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ConveyIQ Spotlight: How Zappos Interviewed 1,300 Students In 2 Weeks

A guest post from Mike Bailen, Senior HR Manager at The Zappos Family of Companies

We started our Summer Internship Program a couple years ago because we recognized the need to pipeline and develop our own talent. We also knew the stats. Interns who converted to permanent employees tended to be higher performers, had longer retention rates, and were promoted more quickly than those coming through conventional recruiting channels.

We recruited like any other corporation when we started the program. We would post our internships, travel around the country to top universities and interview those that told us they were qualified on their resume and cover letter. The process worked and we filled our positions. However, we couldn’t help but to think there was talent out there that we were missing out on.

We saw three major problems in our college recruitment model:

Limited Exposure

Because our college recruiting team consists of two people, there were only a few universities we could travel to, thus giving an advantage to the students at those selected universities and limiting our exposure to talent across the country. We could hire more recruiters or develop a student ambassador program but at what cost? We wanted to operate lean and mean while continuing to scale the program.

Show And Tell

Like most companies, we were deciding who to interview based off of the student’s resume and cover letter alone. Candidates were telling us they were qualified and not showing us.

Communicating Culture

We couldn’t capture the fun, exciting, and innovative atmosphere of Zappos by telling students about it. We needed students to experience it.

This recruiting season we decided to flip the script completely. Below are a list of ways in which we changed the way we recruit students and attacked those three problems:

We do not travel to college campuses.

Instead, we connect with students remotely in unique ways to encourage them to learn about Zappos and apply online.

We sent swag such as blankets and pillows to hackathons, we marketed heavily where students spent a lot of time (ie. Facebook), and we sponsored unique clubs on campus (did you know that there is an Albino Squirrels Club at Michigan?!). We ran “blue light specials” where we partnered with career services on campus. We would arm them with swag and information about our internships and invited students into their offices through social media.

"We want to get students, professors and career services to do the marketing for us."

We want to get students, professors and career services to do the marketing for us. We are no longer just another company at a career fair or information session. We are uniquely positioning Zappos on campus without a physical presence.

We require students to complete a skills challenge and an on-demand digital interview as step one of their application.

To be considered for an internship with us, step one is to complete a position-specific challenge and digital interview. The student’s application confirms basic requirements, the skills challenge demonstrates that they have the skills to do the job they applied for, and the digital interview assesses culture fit, team fit, and technical aptitude.

We place zero weight on the applicant’s resume and GPA.

With our new model, small schools compete equally with larger and more prestigious universities. History majors compete equally with engineering majors (not to disrespect history majors but we typically would have a hard time pairing them up with an internship).

"We want to get to know every student regardless of major, GPA and school prestige."

It all comes down to a showcase of skills (technical challenge) and culture fit (digital interview). A history major attending University of Wisconsin-Stout might be passionate about website development and might be more skilled and humble than a software engineering student at Stanford. You never know! We want to get to know every student regardless of major, GPA and school prestige.

We invite top students to visit us for an experience, not just an interview.

Last fall, we invited students out to Las Vegas for a two day all-expenses-paid trip. Day one was super casual and fun. Students took a tour of Zappos, had lunch with the teams they had applied for, became acquainted with downtown Las Vegas, learned about our business, and met a variety of employees.

The second day was their interview day. Unexpectedly, the students bonded and even formed Facebook groups to stay in touch. The best compliments we received were from students who weren’t offered a job. They were disappointed, but not because they didn’t get the job, but because they developed friendships with other students whom they had just met and wouldn’t have the opportunity to spend the summer with them.

Think about the long-term pipeline for Zappos and the relationships we created!

Our college recruiting team of two, with the help of our technical teams, were able to view over 1,300 candidate interviews and skill challenges in a two-week window.

In a conventional recruiting model, companies might be able to only screen 1,300 resumes and start setting up interviews with the few selected in the same time frame.

"Our new model allows us to connect and engage with more students."

At this stage, they would know nothing more about an applicant than the information the candidate had given them. They might also miss out on those unique students who happened to pick the wrong major, couldn’t afford a big-name school, or didn’t have the strongest GPA or SAT score.

Our new model allows us to connect and engage with more students, place greater weight on skills and culture, quickly identify top candidates, and build unique relationships that will last a lifetime.