Four Tips for Holiday Hiring in the Warehouse

Oct 08, 2011 12:09 AM  By

Staffing the warehouse for the fourth quarter rush isn’t easy to get right. But there are a few tricks that can help make the hiring process run smoother.

First, have a clear picture of exactly what you need, and know where to look for temporary workers. You’ll also want to ensure the interview process identifies the best candidates, and you should be ready to implement a quick and thorough training process.

Keep in mind that it is much easier to overhire early on and cut back unneeded hours than it is to find additional manpower on short notice.But the first step is determining what you need–how many hours and when.

To hire the correct amount of order pickers, packers, and shippers, you need to know the product demand/sales forecast and the number of orders your warehouse can ship per labor hour. Using these metrics, you can determine how many people you need to get all the orders out the door on time. (See Two Tips for Staffing the Warehouse for the Holidays for more.)

Once you know your holiday labor needs, how do you find and hire the right workers? Here are four tips.

1. Create the right job posting.
A good job posting makes it clear that this is a temporary position. Many candidates will accept a part time job in hopes of it growing into a full time promotion.

But if you know there is no possibility of the role lasting permanently, don’t give candidates false hope. If you do, they will end up disappointed, frustrated, and angry at their job in the future.

And the job post should spell out key facts about the warehouse and job requirements, such as: Applicants must be able to walk for eight hours, lift up to 75 lbs., work in an environment with no air conditioning and limited heat, and so on.

2. Look in the right places for applicants.
Where do you find good applicants on short notice? If you can, try to rehire past seasonal employees. Among the many benefits to this, their training time will be shorter and they will presumably make fewer mistakes than new hires.

You should also check with existing part-time employees. Many warehouse employees are purposely hired in as part-time. That means they likely have additional availability when you need it. This is a great opportunity during peak. It’s much quicker to get an additional 10 hours/week out of four employees than hire one full-timer.

Employee referrals are another good source of holiday help. Many companies are leery of employee referrals, but I’ve had good success with them. Generally, your existing employees don’t want to disappoint you by recommending a bad candidate. I’ve noticed the better the employee, the better their referrals. This is likely because your star employees have high standards and only recommend the best.

Consider college students. It’s cheap and easy to post job openings on local college’s websites (don’t bother with Monster.com). Students have the availability because they are not in class during this time. And they only want a temporary gig that ends before classes resume.

High-school students can also make good workers during the busy season, since they have most of the benefits of college students. Just keep in mind that this might be the high schooler’s first job, so there may be additional training required.

3. Don’t skimp on theinterview process. Interviewing for the order pickers, packers and shippers can be challenging. There isn’t a degree or certification that informs you that the applicant is technically qualified.

In fact, most people do have the technical qualifications, but understanding the applicant’s personality and desire for physically demanding work isn’t so easy. There are a few things we you can do so the applicant understands life in the warehouse. I recommend amultistep interview process.

Of all the applications I receive, I will email 20% to 40% of them a questionnaire.
This email reiterates the job duties and asks a few questions to gauge their interest and scheduling availability. I then do a quick, five-minute phone interview with the good email responses.

This is to explain again the position (that it’s part-time, physical, etc). Then we bring in the best candidates for an in-person interview. And great candidates will be brought in for a second in-person meeting.

Take these candidates on a tour of the warehouse. Have them watch each major task—receiving, picking, packing, and shipping. This should illustrate how physically demanding the job can be.

The multistep process ensures two things: 1) That the applicant really understands the job. Through all this communication, you’ve reiterated every aspect of the job and the applicant has plenty of time to ask lots of questions. 2) That the applicant really wants the job—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t proceed with each step of the process.

4. Create an expeditious training program. Unless you are hiring weeks or months before the rush begins, these employees will be starting in the thick of it. So there isn’t time to spare or available to waste on inefficient training.

You should have an orientation program that explains the company’s value proposition and how their position fits into the company. Since most orders are placed online these days, the picker is often the only employee who directly ”touches”’ the order.

And if they mispick the order, we’ve failed as a company. That’s a lot of responsibility. We make sure the warehouse understands how vital they are to our success.

As part of the orientation, start them picking on day one, with easy/one line orders. Have a supervisor check each before sending it to the packer. Hopefully the screening you’ve done and training you’ve provided has resulted in a good fit.

But if things don’t seem to be working out with a holiday hire, fire fast. You can tell who is going to do well in the warehouse and who isn’t within a week.

Cut your losses quickly. You don’t have time to waste on wishful thinking that the new hire will improve.

Ian MacDonald (Ian.Andrew.MacDonald@Gmail.com) is division vice president, ecommerce & marketing at PartySuppliesDelivered.com (a division of US-Mattress.com).