How to Hire 5,000 people…in a Day

Walmart just hired 235,000 people in six weeks. How other firms can hire many people quickly when the pandemic ends.

The job statistics have been dire. From mid-March through April, thousands of organizations laid off millions of American workers. But lost in that grim news was a jaw-dropping—and positive—statistic. One single company, Walmart, hired 235,000 people itself, an average of more than 5,000 people a day, to meet its dramatic demand for its good.

Not every firm will need to hire the near equivalent of the Buffalo, NY’s population in six weeks, or indeed, ever. In Walmart case, the firm needed to rapidly fill in for those sick or staying home from the virus and new recruits for warehouses, distribution centers and stores. But experts say there’s an important lesson here: at some point, the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic will fade, and many companies may need to fill many jobs fast. To do that successfully, they say, will take a lot more than just hanging out a bunch of ‘Help Wanted’ signs.

Indeed, even traditional methods of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), the name of the practice of hiring many people at once, may not be enough to get the talent firms need as the economy revives. “The changes that Walmart were forced to put into place will become the standard,” says Christian Hasenoehrl, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global account leader.

To be sure, experts warn that single industries may well find themselves all trying to restaff at the same time, as lockdown restrictions lift. The savvy companies will need to know and define far advance their job needs--which jobs and how many of them must be  created, eliminated, elevated, reshaped, or replaced with technology. And companies should assume that “the coronavirus pandemic won’t be the last massive disruption they will encounter,” says Melissa Swift, leader of digital advisory for North America and global accounts for Korn Ferry.

To avoid hiring people for wrong hires—a common issue in large scale hiring—many firms will need to put special resources toward defining roles. “Having the defined roles is the foundation you have anything on,” says Juliana Barela, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s Recruitment Process Outsourcing business. “Without that, the building does crumble.”

But by far the biggest change on the hiring landscape will likely be speed. Before the pandemic, Walmart took about 2-weeks to get drug tests and background checks on applicants before offering them a job. Walmart cut that down to 24-hours, willing to address any issues after making the job offer. “That’s unprecedented for Walmart,” Hasenoehrl says. From there, the time from the offer to getting new recruits working was reduced from days and weeks to hours and days, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon said during the company’s quarterly earnings call recently.

An influx of technological tools can help locate and screen applicants faster, Barela says. An artificial-intelligence powered chat program can quickly determine whether a candidate meets minimum requirements, while another program can have applicants answer a series of other recorded questions to determine what skills and traits a candidate has. The whole process may only require 30 minutes.

In the age of rapid hiring, companies may be extending offers almost immediately, without a hiring manager ever having to meet the candidate. That won’t work for every company or every role, Barela says, but it’s a step  that some chief human resources officers have adopted to free up time for an organization’s managers. “It’s a strategy that says to hiring managers, ‘Your timing is more valuable elsewhere. ‘You should be onboarding and training these people,” Barela says.

Indeed, the onboarding process will likely change and speed up too, experts say, including everything from early tax form preparation to medical exam to preparing executives for tasks on day one. “If a candidate isn’t sure what’s going to happen, they may not show up on Day One,” Barela says.