Dear Annie: I am in charge of seasonal staffing for two restaurants, two pools, and a spa at a resort where we need about 100 people to work from now through Thanksgiving. Last year was the first time I had to recruit summer employees, and I wasn’t too happy with many of the ones I hired for a variety of reasons, mostly because of problems with absenteeism and lack of customer-service skills. We did have a few great people I’ve already brought back for this year. (I really wish we could clone them.) This year we’ll be hiring until the end of June, so I have a few more weeks to get it right. Any thoughts on how? — Big Sky Boss
Dear B.S.B.: As you probably know, most people looking for summer jobs have already found them. About 70% of seasonal hiring is over by the end of May, reports hourly job site SnagAJob. Still, turnover (voluntary or not) among summer workers is high enough that even employers who’ve already staffed up are likely to need replacements before the summer’s out.
That’s why, according to Anthony Lye, the first rule of finding great seasonal help is “ABR, for ‘Always be recruiting.’” Lye is CEO of HotSchedules, a maker of talent sourcing and scheduling software for Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, and other national restaurant chains. He recommends posting summer positions all year round, on your website, on job boards, and on social media. At the same time, he says, “Be spontaneous. If you’re out somewhere and spot someone you think looks like a potential hire—say, a waitperson who’s obviously great with customers—hand him or her your card.”
Lye suggests four more ways to find the right seasonal hires:
Go mobile. Grab your phone, Google the name of your resort plus “jobs,” and take a hard look at what comes up. “Is your career page mobile-optimized? Can people apply right from their phones?” asks Lye. He points to a LinkedIn poll last year that said 72% of Millennials use their phones to browse for jobs, so “you need to have your mobile game on. If you were searching for a job from your phone and came across your own resort, would you submit an application?” A few of the things your app should include are, for restaurant jobs, information on plate prices (higher prices “correlate to bigger tips,” Lye notes); hours of operation and available shifts; the qualifications you’re seeking for each type of job; and exact directions (with a map) to your business.
Reward referrals. Alas, you can’t, as you say, clone your best employees (at least not yet)—but asking them to recommend people they know is the next best thing. About one in four non-exempt employees in the U.S. are hired via referrals, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. “Start an in-house referral program and offer an extra $25 to anyone who brings in a qualified candidate,” Lye suggests. “If the new hire stays on for the duration of the season, drop another $25 or $50 into the referrer’s pocket.”
Look in unlikely places. Especially since your business stays open until long after college kids will have headed back to school, you could focus on recruiting “more mature” seasonal hires, Lye notes. Check community organizations and veterans’ associations for job seekers, as well as other federal, state, or local employment programs. “Be sure to post specific job descriptions so applicants can understand your needs,” says Lye. “You can also stand out from the crowd, and filter candidates, by including your overall mission” and what your ideal hire would be ready to do.
Do some quality control. “Finding a warm body is one thing,” observes Lye. “Finding hard-working seasonal talent is another.” If you’re not already doing so, he recommends devising a few simple tests. Ask restaurant applicants, for instance, to “memorize your menu and take an online quiz. If they get it 80% correct, they pass.” Behavioral interview questions can be useful, too. In any role that calls for dealing directly with customers, Lye says, you could ask, “If you accidentally spilled beer all over a guest, what would you do?” or “If one table, or one group of poolside guests, complained that another group was making too much noise, what would you do?” There isn’t necessarily one correct answer, but an applicant’s response will probably tell you everything you need to know.
Talkback: If you’ve ever hired seasonal employees, how did you recruit the best ones? Leave a comment below.
Have a career question for Anne Fisher? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.