Finding and retaining qualified workers can be exceedingly difficult, particularly in industries such as auto retail, which doesn’t tend to attract outsiders.  Illustration by coffeebeanworks via Pixabay

Finding and retaining qualified workers can be exceedingly difficult, particularly in industries such as auto retail, which doesn’t tend to attract outsiders. Illustration by coffeebeanworks via Pixabay

Low unemployment is a positive economic indicator that helps drive vehicle sales. But it also creates a more competitive environment for employers. For auto dealers, that could mean paying more for less-qualified candidates and, ultimately, an inflated turnover rate.

To learn how you can find, attract and maintain a more productive, diverse and longer-tenured workforce, Auto Dealer Today spoke with Scott Brinkman, vice president of product for Hireology and a frequent collaborator with dealers from around the nation.

ADT: Scott, how did you get into the hiring game?

Scott Brinkman

Scott Brinkman

Brinkman: It’s a funny and only slightly sordid story. I spent the first part of my career building analytical platforms. I started at Google, where I built predictive revenue models, first for sales teams, then for startups. I moved into HR when I realized it offered a huge opportunity to use all the data we’ve collected. It ended up being a spot-on shift for me, and there’s so much opportunity to help small businesses build their best teams.

ADT: Do you believe auto dealers do any better or worse at hiring than business owners in other industries?

Brinkman: What’s interesting about auto dealers is that, like anyone in a franchise business — although dealerships just happen to be America’s most valuable franchises — you literally don’t control the products you’re selling. You can buy the exact same Toyota Camry from any number of places, and, at this point, the price is going to be almost exactly the same as well.

Your differentiator is the customer experience delivered by all the people in those large showrooms everyone is building. This is your one lever. And it’s a lever that hasn’t really been pulled as hard as it can be or should be.

ADT: What can a dealer do to improve their hiring process today?

Brinkman: Measure it. Treat it like it’s just another business process. Dealers are incredible operators. They have a process for nearly everything. Most dealers would agree that hiring is their one lever, and yet that’s the one thing there’s no process for. Just by defining and then measuring it, you will necessarily have better outcomes.

And I would suggest building a career site. There is a huge, rich population to hire from, but we know that less than 1.5% of job seekers would consider a dealership job. It’s a marketing problem. We’re not doing a good job indicating it’s a career choice.

I work with dealers every day, and they express a lot of skepticism about the career site. But it boils down to this: Your name is on the sign. You have an incredible story. If you tell that story on a career site, you will get better applicants. The highest percentage of quality applicants come to your career site.

ADT: Do job seekers find career sites on their own? It has been a long time since I looked for a job. I do remember seeing career sites, but I arrived at them by way of job-seeking websites.

Brinkman: You hit the nail on the head. It’s shifting, rapidly. Even in the last six months, the behavior you’re talking about has changed. There are two fundamental shifts behind it. The first is that the vast majority of applicants now start on Google. The second is the launch of Google Jobs.

Google Jobs allows you to search for a job in your area. They will push links to jobs based on what job-seekers are looking for below the fold. You will see Hireology-powered posts and other sources in those results as well. Search engine optimization is something dealers have been trying to conquer on the car-shopping side, and this battle is coming to the world of recruiting in automotive retail. Our sites are optimized, so Google ingests our inventory of jobs directly.

ADT: Dealers are known for finding talent among people they encounter in their daily lives. Do you encourage hiring from outside the industry, or is dealership experience more important?

Brinkman: That’s a great question and a pretty interesting existential question for your industry. We actually have a fair bit of data on that. Industry experience does correlate with performance, but not very tightly. Consumers are demanding changes and different skillsets, and those skillsets are not specific to automotive.

When we’re looking for good applicants, we spend the most time looking in adjacent verticals. A great recent example is a furniture salesman. He had worked at it for six years, doing pretty well. But he didn’t realize he could test-drive BMWs and make twice as much. We’re bringing applicants to the dealer’s career site and showing them the opportunity that’s in front of them.

ADT: You mentioned that very few applicants from outside the industry express interest in dealership work. Is that driven by a negative perception or lack of knowledge?

Brinkman: It’s a function of both. Yes, you do have a perception problem. The used-car salesman is a very real stereotype. We are surveying thousands of applicants, and we’re trying to solve both problems: Change their perception, create awareness, and create a larger pool of quality applicants and candidates.

ADT: How can dealers attract a more diverse workforce, in whatever sense you care to address?

Brinkman: It is a fundamental problem. The percentage of women, for example, who are working in automotive — particularly in positions of leadership — is a starkly low percentage. You solve that problem by being aware of it and making it a priority when you’re communicating with potential applicants, regardless of the channel.

Think about the photos on your website and your career site. Are you showing applicants and customers why they should want to work at your dealership? The diversity of your team should match the diversity of your customer base. And the more diverse a group of people are, in any dimension, you will get better decisions. It may take longer to make them, but you will make better decisions, because your biases will not align.

ADT: How can dealers reduce their turnover in an industry known for high turnover?

Brinkman: There’s no one simple answer, but the problems with turnover certainly are endemic. Every dealer has been bashed over the head with it. Many have become numb. They’ll say it’s the cost of doing business. I disagree. Eighty percent turnover is incredibly expensive and disruptive.

People tend to point at pay plans, but I think high turnover is primarily the result of two things: poor expectation-setting and a poor hiring process. A good process requires you to explain to applicants exactly what they’re going to be doing. When they show up, the reality matches their expectations, and you don’t have a turnover problem. If you don’t set expectations prior to application and all the way through the hiring process, of course you’re going to have a turnover problem.

ADT: What was the inspiration behind the new tools Hireology released in November?

Brinkman: We launched Applicant Engine, which allows us to find people we think will be great applicants for you before they land on your career site. The problem it solves was brought to us by our own customers. They were spending money to source applicants over one or two channels with no way to understand the ROI.

Applicant Engine is programmatic advertising for hiring. We’re going to find the best deal to deliver quality applicants for a job. You subscribe to a certain number, a monthly budget you want to invest as a business owner. You’re spending less than you were. We optimize the roles and test it. We’re going to 500 different sources, and we’re agnostic about where and what. We just want to find your best and most efficient deal.

The second big thing is managing campaigns daily. We know what happens after every application is submitted. We know if you or your team are not reviewing them or not reviewing them quickly enough. Did they set up an interview, get the background check, get hired? By reviewing the campaign on a monthly basis, we make it more transparent and hold everyone accountable.

Those are the problems we are trying to solve. We can’t invent more humans to work at your dealership. But we can invent new strategies to go find them.

ADT: It’s a seller’s market. Should dealers feel encouraged about their prospects for finding and keeping quality applicants in 2018?

Brinkman: Absolutely! Working at a dealership is an incredible career.