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How I Reimagined a Contact Center Staffing Strategy

recruitingDid you know that two-thirds of job postings for entry-level contact center representatives list previous contact center experience as a requirement? At least, that’s what I discovered during a recent evaluation of more than 100 active requisitions.

Is that a good thing? I think not.

The popular approach of hiring only those with previous experience in a contact center can be problematic. And as demand for contact center talent continues to grow and pressures to improve costs continue, businesses need to optimize their ability to find and retain talent.

As someone who’s interviewed and hired thousands of contact center employees, I'm here to share insights and tips on finding the right talent for your team without relying on previous experience.

Is Previous Experience A Problem?

While previous experience in a contact center may seem like a logical requirement, it can be problematic for several reasons. At the top of that list is the uncomfortable truth that with prior contact center experience comes prior contact center baggage. It’s not that the people are inherently bad, but their habits, mindsets, and biases can be challenging to break and retrain. The contact center has a notoriously bad rap for focusing on efficiency to a fault, using quality assurance exclusively for correction, and pushing agents to the brink of burnout. You don’t know which of those or other undesired attributes were common in your candidate's last contact center. By requiring that prior experience, you’re almost certainly adding unnecessary obstacles to new hire training.

Does this mean that prior contact center experience isn’t valuable? Not necessarily.

Some organizations have excellent contact center programs. Interviewing candidates from these businesses could land you the perfect fit for your needs or even help you identify the skills and perspectives you desire in others. However, candidates of this caliber are often the exception, not the norm, and are likely a better indicator of the organization’s employee development program than the contact center itself. I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that previous contact center experience consistently predicts success. In my experience, requiring it creates more problems than it solves.

If Not Contact Center Experience, Then What?

If looking to other contact centers isn’t reliable, where can you find talented individuals with the skills or positive predisposition you desire? When I asked this question, the answer was sometimes found in the most unexpected places.

Quadrupling a Workforce for 120 Days

In my last corporate contact center job, one of my responsibilities was leading the hiring process for our seasonal team of representatives. This meant finding and ramping up a group working from Memorial Day to Labor Day to full proficiency. Not only did they need to be customer-focused and sales-minded, but they needed to be available seven days a week between 7 am and 11 pm. I don’t know your experience with hiring temporary workers for high-impact positions, but to say that it presents a unique set of challenges is fair.

After exhausting our standard talent pools and job boards with little success, we decided to look at a few new places for sourcing contact center employees. Here's how we found some of our best talents:


As I thought about people searching for summer work, one of the first jobs I thought of was teachers. Their breaks roughly aligned with my needed availability, but did they have the skills to succeed? As it would turn out, they do! Teachers possess unique skills that make them well-suited for contact center employment.

First and foremost, teachers are experts in communication. They know how to effectively communicate with a wide variety of individuals, tailor their messaging to meet the needs of each person, and remain calm and collected in high-pressure situations.

Additionally, teachers have a strong work ethic and are accustomed to managing multiple responsibilities simultaneously. They are used to working under deadlines and are masters of time management. Finally, teachers are skilled educators who can answer questions, provide guidance and support, and offer valuable insights that help build and maintain positive customer relationships. All of these skills make teachers perfect candidates for contact center positions.


Another challenge I encountered was candidates unwilling or uninterested in working our evening shift. As I thought about other roles that would be acclimated to working nights and having the desired skills, restaurant servers came to mind. Servers have extensive experience providing excellent customer service and delivering a positive customer experience. They have exceptional listening skills, can quickly adapt to different customer personalities, and can handle difficult situations gracefully and professionally.

Additionally, servers are used to multitasking, juggling multiple tables, and keeping track of various requests while remaining calm and focused. They also possess outstanding communication skills essential in a contact center environment. These qualities make servers uniquely qualified for contact center positions, and their experience in the hospitality industry gives them a valuable perspective on serving and satisfying customers. As a result, I found former servers among my most valuable assets for providing exceptional customer service.

Hotel Front Desk

Some of my earliest work in customer experience was done behind the front desk of a hotel. (Oh, the stories I could tell you from those days.) When I was looking for jobs that might align well with my hiring needs, I thought to look for candidates with a background in hospitality in front of the house. Much like servers, I knew these candidates would be exposed to diverse customer experiences and likely appreciate a break from having to look an irate customer in the eyes. With their experience in managing different types of people, they know how to handle a wide range of customer behavior and personalities with poise and professionalism.

Furthermore, they know how to work under pressure and provide top-notch service no matter how chaotic the environment is. Their keen attention to detail ensures that every inquiry and request is handled correctly and on time, ensuring customer satisfaction. These skills and their ability to adapt to change and demonstrate customer empathy make them valuable assets to any contact center team.

College Students

Lastly, our largest and most effective talent pool was college students. Whether they were going on summer break or freshly graduated, we intentionally pursued college students for a few reasons. The greatest was our ability to use the contact center to build the foundation for their growth and future success within our business. We effectively articulated how their work in the contact center would give them a leg up as they looked to advance their career. We helped them develop the skills and experience needed to advance their careers within our business. This created business allies for us as they moved up into marketing, operations, and finances. Another advantage of hiring college students for contact center work is the diversity of skillsets and perspectives they bring. Their unique insights can help your team better understand and connect with your target audience.

What's The Right Source For Your Contact Center Talent?

There's no single right place to find contact center employees, and what worked for me in one contact center didn't work for me in another.

In the same way, what worked for you in the past, might not work for you in the future. The key to finding the right employees for your contact center is focusing more on the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that predict success than the location in which those skills are acquired. The greatest lesson I learned while recruiting for the contact center was to question our old way of doing things and be open to experimenting with new ways of solving our problems.

Overall, it’s important to remember that contact center staffing is ongoing, and you should take it seriously. Don't just default to the same methods you've used in the past - take a step back and consider how you can adjust your approach for today's needs. By expanding your talent pools and focusing on abilities when recruiting for your contact center team, you'll find more successful employees who will help drive better results. With these tips in mind, good luck finding the best talent for your business!