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Human Resources

A Sure Thing

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When it comes to positions posted on Craigslist, both the applicant and the hiring manager must be early birds to have any hope of catching the worm.

“Any good candidate with a good background is going to get snapped up,” says Paula Brannon, human resources director for Bi-Rite, which has two grocery stores and a creamery/bakery in San Francisco. “It’s hard to find good talent, especially in an industry that has high turnover.”

Craigslist has changed the way many businesses hire. With the free job board, there’s no longer a need to pay for a newspaper advertisement. But the result has been an overwhelming number of applications for each position. “Some come in formatted as PDFs, some as Word [documents]. Some have a cover letter attachment,” says Pablo Fuentes, CEO of Proven, developer of a mobile applicant tracking app for Craigslist. “It’s a difficult process.”

Meanwhile, candidates are struggling to stand out among the hundreds of applications sent in for any position. “Most applications to Craigslist jobs come in the first couple of days,” Fuentes says. “All things being equal, if you’re the fifth person to apply, you have much better chances of being seen than if you’re the 90th. … Sorting through all of those applications is not the most fun task in the world.”

That’s where the Proven smartphone app comes in. It allows job seekers to easily apply for positions from their phones and hiring managers to immediately make decisions on candidates and track their interactions.

“The managers in this industry are on the floor constantly,” Brannon says. “It’s tough to carve out time to do administrative work. With Proven, it’s right on the phone and managers can review applications while they’re just stepping off the floor. It makes it very convenient without having to come up into the office. It’s quick, and you want to get through the process quickly before good candidates get snapped up.”

Bi-Rite has a relatively low turnover rate of about 40 percent. Still, it finds value in matching the applicants with the skill sets required. “Part of getting the right person is getting the right skill set,” Brannon says. “When we do, we’re quick to move. The speed of getting through the applications has made a big difference.”

There’s an app for that
Bi-Rite is an “iconic institution in San Francisco,” Fuentes says. “They’re well-respected by customers and employees alike. People really want to work there.”

That creates something of a challenge when a job is posted and hundreds of applications flood in. With Proven, “You can pull up the apps by job instead of having to wade through 100 e-mails,” Brannon says. “It goes directly to the position … and the manager goes through it by department.”

Another helpful feature, Brannon says, is the ability to take notes on the app. That way, when applications are shared, another manager can understand what’s happening with that applicant, or the hiring manager can refresh her memory.

“It’s easy to take notes on whether you’ve talked to them, or whether you want to contact them,” Brannon says. “And you can use it as an applicant tracker to determine whether they’ve been screened.”

The Proven app also flags whether an applicant has applied for previous positions with the store, she says. “If we’ve spoken with a candidate and determined that it was not a good fit, it would be quite embarrassing to call them back for an interview.”

It works the opposite way, too. If a candidate was appealing but the position had been filled, Proven allows Bi-Rite to keep up with that person when another job opens. “It’s an easy way to reach back to them to see if they’re still looking,” she says.

Right on trend
Proven, which was created in 2009 while Fuentes was a graduate student at Stanford, was designed to take advantage of the shift to Internet-based job ads. Fuentes originally wanted to develop a way to help job seekers find and apply for jobs via text messaging. Out of that grew the current smartphone app.

The natural evolution has been the employer app, which Proven launched in August. The app is free to use for employers and job seekers alike. Fuentes foresees a day when Proven offers additional features for a fee, but he anticipates that the functions that are currently free will remain so.

Proven is on the leading edge of hiring practices, Fuentes believes. “Five years from now, it’s impossible to imagine a world where most job applications are not happening on mobile.” And Bi-Rite has been integral in putting Proven’s ideas to test in the field.

“They used the web product aggressively to hire and have been helpful in developing the mobile app,” Fuentes says. “You can have a great idea, but until you see people using it in the field, you don’t know exactly how well it will work. They have gone to great lengths to help us improve. It wouldn’t be what it is today without their input.”

Much has been made of the fact that the nation’s employment is increasingly more part-time and seasonal. But Fuentes sees the shifts over a much longer period of time. “Fifty years ago, people went to work for one employer and stayed there for 40 years, then retired,” he says. “The average time that we’re spending at a job has shortened.”

That creates a need for constant hiring, especially in seasonal and part-time jobs. Fuentes sees the positives in that trend. “Employees have more flexibility and fluidity,” he says. “Being a nation of part-time employees gives people more mobility and more ability to look for that next position. People are having more jobs and changing more often.”