Contact Center Hiring: It All Starts with the Ad

Want to attract the best possible candidates for your contact center openings? Start by tweaking the wording of that “help wanted” ad you’ve been posting in the local papers or online.

By making it clear to applicants what the job responsibilities are, and what specific skill sets are required, you can reduce the amount of prescreening and get qualified candidates to the interview stage faster.

Describing the job

The starting point in any successful contact center hiring campaign is an accurate and complete description of the position. The description you put in your ad should include all the important tasks, including activities and decisions, as well as any special conditions or constraints under which the tasks occur.

Primary sources of information about a job can come from the position’s supervisor, the individual currently occupying the position, and personnel in similar positions. Other potentially helpful sources of information are the customers who the position serves.

The first step in preparing a job description is to express the major tasks of the job as explicit, specific, measurable statements of desired job performance. These performance objectives ensure that the supervisor of the position, the candidates for the position, and others involved in the selection process all have the same understanding of what the desired job performance entails.

For example, let’s say the job description for a front-line agent reveals these two items:

–Makes quality reservations via the phone
–Handles customers’ questions and complaints

From these two lines, the applicant can derive several task requirements, including:

–Discusses appropriate product with customer
–Enters correct customer data
–Handles irate customers

Identifying knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs)

Once you identify the major tasks of a job, you can determine the skills, knowledge, and other characteristics (such as personal attributes) needed to perform those functions successfully.

A common mistake is attempting to specify skills, knowledge, and other selection criteria without basing them on tasks. The development of a selection process must be a top-down approach. You should derive KSAs from the tasks that are included in the job description.

Some attributes, such as flexibility or integrity, may be difficult to identify and express. You will need to ask your supervisors or agents probing questions and read between the lines in order to get a complete picture of these less tangible requisites.

Nevertheless, identifying these other characteristics is of crucial importance. These traits are often what will determine whether a candidate will be a good fit in the long run.

If we were to brainstorm the KSAs for our previous example, we might list:

–Knowledge = product knowledge (to discuss the appropriate product with customer)
–Skill = keyboard skills (to enter correct customer data)
–Attribute = stress tolerance (to handle irate customers)

Deciding on selection criteria

After you have specified all the knowledge, skills and attributes desired in an ideal performer, reality intrudes: No one person is likely to meet all the criteria identified. The next step is to decide which criteria are essential for entry into the job.

There are several paths you can take. You might simply label each criterion as either essential or nonessential. You might group criteria into categories of high, medium, and low priority.

You might also try a more sophisticated system of assigning numerical weights to the criteria according to their relative importance. You can obtain information on what weight to assign to each criterion from the position’s supervisor, from competent performers in the position, and from experts.

Remember that there is a difference between listing all the skills needed to do the job and the skills a candidate must possess in order to enter the position. You will have to distinguish KSAs that can be readily acquired from those that take time and training.

Some skills—responding to a customer’s dilemma with empathy, for example—are learned on-the-job or through short-term activities. Others, such as accents or proper grammar, may require extensive training and close supervision. So basic skills and knowledge must be considered high-priority selection criteria.

Here are some the more important skills and attributes that should — when appropriate — be imparted through your job description:

–Sales responsibility: The extent to which applicants feel responsible for and in control of their sales performance and advancement potential.
–Productivity: The capacity to plan, organize and complete projects on time.
–Stress tolerance: The ability to handle emotionally charged situations and to resist burnout in demanding work.
–Job stability: Valuing long-term rewards over short-term payoffs, commitment to an employer.
–Communication: Desire and ability to communicate effectively.
–Customer service orientation: The desire to WOW customers.
–Interpersonal orientation: Investment in social interaction and desire to be with other people.
–Applied verbal reasoning: The applicant’s verbal reasoning ability in the context of a work environment.
–Basic key skills (often referred to as soft skills): Those skills identified on the call observation form such as assessment and problem solving, listening, speaking, courtesy, etc.
–Professional attributes: Attendance, drug free, felony free, etc.

Next week we’ll discuss the best way to recruit based on the KSAs you’ve identified.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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