Canada’s unemployment rate has fallen to an all-time low of 5.2%. This shortage has created a highly competitive job market that makes it harder to hire the skilled customer service representatives employers need.

I sat down with AnswerPlus’ in-house recruiter, Brandy Blunden, to learn how small and medium businesses can stay ahead of their hiring needs. 

She shares 9 strategies that will help you save time finding great talent and remain competitive in the current labour market:

1. Leverage local resources

If you want to hire top talent, you need to make it easy for candidates to find you. A multi-channel approach is crucial for increasing visibility.

Partnering with a local non-profit employment service can connect you to more qualified candidates and shorten your time to hire. Many non-profit employment services offer: 

  • Free job postings 
  • Free virtual and in-person job fairs 
  • Pre-screening of candidates based on your requirements
  • No-cost human resources support
  • on-boarding and training assistance 
  • Wage subsidy 

Brandy recommends looking at the unique skill development programs that employment services offer. She says our partners run call centre courses which are specifically designed to bridge the skill gap because “candidates have technical knowledge right away that we can mould to our expectations and our clients’ expectations”.

2. Streamline with screening questions

    Evaluating top talent can be time-consuming. Screening questions provide the opportunity to convey important information early on that will affect the candidate’s ability to move forward in the hiring process. 

    This is where your non-negotiables go: 

    • your start date
    • availability
    • compensation
    • technical requirements

    Screening questions don’t just save time, they keep the hiring process objective. “I don’t look at the resume first, I look at the screening questions”, says Brandy, ”I don’t want to fall in love with a candidate’s resume and then learn they don’t align with what we’re looking for”.

    Get a verbal, emphatic YES to screening questions

    Brandy also asks the screening questions again in the initial interview. She says this helps her confirm candidates are there for the right reasons: “I want to hear the answer to every screening question at the start of the interview. Is there hesitation? Because if a candidate hesitates they may have just said yes, yes, yes, to move forward in the process.”

    3. Proactively build talent pools

    When you do find top talent, building talent pools allow you to do more with fewer candidates down the line. 

    “If a candidate does not meet the screening questions for the job posting but has a great experience/resume”, explains Brandy, “I ask myself, ‘Can I think of them for a different department or a different position?’”

    If you are segmenting talent pools across departments or roles, ensure you have clearly defined parameters such as: 

    • Location
    • Availability 
    • Experience 
    • Language (e.g., English-speaking, French-speaking, bilingual)

    You can also segment talent pools by candidate acquisition channels: 

    • employee referrals
    • contract employees
    • Boomerang candidates (previously worked there, still in touch with some of your current employees, and have indicated they’d be open to a return if possible)
    • Internal candidates suited for more responsibility or a different role/department 
    • Previous applicants who weren’t a fit due to location/availability, etc.

    4. Use an ATS to differentiate active vs. passive candidates

    One of the biggest barriers to hiring top talent is losing precious time on candidates who are ‘just shopping around’ instead of actively looking for a job. 

    “It’s hard to tell right off the bat,” says Brandy, “but our (ATS) system will tell me how many times a candidate applied, whether there were interviews, and if not, why?”

    The investment you make in Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software ensures both you and the candidate will have a great hiring experience. ATS specs will differ depending on the vendor, but at the bare minimum you should look for a solution that: 

    • Tracks email engagement (i.e., when an email has been delivered or opened)
    • Tracks how many times a candidate has applied for a job in your system 
    • Tracks where a candidate is at in the hiring process (i.e., interviewed, offered, etc).

    Using these features, Brandy can avoid slow response times and poor engagement around interview schedules. “If a candidate meets the screening questions and I like their resume, the next step is to see if they have read my email. If they have read it, they’re likely a genuine candidate that is staying on top of communication”. 

    5. Contextualize short tenures & resume gaps

    Amidst the ‘Great Resignation’, context matters. When you see large gaps in employment or short tenures, don’t immediately assume that the candidate is a job-hopper. Instead, approach these ‘red flags’ with curiosity rather than judgment.

    There can be various reasons for large gaps, such as maternity leave, illness, or recently, circumstances associated with the pandemic. Short tenures are sometimes the result of multiple contracts. Contract work can be a useful form of experience, and Brandy says she’s seen an increase recently due to Canadians gaining call centre experience working in vaccine clinics.

    Regardless, Brandy says it’s always better to ask, because “if a resume has good structure behind it, it’s worth the effort to reach out to them and find out what happened”.

    Instead of focusing on job-hopping, Brandy recommends looking for industry hopping. 

    “If I see someone hopping between different environments with short tenures in retail, office, restaurant, and then back to retail, that may be an indicator the candidate is not clear on the kind of environment they enjoy working in”.

    6. Overcome competitive recruiting scenarios with a strong EVP

    Understanding the work environment candidates are coming from can also help you overcome competitive recruiting scenarios. A tight labour market is notorious for pushing wages upward, but you cannot compete solely on compensation.

    “Common reasons candidates have left their previous job include management, rate of pay, turnover, scheduling, type of calls…” says Brandy, “So hearing out why they kept moving can help you highlight the winning aspects of your organization that will resonate most with a candidate.”

    Be prepared to highlight the non-monetary benefits of your company with a strong employee value proposition (EVP). Your EVP should answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” It’s the sum of the unique benefits and perks your employees receive in exchange for the skills, experience and value they bring to your organization.

    7. Check-in with new hires & gather feedback

    If your EVP includes support, checking in with new hires enables you to empower them. 

    Brandy has established touch points to check in with new hires and gather feedback across their first 90 days. 

    “I tell my daughter all the time, you are your own best advocate.” Says Brandy. “And I tell people the same thing before they go into training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek clarity, because chances are you’re not the only one with that question.”

    Conversely, check-ins are also an opportunity to advocate for new hires. Brandy explains, “I’ve built a relationship with them at this point which means they’re more transparent with me compared to someone they’ve just met.”

    8. Focus on potential, not perfection

    As a final note, don’t forget to evaluate your own expectations. 

     “It’s not too often you’re going to find the ‘perfect candidate’”, explains Brandy, “and when you do they’re often the ones ‘shopping around’ because they have interested recruiters”, Instead, she recommends “finding the best talent that has the potential to become the perfect candidate.” 

    No idea what type of potential you’re looking for? Start by taking stock of the top talent you already have and the skills and experience that helped them succeed.

    9. Know when to outsource your customer service needs

    A smart alternative to hiring top talent yourself is using a virtual reception service instead. Outsourcing your customer service allows you to worry less about the day-to-day operational responsibilities of an in-house team, while still having access to a knowledgeable, friendly and highly-responsive customer service team.

    Here are some signs that it might be time to outsource your customer service: 

    • You need to save money and resources 
    • You don’t have time to hire, onboard, and train employees 
    • You need scalable support 
    • You need bilingual or multi-lingual customer support
    • You need access to better technology 
    • Your customer service requires niche or industry-specific knowledge 
    • You need to provide longer services hours 
    • You have a temporary or high-volume recruitment project

    At AnswerPlus we hire, train and retain the best customer service talent across Canada. Our 400+ Canadian-based customer service reps are ready to answer questions, capture leads, and create positive customer interactions during regular business hours, after hours, or 24/7, 365.

    On-demand access to award-winning customer service.

    If your business is looking for people-powered, professional customer service that doesn’t interrupt the flow of your company operations, we’ve got you covered.