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Zappos takes a different approach to recruiting employees

May 30, 2014

Zappos is known for doing things differently in the workplace, so the latest news from the company isn't a shocker. Instead of placing help wanted postings on LinkedIn, Monster, etc., the e-tailer has decided to open Zappos Insiders, a social site where individuals interested in joining the company can network with current employees and build relationships in the hope that they will be seen as Zappos material.

In a blog — posted, ironically, on LinkedIn — Zappos' Stacy Donovan Zapar wrote that when she first became a recruiter in the nineties, the business was about relationships. "We got to know people, stayed in touch, followed up from time to time. When an opening became available, we reached out to our trusted network, asked them to spread the word, followed up with referrals that came our way. We proactively sourced, cold-called, got out there, met new people, offered to help others along the way. And we made time to give feedback, provide closure, say thank you. We actually cared about the candidate experience."

With the growth of the internet, recruiting has become about "post and pray," according to Ms. Donovan Zapar. When a company needs to fill a position, it posts on job boards and then wades through a mountain of responses that follow. Recruiting, she wrote, turned into "a numbers game, highly transactional, where bulk messaging became the norm and candidates went from being valued contacts to faceless resumes that got passed around and quickly discarded."

[Image: Zappos Video Cover Letter]

According to Zappos' Mike Ballen, by way of MediaBistro, the company received more than 31,000 applicants in 2013. It hired 1.5 percent of them.

With Zappos Insiders, the company, owned by Amazon.com, is looking to bring relationships back to employee recruiting. According to Insider FAQ, Zappos wants to hear from prospective employees whether it has a job opening or not. "You're not just a number; you're a real person with real personality and real skills and we want to treat you that way by getting to know you before making any decisions one way or the other. This is your chance to shine and show us how perfect you'd be for Zappos."

By becoming an Insider, prospects are given top consideration for new openings and, in building relationships, may be able to get a referral from a current Zappos team member.

Zappos has also created recommendations for how to become an Insider standout. Number one on the list is to create a video cover letter or find another creative means to stand out as an individual. "When company culture is as much of a priority as it is for Zappos, these pieces of the equation are so important and you will definitely stand out if you give us a chance to know you beyond the written words on your resume! (Zappos core value #4: Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded.)"


Discussion Questions:

What do you think of Zappos' decision to do away with traditional job postings and go to a more relationship-based approach with Zappos Insiders? Is this something that other retailers should emulate?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Will the quality of Zappos' new employees be better or worse as a result of Zappos Insiders?


This nontraditional method of recruiting fits a nontraditional company like Zappos. It won't work for most companies, but here it makes sense. Few companies have a working style like Zappos or Google. Those few need a different method of recruiting in order to weed out applicants who don't fit the culture. For the overwhelming majority of companies, the traditional method of recruiting will work just fine.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Not sure I would completely eliminate traditional means for identifying candidates, maybe just refine the process to make it more effective, but I really like their approach with Zappos Insiders and absolutely agree this will improve their efforts to find great candidates.

Not sure how well it will work for other retailers. Zappos has a very unique culture, but definitely worth looking at to see how this approach could be leveraged to identify more promising candidates.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

This is a very unique and personal way to hire in a big company. No more need to use another job service, as you can hone in on your own site, and cut out the middleman. Great job on Zappos' part, to get right to the future employees they may need.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

The answer to first question is, with over 31,000 people interested in going to work for Zappos, you don't need job boards. One line sums it up: the best way to solve your recruiting problem is become a place where people want to work.

Second question: Can other retailers do this? Yes, if they are a great place to work like Publix and the Container Store.

In fact, most retailers are not even in the post-and-pray phase of recruiting. They are in the "I hope they walk in the door and apply when I need them" phase.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

It makes immense sense. When a manager at a retail store is looking to fill an opening, what does he/she do? They ask their best employees, "Do you know anyone who...?"

Zappos doesn't have stores, but they are trying to accomplish the same thing. Today's "Monster" system is actually a monster. Within seconds after an opening is posted they receive over 200 applications for a position. They receive 427,000 resumes a week. That is just Monster. The corporate recruiter spends an average of 5 to 7 seconds on each application. And in the end, they still don't know what they are getting.

Let's see...I am a corporate recruiter with hundreds of applications on my computer and I have a employees say "This person sounds pretty good." What do I do next?

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Nobody should be surprised at anything that Zappos does. They are just Zappos. They have a great way of doing just about everything, so why should it surprise anyone that they have come up with their spin on hiring?

Should other retailers emulate Zappos? Do other retailers have the core values, training, culture, etc. that Zappos has? Just hiring, however it's done, by itself doesn't make Zappos successful, and it surely won't make any other retailer successful.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Kudos to Zappos, an innovator in so many respects. I applaud their fresh approach to dealing with staff. It is easy working in such a large company, or even one half the size, to believe you are nothing but a number. This can't but help increase employees pride in being part of the organization.

Can it work elsewhere? I doubt it. This will work at Zappos because it was innovated there. It comes across sincerely. Trying to duplicate it elsewhere will just smack of "yeah, we care too."

Lewis Olishansky, Principal, Retailmatics

Since the vast majority of jobs are filled through networking, this move makes sense. I wonder, though, if this will provide enough of a filter to be able to accomplish what they have set out to do - be relationship-based.


As an ex-store manager, I would much rather get a snapshot of a potential employee via a short video, rather than wading through a stack of faceless applications. There is no reason in the world why every company, retailer, CPG, airline, hotel... ANY company shouldn't take advantage of the digital society we have become in the recruiting process.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

This is really outside of my wheelhouse, but when have I ever let that stop me? Kudos to Zappos! This is a very original and very current approach to recruiting.

Will it work for other retailers? Maybe not exactly the way Zappos is doing it. However, I do think they have started us thinking down the right path.

Retailers want and need brand advocates as their employees and what better way to find out about a candidate's level of passion? It would also be great if the social site gave employees a way to indicate applicants who are friends of theirs too and then show the degrees of separation, etc., Like LinkedIn does.

This would give recruiters another way to get feedback on potential hires. My 2 cents says this is cool!

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

I love this and think it should have a halo effect on their brand and customer loyalty as well. Parent company Amazon might even adopt this for certain of its own job categories and it seems like a great fit for mainstream retailers like Target, Macy's, Sephora, etc.

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Martin Mehalchin, Partner, Lenati, LLC

Culture shmulture. I agree with Ralph Jacobson...that this approach should work for anyone. The only thing it misses is that you never really really know someone until you've worked with them for a long time. And some applicants are just better schmoozers or make better videos -- and thus better FIRST impressions. And, will you skip me because you will see, in the video, that I'm over 50, or may have a disability, etc. etc. etc.?

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

The best way to perpetuate mediocrity is to recruit mediocrity based on traditional methodology ... e.g. reviewing resumes.

If we know anything about today's retail, it is this: Omni-channel is the new normal! Today's consumers are looking for relationships and personalization. Recruiting needs to adapt to find the talent capable of networking and building relationships in an Omni-channel, socially connected world.

No, not all retailers can implement the Zappos model of using videos. But almost all can employ social media to engage with prospects AND see how they can connect and relate.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

I believe this should yield the best candidates through this kind of relationship mining.

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

LOVE it. I think it makes perfect sense for a company like Zappos that is very much in demand as a workplace, and where they can afford to be very selective. However, I doubt this approach will work as well at a company where the demand to join is not as high as it is at Zappos. At Zappos, we can see the possibility of prospective employees waiting for potentially years to get in. At other companies where the brand value, culture and desirability are not as strong, prospective employees will simply not put in as much effort. In summary, excellent idea, but limited applicability based on how desirable it is to work at your company.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

This approach has its merits if the primary goal is to create a pipeline of potential candidates. Like other forms of networking, a contact you make today may serve you 2, 3 or 4 years from now. Relationships tend to build with people who share common interests.

Then again, some of us know that business more than ever operates on urgency. Thinking retail, how many sales are lost because the checkout took too long, be it waiting in line or online?

And some of us who really like a company's products may feel so much elation and frustration that we get ideas for a new service or product. We know anyone could copy our great idea, so we must act quick. We could go to the community, hoping to get recognized. Or we change the quest to, "Get to know the Decision Makers, fast!"

Some people think that serious and fun can't coexist in business. Nonsense. Making money can be serious fun. You can enjoy discussions with a manager who wants to hear "Come on baby, light my sales on fire!"

What I don't understand in watching the video of the young applicant is this: how do all those creative aspects that you've presented (like the fire) expand my business of selling shoes? How do those help you close more orders? Give customer service that guarantee repeat business?

Moreover, some candidates who fall in love with a company only to be betrayed may take their great idea to competitors (e.g., Nine West, Naturalizer, Famous Footwear, etc.)

Some job hunters may be willing to wait. Others may say, "I love you and I can start immediately. But if you can't find value in me now, I must find someone who does. I need cash flow called salary."

Glenn Mandelkern, Product Manager / Hiring Manager, TP Communications Group

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