Seeking Talent: Toyota’s Challenge to Craft a ‘Candidate-First’ Experience

Before Toyota Financial Services announced its move to Plano, Texas, four years ago, the company averaged a respectably low 5% attrition rate with little turnover year over year. But when the move was initiated, suddenly there was a need to hire hundreds of new employees to replace those who opted to stay behind in southern California, the captive was forced to overhaul its hiring protocol.

“Because our historical attrition rate had been so low, we did not have the organizational readiness to address the volume, to address the changing expectation,” said Kim Cerda, the captive’s vice president of human resources, at the Auto Finance Risk & Compliance Summit last month. “We had managers who maybe worked 20 years and hired one person. So, this shift was significant.”

Back in California, the low turnover rate meant that TFS “never had to work very hard to attract the talent we needed,” Cerda said. But with the high concentration of financial services companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, TFS realized that it had to design a best-in-class experience for candidates.

TFS started by developing what it referred to as a “candidate-first experience,” which centered on the idea that the hiring process is the first impression people have about what the organization is like. To that end, the captive established a process rooted in the idea of treating job candidates the same way it treats customers.

“As people discover Toyota not as a car company, but as a place where they might want to work, what do we want that experience to be like?” Cerda said. “We looked at how we connected with people, how we touched every single candidate – what that first meeting was like, what that interview process was like, the offer process.”

The goal was to create a future Toyota customer – simply based on the hiring process – even if the candidate ultimately took a job elsewhere, she added.

Turning Hiring Managers Into Salespeople

As candidates filtered in, hiring managers noticed a shift in mindset from years past.

“When people come in to consider Toyota as a place to work, they’re asking questions not just about the job that they’re going to be doing, but they’re asking, ‘What are my opportunities? How are you going to invest in and develop me?’” she said.

This approach was an about-face from what Cerda experienced when she joined Toyota back in 1991. “It wasn’t even a thought in my universe to ask Toyota what it could do for me,” she said. “Everything about my preparation was telling the company why they should hire me. That has changed considerably.”

As such, TFS turned its job descriptions into job advertisements, making the language more informal to resonate with potential candidates. In some cases, particularly in technical areas, when TFS removed requirements noting a specific number of years of experience, the number of female applicants doubled or tripled.

“As you’re looking at jobs you’re having a tough time filling, rethink how you’re positioning the requirements,” Cerda said.

Along those lines, TFS revamped its career page, changing the look and feel, and removing long – and sometimes “boring” – descriptions, she said. The objective was to reflect the excitement the captive wants people to feel when they are considering Toyota as an employer.

To improve application flow, TFS created a platform that allowed candidates to use their mobile devices to engage with the company from the outset. The captive also streamlined its historically clunky interview process.

“One thing we heard consistently was that even the interview process was a reflection to candidates on how our company made decisions,” Cerda said. “They would say, ‘If it takes 10 people to make a decision to hire someone, what does that tell me about the level of empowerment I’m going to have when I join?’ That’s not a good selling point.”

Additionally, TFS condensed its offer letter to two pages from five. “We made it sound more like, ‘Welcome to the family,’” she said.

Finally, TFS worked to create a feeling of ownership for the hiring process among managers, developing a monetary incentive program for employee referrals.

“We got more talent, better talent,” she said. “It shifted the mindset of the people who work in our organization to understand that everyone is responsible for finding talent. It shifted the level of ownership.”

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