Contact Center Hiring and Recruiting on a Budget

My entire career in customer service has been in a small contact center.  Given that snippet of information, there are a few things you can assume about my situation:

  1. We have a small team and therefore relatively low turnover.  How low?  I actually went all of 2014 without hiring anyone.
  2. We don’t have a full time HR person which means that my team is responsible for recruiting and hiring their own.
  3. At a small, growing company, everything is done on a budget.  Everything! This means that wherever I choose to recruit, I need to get the most bang for my buck.

As I mentioned, it had been a while since I had to hire anyone.   Recent growth and change at required me to hire eight new positions.  Thinking I needed a challenge, my boss asked me to hire half of those positions in our west coast office and the other four in our east coast office.   No problem!

I’m pleased to announce that we hired eight awesome new customer service representatives, and while I feared my leadership team may up and quit, they didn’t!  How did I do it without breaking the bank you ask?  I’m going to share the secret sauce with you today.

The Recruiting Process

My favorite way to recruit is always employee referrals.  The reason for this is that customer service representatives love to work with their friends.  If you’ve built a productive team with a great culture, they will never refer people that don’t fit in perfectly.  This is an absolutely fantastic way to hire new people.

In this most recent round of hires, the referrals were a bit slow.  At that point, I turned to Craigslist.  For $25, you can post a job and you will have no shortage of resumes to sift through.  I recently wrote a post about how not to apply for a customer service job.   When you post on Craigslist you may have to do a lot of sifting and those insights will help you find the diamonds in the rough.  In this most recent round of hires, seven of the eight positions came from Craigslist.

The Hiring Process

Once we narrowed it down to the candidates that meet our requirements, here are the next steps.

  1. Typing Test- Our customer service team is required to do quite a bit of typing, even while they are on the phone.  We have them go to and take a free, two-minute test.  All other things being equal, we will hire the faster typist.  This can be communicated by email before you even interview them.
  2. Phone Interview- The next step is to call the candidate and talk to them over the phone.  Assuming you are hiring for a contact center, you’re listening to see if they are friendly, well spoken, and good at carrying on a conversation.  This only needs to take about fifteen minutes.  If you weed a few people out here, you are saving them the time and trouble of driving all the way to your office.  If you want to take this a step further, video hangouts using a platform like Google+ also work well.
  3. The Interview- Our next step is to bring them to the office for an interview.  The secret here is to have two or three folks in the interview with you.  More often than not, the other people in the interview catch red flags that I, on my own, would have missed.
  4. The Peer Interview- Either with a follow up phone call or a second interview right after the first, we have the candidates meet with a potential coworker or two.  Again, coworkers who are a part of the culture will be very picky about who they want on the team.  This is a good thing.

The end result of this process is a group of CSRs that are a fit for your culture as agreed upon by a team of people.  At this point, the candidate also understands what is expected of them and is really, really excited to join the team.  Notice that while there was a bit of time involved, we got the candidates we wanted without breaking the bank.  Happy hiring!

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Christopher McGregor — 5:39PM on Jan 29, 2015

Hi Jeremy. Thanks for the write-up! The idea of a peer to peer interview is intriguing. Can you speak a bit more to that? How formally is it handled? Do you use a consistent group of existing employees to support that job? What kind of preparation do you provide him/her? Do they ask specific questions and subsequently capture the candidates responses and their take on delivery, or is it more free-form?

Thanks in you advance!

~ Chris

Jeremy Watkin — 12:03AM on Jan 31, 2015

Hey Christopher, thanks for the comment! Right now we're doing it fairly informally. We are intentional about having the same peer speak with all of the candidates during a particular round of hiring. We don't have specific questions that we ask-- though that's not a bad idea. I really want it to be a time where the candidate can get a better feel for what the job will entail and of course, give our staff valuable input into the hiring process.