Exactly. It's super stressful to be looking for a job, especially if you're currently not employed. I feel like it's a really small thing to do to be able to get back to someone and let them know, like you said, yeah you're still being considered or no you're not so that they can kind of take steps from there.

Peter: I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Hsieh, your CEO, a couple of years ago when his book Delivering Happiness was published. Obviously a lot of that interview centered around culture and how important culture is to him and to the whole Zappos experience. Am I right when I say that culture is the #1 criteria in hiring at Zappos which trumps everything else?

Christa: Culture is so important for a couple of different reasons. I would say first - and I'm sure Tony talked about this - your brand and your culture are just really two sides of the same coin and that's something that Tony says all the time.

So if you want your brand to represent something the best way you can insure that that will happen is that your internal culture and the way that you run your organization matches what you want your brand to be because I think companies get in trouble when it's a disparity between what they are actually like as a business versus what they're trying to project outwardly to their customers or investors or anybody that's working in conjunction with them. So I would say that's the most important thing.

It's also the easiest way to control your brands because you can control what happens inside the walls of your organization and you can control the emphasis that you place on culture. So I would say that would be a big reason.

Another reason that culture is really important, at least culture as it's defined by our 10 core values at Zappos, is it really allows for a workplace that is built on employees who are creative. They're asked to bring their creativity and their own personality to the job every day. We socialize a lot at the company as part of our culture so it breeds an environment where people don't just look at each other as coworkers but they actually consider themselves friends. When you get kind of all that working together you have happy and engaged employees who like coming to work.

From a sales standpoint, especially when you're talking about a call center environment, if you've got happy, upbeat, engaged employees they're going to be that much more upbeat and engaged when they're talking to the customers on the phone and that's going to come through as a very transparent and genuineness that you can't really get any other way. Ultimately that leads to more sales and more repeat business, and people kind of spreading the word of your brand for you without having to spend a lot of money on the marketing side.

Peter: On the topic of low-cost marketing one of the things I really enjoyed in your presentation was the homebrewed videos that you guys have made to promote Zappos and your culture and your company, and those couldn't have been that expensive for you guys to produce. There was one that's a Katy Perry takeoff and they were a lot of fun and I really think just really exhibited really what the culture is like at Zappos.

Christa: Right. As you saw none of us are paid actors or actresses or musicians. It's so much fun to do and it's such a great easy low budget way to share with candidates what your environment is like if they haven't had an opportunity to experience it, especially for candidates that aren't local.

It's a really good way to connect with candidates and they get to see upfront is this a place that I think is a fit for me or is this a place that I want to run screaming from because it's not what I envision the working world to be like.

Just from the employee side, they're so much fun to do and it amazes me all the time how much talent there is across the organization that you would never realize what different gifts and skills people bring to the job if it's not something that they have to use everyday. I'm always amazed when someone pops up and they're a phenomenal dancer or they're an amazing singer or whatever it might be, and that is another thing, I think, makes people happy that they get to kind of bring those talents to the job as well.

Peter: One of the slides in your presentation states, "We're not your mama's HR." Can you expand on that for us?

Christa: The Katy Perry video if anyone has seen her California Girl's video, there are some risqué stuff in there in terms of attire and so we sort of spoofed that with some of the guys in our HR department. It's kind of a tongue-in-cheek way to say we're not the stodgy super corporate, super conservative, 'we make the rules, you do what we say' HR department. I think that really is kind of the wave of HR moving forward if you want to be successful and actually be viewed as a partner within your organization, is to really make sure that people see that you're just like them.

We all had to pass culture interviews to be employed at Zappos. We all have the same fun and the little weird characteristics that all the employees we hire have. I think that's important because it helps to breakdown that barrier of employees feeling comfortable to come talk to HR.

Separately in general, the philosophy for HR at Zappos is a little bit different than other organizations, I think, because we're really meant to be advisors from an employee relation standpoint. We will guide our managers into conversations about performance management for a particular employee or to potential determination conversations, but at the end of the day we really view managers as the kind of the owners of their business units so we'll give them advice. We'll certainly share what the HR and legal risks are, but at the end of the day it's the manager's decision to make on whether or not they want to provide coaching or discipline to employee or even terminate an employee.

We really aren't the department (at least at Zappos) that says, "Yes, you can do this" or "No, you can't do that." We just really layout 'here's the ramifications of this plan that you might want to go down. Here's the suggested plan' but we'll help them do whichever they think is the right thing to do.

Peter: I think it's fair to say that within a lot of organizations there's certainly a friction between the HR generalists and the recruiters within the organization. Is that true at Zappos and if so, how have you been able to create a more productive working relationship with the recruiters?

Christa: That's interesting. With Zappos, I wouldn't say there's any friction whatsoever. We sit in the same area and we're very much tied together. So I guess we haven't experienced that here. I've been at Zappos for 8 years and the HR group at that time was really, really small. Essentially we were making sure that we have benefits for our employees and we were paying employees and getting them on boarded, but beyond that there wasn't much else. So maybe it's just a product of the two areas that kind of the more traditional HR side and the recruiting side being built at the same time, and I guess the conflict isn't there because, again, if you have a defined set of values that your organization runs by, then there really shouldn't be huge disconnects between any areas because everyone knows what the mission is, what the values are and kind of what the path is and how to follow that path. So I think that would probably be the one thing I would say contributes to there being a lack of conflict between the two areas.

Peter: In addition to the really fun videos you've produced, how else are you using social media to promote your career opportunities at Zappos?

Christa: We're trying to tap in to everything. It's a little bit hard to keep up. I feel like every time I turn around there's a new latest and greatest thing to use. Most interesting right now is the Pinterest. There's lots of, I think, buzz about how you use that from a recruiting standpoint. So we're looking into that right now.

We're all over Twitter. We're certainly very active on Facebook. I think in line with our company and culture, certainly nobody in recruiting is forced to be on social media. Most of us are though, and I think our approach towards it is less 'here's all the jobs we have open' from a recruiting specific standpoint and more about using - whether it's a Twitter account or a Facebook account - using it personally but also highlighting the things that you would normally want to talk about the happened during the day at your job and then interspersing that with I'm recruiting for XYZ jobs.

It's kind of a full package mix that our recruiters are presenting and that works really well for us because I think it highlights both individual personality that's really welcomed and supported at Zappos. It highlights the Zappos culture because we're frequently tweeting about or updating Facebook about different things that are happening at the organization.

For example, we just had a Fall Festival where we had llamas and a huge boa constrictor outside and like this weird freaky animal petting zoo thing and it was just kind of fun and weird but that's something that was over Twitter and Facebook from our employees here. And then just personal tidbits along with, like I mentioned, yes, I'm hiring a software engineer, or I'm looking for assistant buyer, whatever it might be. So I think it really shows in a transparent way that we're not just saying we're a fun company that embraces all different types of people, but really shows that we are because people aren't trying to be super corporate with their use of social media.

Peter: At your Las Vegas headquarters building you offered tours to anyone who'd like to come in and take a look at your facilities. Can you explain to us the rationale of doing that?

Christa: We do. A couple of years ago we built out a whole department called Zappos Insights for the pure reason that we couldn't keep up with the number of requests of people asking if they could come and check out our offices. It's a little bit crazy if you think about it, but it's also super humbling and cool that so many people are interested in learning what is this that you guys are talking about, this culture that everyone is talking about. I think we've been fortunate with a lot of attention in the press in the past couple of years, especially with Tony's book coming out.

We have four tours a day. It's an actual scheduled tour. You can sign up for it at zapposinsights.com. It's about an hour tour. We just kind of walk through a little bit about the history of the company, a little bit of business information about how we run our organization and just a really good way to kind of see our culture in action.

Peter: Wow, that's great employer branding.

Christa: Yes. We definitely try to recruit from anyone coming in on the tours too.

Peter: Zappos currently has about 1300 employees, most of them based in Las Vegas; however, you do have a tech facility in San Francisco is that correct?

Christa: Yes that's correct.

Peter: When you post jobs do you just post on your own career site? Do you use job boards? Do you ever use outside recruiters? Tell us a little bit about the process.

Christa: We for sure put it up on our own career page. We're using Indeed and doing some sponsor jobs with them. We do use a couple of job boards, some of the kind of mainstream ones as well as niche boards to recruit for specialized positions. We do recruit through social media as we just talked about.

We get a ton of employee referrals, which is obviously fabulous for our customer loyalty team positions, for our call centers specifically. We rarely even open that position on our website just because we get so many employee referrals for that role, so that's a really happy problem to have. But yeah, beyond that, I guess I'd say we rely less heavily on the job boards and more on things like Indeed or social media recruitment to kind of get the buzz out about jobs we have open.

Peter: Do you have a formalized employee referral program? Do you offer bonuses or any kinds of incentives to your employees for those referrals?

Christa: Yeah, we sure do. We do have a program, it's $200 for most positions although it's not uncommon for us to do anything from $5000 to $10,000 a position, if it's something that we're having a difficult time finding.

Peter: You somewhat organized your presentation at the Recruiting Trends Conference around the 10 core values of Zappos. We've all seen companies who have their value statements and they put them up on a plaque somewhere and everybody looks at them and very few people actually live those values. But it seems to me at Zappos you guys are really serious about this and employees really do take these value seriously and aspire to live by them.

Christa: Yeah, we do. From the hiring standpoint, we have 10 core values. They range everywhere from Delivering WOW Through Service, to being adventurous, creative and open minded, to being humble, to creating fun and a little weirdness at the office. Those are just a few of them.

We hire based on them. Almost at our first touch point with candidates, we'll give them a document that not only lists them, like you just mentioned, but it also kind of goes into under each one a real description about what do we mean by Deliver WOW Through Service and questions for the candidate to think about in terms of this is what we mean specifically, this is our philosophy as it relates to this particular core value, and here are the expectations that we have for employees once they join us in terms of how they should live and demonstrate this core value.

From a candidate standpoint there is learning right upfront, like this is how we run our business, this is what our expectations are and they can make a decision if they want to move forward or not based on that.

When we get into the actual interview stage, we do a cultural interview that really dives deep with the candidate into each area addressed by our 10 core values, and we're looking for red flags to see if the person is or isn't fit with each one. The culture interview trumps any other interviews, so even if 10 people from a technology hiring team loved a candidate, if we see red flags on the culture fit side we won't move forward with the candidate.

Once when someone is here, our performance evaluation process, 50% of that is based on how the person's living and exuding our culture and our core values. We have cultural assessments that also happen twice a year where we're just looking at the person's cultural fit and seeing if that's in line or if there are spots that people need to work on.

So it really is part of our business. When we have tough business decisions to make, we always go back to the core values and make sure that's kind of the path we think we want to follow is in line with our core values. So it isn't just a list of these 10 things that looks good from a PR standpoint, it is something that it is integral to our business and how we run and operate Zappos.

Peter: Does Zappos have a formulized on boarding process for all of your employees?

Christa: Yeah. We actually have all new hires go through a 4-week training program. There's a couple of focuses for it and everyone goes through it. So regardless if you're CEO of the company, Tony went through it, down to an hourly employee working in our call centers. It's 4 weeks and it's Monday through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and everyone is treated the same during this class, so it doesn't matter what your level is, the expectation is that you're there, you're paying attention and you're giving your best to it.

During that 4 weeks there's a couple of focuses, (1) we actually teach people how to use our systems and learn our policies in our call centers so that they can learn what we mean by WOW Customer Service and what our philosophy is there. And then in addition to that is an emersion into our culture. So people really walk away with a good sense of, again, what those expectations are.

Peter: A unique aspect of your hiring process which Tony had told me about when I interviewed him (by the way, you can still find that interview on TotalPicture Radio in the leadership channel) you offer your employees, your new hires, somewhere between $2000 and $3000 to quit, which I don't think very many companies could get away with. Can you explain to us the rationale behind that and tell us a little bit about some of the results you had in making that kind of offer.

Christa: When Tony first suggested it we were all like, "Oh my God, that's crazy. Everyone's going to quit and take this money." Really, what we were trying to do is make sure that we have people that are here that want to be here. So if someone gets a couple of weeks into the training and they realize this wasn't what I thought it would be, whether it's from a cultural standpoint or maybe they didn't realize what it would be like to - for example, if they're working on our call center to take calls 8 hours a day, we want to give people an opportunity to leave, sort of gracefully back out and not be super concerned about finances while they look for the right job for them. Versus staying with us and not being super thrilled about being here and therefore, not doing such a great job, and then we invest a lot of time and energy in them and maybe 90 days to 6 months out then we're having the conversation about them exiting the organization.

Our hope was just that people would take the time to think about is this the right place for me. We offer this to them during the second week of their training time period. We want, again, to make sure that they really want to be here. Sort of an added side benefit to it that we didn't expect when we started offering the money was that because people have to actually kind of go home and think about whether or not they want to stay or if they want to take the money, one of the fringe benefits of it is people come back that have decided to stay and they're super committed and engaged. They have made an active decision to stay with the organization. That's really huge from a commitment standpoint.

We've been doing it for several years now and on average each year there's probably 1.5% to 2% of people that will take the offer. It's not a lot of people but, again, like I said it's a really good way to kind of earn a commitment earlier than you maybe otherwise would with your employees.

Peter: I agree, and when you think about it, it really is sort of a cheap date because if someone clearly is not fitting within your culture, not enjoying the job, not having a great time coming into Zappos every day, you don't want them there. So get them out early. I think that ultimately it saves you money.

Christa: Yeah, absolutely.

Peter: I'm sure one thing that sets you apart really quick with candidates coming in for interviews are the way your interview rooms are decorated. Can you tell us a little bit about how you set these rooms up and why you set them up the way you have.

Christa: Yeah, we do. Gosh, I think it was probably 2006 that we started thinking about from the recruitment standpoint how do we get people to feel really comfortable when they come and talk with us. What we recognized right away is that sitting in a white-walled office across the table from a candidate is not super conducive to creating an environment of comfort and good conversation. It sort of is kind of the old school interrogation style feel.

We tried to think of ways we could avoid that and took 3 rooms that happen to be closest to us that we typically interviewed in over in the recruiting area at the time, and we did one in a superhero theme. We did one in like a beach kind of theme and one was like a Feng shui theme. It just sort of exploded from there because we have conference rooms across three buildings here in our Henderson offices, and people had seen the rooms just because they might be in there for a particular meeting. And then all of the departments with the rooms closest to them start doing these decorations. It was something that we did that was really low cost from just changing the paint of the room and adding some decorations, but we ended up with we have Cher's dressing room.

We have a Liberace room with a huge life size Liberace with all his glitter and sparkles and all that good stuff. We have a Cirque du Soleil room. We have a New York, New York room. So it's just all different types of themes across the board but it certainly makes for a more pleasant meeting space and certainly a more comfortable interview space as well.

Peter: Christa, I think a number of the HR and recruiting professionals listening to this interview are going, wow, that's really fun. That's really great. That's really interesting but I could never get away with the kinds of stuff that Zappos is doing. I work for defense contractor, financial institution, insurance companies and conservative organization. Is there anything that you can share with us that you think could be applicable to recruiting professionals regardless of the culture and then the environment that they are currently working in that could help accelerate their HR and recruiting efforts?

Christa: Yeah. It doesn't have to be huge or big. One thing I think that's important to note too is that driving culture and organization can't just come from the top down and it certainly can't just come from HR because your employees will roll their eyes about something that's an HR initiative only.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you get all your employees involved in the process. Everything from if you don't currently have core values, the creation of those core values, or even just discussion about what those might be. I think if you're in a really conservative environment there's no reason you can't do that with just your own team, let's say.

I think starting small, if you have any flexibility with even just relaxing a dress code if that's appropriate for your business, that's a huge win with employees and I think really allows sort of creativity start flowing. Allowing employees to do what they want with their desk space I think is another really small thing that you can do that will really help.

So maybe start thinking about it less in terms of what can I start adding to the culture but what roadblocks can I take away from what might be preventing culture. The things like the dress code and having some creativity or fun with your space, I think, are two easy things you can do to get that ball rolling.

Peter: Christa, thank you very much for taking time to speak with us today here on TotalPicture Radio. I really enjoyed your presentation and meeting you in Las Vegas.

Christa: My pleasure to talk with you as well. It was great to meet you too.

Christa Foley is the Senior HR Manager at Zappos. You'll find this interview in the Talent Acquisition channel of TotalPicture Radio, that's totalpicture.com.

Thank you so much for tuning in and thanks again to Career Cloud for sponsoring this podcast from the Recruiting Trends Conference 2012 and Sourcing Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. Be sure to check out the cool new social recruiting tools they're building at careercloud.com.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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