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Why driver recruiting success doesn’t start with a help wanted ad

Recruiting and keeping drivers remains a difficult task for carriers, but several experts said that a strong social media approach improves both tasks. ( Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves )

A quote attributed to well-known trucking industry consultant Dan Baker is that the “best way to recruit drivers is to keep the ones you have.” Variations of that quote abound, but the concept remains true. The key remains getting those drivers in the first place. So how can companies attract drivers?

“Raise your driver pay and advertise that,” joked Chad Hendricks, president of advertising consultant Brand Outcomes, during a discussion panel on the topic at the Katz, Sapper & Miller 20th Annual Trucking Owners and Leaders Roundtable on February 5 in Indianapolis.

While Hendricks was joking, the joke epitomizes what so many trucking companies do when developing their help wanted ads. Hendricks said that when Brand Outcomes was exploring how well trucking companies were doing in creating job advertisements to attract candidates, he spent time looking for job ads.

“What I saw was that they all looked the same,” Hendricks said. “Trucking companies make it look like a commodity.”

Joining Hendricks on the panel was Max Farrell, CEO of WorkHound, and Chris Thomas, director of enterprise marketing for CRST International. The panel, “Driver Recruiting and Retention,” was moderated by Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of DriverReach, a truck driver lead generation company.

The panelists agreed that driver retention starts at the recruitment stage, but companies need to get that right. “Use your company’s mission statement to create [something different],” explained Hendricks.

Thomas said that CRST has worked to make potential candidates feel “part of a bigger family overall.”

“Steve Jobs used to say to think about Nike or Adidas and how often in their advertisements do they talk about how their sole is better than [competitors’],” he said. “They don’t. They talk about their values.”

Thomas advised the audience, made up of other trucking executives, to consider how they use social media in their recruiting. “When we create those [job] ads and push them out, we’re trying to drive interest,” he said. “But it is so much more impactful mixed with other content. Get your people to interact with drivers on social media.”

Hendricks also hit on social media, saying that there is so much data available that recruiters can use to better target their job postings. “Job boards can work in some areas but not in others,” he said, adding that companies also need to consider creating non-job ad content to populate social media, echoing Thomas’ advice.

“[Create content] that has some meaning on an ongoing basis and then work in a driver ad,” Hendricks said. The results of that job ad will be improved. He also said not to neglect social media even durings times when you are not hiring. “You may have less direct call-to-action ads during slow times, but you don’t want to shut off that flow because it takes a while to build it back up again,” Hendricks said.

Saying that the topic requires a four-hour panel and not a 45-minute panel, moderator Reymer quickly moved the conversation forward, shifting to driver referral programs, a favorite of many fleets.

“Most driver referral programs are lazy,” said Hendricks. “You offer a bonus and that is it; and then wonder why your referrals are down.”

Instead, “recruiters should actively reach out to drivers,” he advised. “You can drive referrals in by having those conversations.”

Thomas advised that referrals actually start with how your company is positioned publicly, and that includes whenever there is interaction with a company employee. “I think a good referral program starts with how people view the company,” Thomas said. “If you have a $500 or even a $1,000 referral bonus it doesn’t matter,” as the best referrals come from the value you create in the company and its people.

The panelists also advised the fleets in attendance to ensure the application process is mobile-friendly – over 70 percent of applications come from a mobile device, Thomas said – and that the applicant receives a quick response upon submission.

“If a driver applies during business hours and doesn’t hear back within five hours, the chances of hiring that driver drops 50 percent,” Thomas said. “Make sure there is an action for every application.”

Reymer suggested conducting a “recruiter sales conference,” saying that recruiters are no different than sales people and they need to be taught how to sell the company.

“Typically, a recruiter calls someone, or someone calls a recruiter, and they tell them to fill out an application,” Thomas said. “Is that what you expect from your sales team? No, you expect them to follow up and start closing that sale.”

That starts with asking good questions, Hendricks said, rather than just exchanging information like cost per mile. “Good conversations can also aid in retention,” he added.

Once the candidate becomes an employee, keeping them is paramount as this can reduce talent acquisition costs. Farrell’s WorkHound provides an anonymous feedback system for drivers so fleets can stay on top of driver issues. In WorkHound’s research, Farrell said it boils down to communication and ensuring driver, recruiter and company are all on the same page.

“Even post-hire, you are still selling them on the company because all they have to do is push one button and they will have 20 recruiters [making offers],” Farrell said.

To do that, the panelists advised explaining important decisions, including equipment purchase decisions, Farrell said. Drivers live in their trucks and want to feel a part of the process, he noted. Also properly explain pay and compensation, which ranks as one of the top concerns for drivers in WorkHound’s surveys, and ensure office staff treat drivers respectfully.

Fleets can spend more time interacting with drivers through social media, conference calls or town-hall style events, Farrell added. It’s all part of creating a “feedback loop” that involves listening and responding, he said.

“The feedback should be more consistent and more often. Most companies don’t do it enough,” said Hendricks.

None of this can solve driver recruiting and retention alone, but the panelists agreed that more needs to be done to attract good candidates, but that the process can’t end at hiring time.

“That is something that we have to consider as an industry,” Farrell said. “Our competition [for employees] is not just us, but other industries, too.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.