How Mobile Delivers Talent for UPS

It’s hard to imagine how finding job candidates would be difficult for a company that tracks packages around the world and knows how many times a day one of its drivers puts a truck in reverse, but that’s the challenge that United Parcel Service Inc. began facing five years ago as it struggled to fill thousands of positions during the holiday season.

The Atlanta-based package delivery company recruits about 75 percent of its annual hires between October and December, the period leading up to the busy holiday season. Traditional recruiting channels, such as online job boards and print classified ads, were not attracting enough candidates to fill the pipeline of workers needed to meet the increased workload.

So in 2009 UPS, with 395,000 employees globally, launched a mobile recruitment strategy. The company started by creating Facebook and Twitter pages to attract younger candidates, the target demographic of its peak-season workers. The following year it created, a mobile-friendly career website allowing candidates to search, apply and manage the interview process for jobs on their smartphone or other mobile devices.

The results have been dramatic. In 2009, UPS hired 19 candidates through mobile and social media. The following year, 995 hires came through such channels. And in 2013, just four years after the strategy’s launch, it hired a whopping 24,475 candidates through mobile recruiting. The company said the numbers continue to grow.
But the payoff of mobile recruiting for UPS hasn’t stopped with the number of hires. Thanks to the data collected on mobile devices and social platforms, the company has been able to glean more information on candidates, like knowing when and where they’re most likely to view and apply to postings.

The strategy has also helped recruit minority and low-income workers who don’t necessarily have easy access to traditional Internet but who are among the leading demographics of smartphone users in the U.S.   

“It’s a crazy space right now,” said Joe Essenfeld, founder and CEO of Jibe, a recruiting technology firm that is helping UPS with its mobile recruiting efforts. “The majority of traffic on job sites like are coming from mobile, and more companies are learning how to tap that potential.”

Go Mobile?

The shift to mobile recruiting hasn’t come easily. UPS is among a handful of companies like Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., PepsiCo, Raytheon Co. and Sodexo that have embraced the power of mobile technology in recent years to reach untapped talent pools. More than 9 million workers now hunt for jobs via mobile devices, up from about 2 million in 2012, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder study on mobile adoption trends.

And according to 2014 statistics from the Pew Research Center, the people who use the most smartphones are Hispanics (61 percent), followed by African-American (59 percent) and white people (53 percent). Meanwhile, just 20 percent of companies have a mobile-optimized career website, according to a 2013 LinkedIn survey of corporate recruiters.

When UPS began examining the idea of mobile and social recruiting in 2009, few recruiters thought of hiring people through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter as a viable strategy, according to Mike Vangel, vice president of talent acquisition strategy at recruitment advertising agency TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, which helped develop UPS’ mobile recruitment strategy.

“The jury was out on whether or not you could get a single hire from social media,” Vangel said. “The groupthink at the time was that people weren’t on social media channels to talk about work or employment. They’re there to talk about fun things.”

But as technology advanced and more people began using mobile devices, and the economy began to create more jobs following the recession, Vangel said companies soon began to realize they needed to be where job candidates were spending an increasing amount of their time.

“The notion of expecting the candidate to come to you may have worked well in a down economy,” Vangel said, “but it’s not a strategic approach to have when job growth is expanding dramatically and the labor pool is not.”

Compounding the shift, Vangel said, is the fact that traditional recruiting channels like job boards and print ads are falling by the wayside, a trend that started near the tail end of the recession and has continued to grow since. As a result, Vangel said companies that adapt and embrace mobile and social technologies in recruiting will have a competitive advantage.

“Finding a new source of hires at a time when traditional ones are in a state of decline is incredibly valuable to UPS, as it is for any company looking for ways to creatively do more with less,” he said.

The problem wasn’t unique to UPS. “At that time, it was a big deal because lots of companies were afraid of social media and the idea of transparency,” said Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition at Sodexo, a multinational food-services company. “Originally, this was a generational recruitment strategy. We wanted to be where the college students were. We also felt that we could build a talent community targeted toward our various job roles.”

In 2012, Sodexo launched its mobile career app after noticing an increase in candidates who were searching the company’s career website on their phones. After one year, 10,870 app users applied; the following year that number doubled.

“We realized that we were potentially losing quality candidates,” Ball said. “And when mobile users did come to our site, they weren’t having a good experience. That’s when we developed a mobile strategy.”

The Info Advantage

For UPS, the appeal of social media and mobile technology isn’t only in its ability to attract candidates. It’s also to track where they are coming from.

A decade ago the only way to get candidate location information was to have recruiters ask where they heard about the job, a method that was mostly unreliable, said Matt Lavery, director of talent acquisition at UPS. Through social platforms, links that allow recruiters to see where job seekers are finding opportunities and to determine when they are clicking can inform recruiters on which channel is most effective in finding candidates for certain locations. It can also help identify the best time of year to post certain jobs.

For example, “certain job postings work better in the spring rather than fall,” Lavery said. “In some cases, you want to put a posting out there on a Friday. We know when our audience is consuming our data, so we send out messages during prime times, like Tuesday afternoon for Facebook.”

UPS first thought of mobile recruiting as a way to attract talent to its professional ranks, like information technology, sales and finance. While there was an uptick in professional hires, Lavery said the company found the most success with its seasonal and part-time needs, particularly around the holidays.

Recruiters at UPS first noticed this trend’s potential to track job candidates when a job board at a Pittsburgh package distribution center was drawing a large number of candidates to the early-evening shift. Lavery said this indicated that there may be more students — typically a prime demographic for part-time, seasonal jobs at the company — who only wanted day shifts applying. “So in that case we may buy more Facebook and Twitter sponsored postings,” he said.

In addition to promoting jobs through social media, the company uses various search engine optimization methods like “indexing keywords on the page or possibly changing content,” Lavery said.

“By investing in promoting the jobs through basic posts through our social media channels, we also help our SEO results, so that is effort and time,” he said. “In this instance, we decided on a paid social media campaign, but in other cases we have improved SEO with time and effort.”

In addition to helping UPS track where candidates are coming from, mobile recruiting is helping the company find workers most likely to be interested in its seasonal jobs as package handlers and delivery drivers. Though it wasn’t apparent at first given the company’s initial focus on attracting office talent, Vangel said the implementation team soon realized that many of the candidates for part-time jobs at UPS couldn’t afford Internet at home, leaving them with limited options when applying for jobs.

“That’s when it hit us that it’s more convenient to apply through a handheld device, because so many candidates for those jobs couldn’t afford Internet at home,” Vangel said. “They would have to go to a public library to apply for a job. For those folks without a data plan, we did print ads with a text message call to action. When they texted, they got a link to go directly to a mobile-friendly site.”

Recruiters then were able to identify job seekers who had a data plan and those who didn’t, Vangel said. The latter group would get an automatic reply from UPS asking for their email address so they could receive more information.

“For UPS, using a mobile platform makes it easier for people from low and moderate income levels to get hired,” Vangel said. “They don’t have Xfinity at home, but they probably have a phone with a data plan. Mobile isn’t just a cool thing to do; it was an inclusive thing to do.”

Mobile recruiting is helping UPS diversify its workforce, although at 1 to 2 percent, the increase in minority hires has been modest. Having an enhanced view of where and when candidates look at social and mobile postings has also helped UPS spend its recruitment advertising dollars more wisely.

“Before it was very difficult to track which ads were successful,” Lavery said, referring to the time when recruiting was done primarily through print, radio, television and job boards. “We were trying to make significant cost decisions with very little insight or knowledge.”

Social media has also helped UPS develop a cohesive recruiting brand. Back when print ads ruled, it wasn’t uncommon to find several different descriptions of the same job, Lavery said, in part because each region had its own recruiting budget and plan.

“People would say, ‘I don’t want this job; I want the job in this ad,” he said. “It was scary how many different messages were relayed about the same jobs. You don’t look very smart when you’re putting out mixed messages. Now it’s one voice and one brand.”

The shift to social media recruiting has saved UPS a significant amount in advertising costs.

A decade ago, Lavery said the advertising cost per hire ranged from $500 to $1,500. Today, that cost is less than $27. Lavery estimates that it would have cost UPS about $2 million to hire the 24,475 employees hired last year using print ads, job boards and other traditional channels.

And to generate more applicants, UPS started hosting a raffle four years ago that gives users a chance to win prizes like gift cards from Internet retailer Zappos and up to $2,000 if they refer a candidate to Lavery said the effort has helped UPS increase its Facebook following significantly.

Going Global

Despite UPS’ success with mobile recruiting, experts say the method isn’t necessarily a strategy that would work for every job or company.

“Companies have to assume that some folks don’t access the Internet through their phones, like older workers and those at higher levels, like CEOs, who aren’t spending a lot of time surfing the Web on their phones,” said Gerry Crispin, co-founder of corporate recruiting firm CareerXroads. The same goes for people with visual and hearing disabilities. “So you need to have alternatives.”

So far, UPS’ use has fit its hiring needs. The company has increased its investment in social and mobile recruitment each year, from $30,000 in the program’s first year in 2009 to $390,000 in 2012. The company says social and mobile now account for more than 20 percent of what it terms its “trackable” hires — meaning it can identify exactly where they came from. The company estimates that 15 to 25 percent of additional candidates responding to social postings applied through the traditional website and therefore went unaccounted for.

“We went from a world of blind feel to a world of actual information that allowed us to move our dollars to where they would be most effective,” Lavery said.

Additionally, Lavery said UPS hopes to replicate the success of its social and mobile recruiting strategy overseas, though there are some legal and technological barriers. UPS delivers to more than 200 countries and territories and has 77,000 employees outside the U.S. Lavery said mobile recruitment on a global level is still in an infancy stage, but he sees great potential in the prospects — especially in emerging countries where mobile technology has largely bypassed traditional computer and Internet use.

“In India and Africa, people don’t have PCs, but they have handheld devices, he said.”

Mobile adoption rates in Turkey, Chile and Russia mirror that of the U.S., according to a recent Pew Center study on technology in emerging nations. Meanwhile, social media rates in Turkey, Russia and Egypt, where 88 percent of the population uses social media, are higher than in the U.S., which has 73 percent usage rate, the study showed.

Vangel has little doubt that UPS will successfully export its social media and mobile strategy overseas.

“Innovation is part of UPS’ core DNA, even though it’s 170 years young,” he said. “When people think of UPS, they think of the brown van, but not about the technology that allows millions of packages to be delivered around the world.”

Perhaps with a mobile recruitment strategy that’s poised to go global, that perception will begin to change.