The Internet coupon business is a tough one to thrive in. Local merchants are constantly looking for better deals and new competitors pop up every day. So the Washington, D.C.-based daily deals site LivingSocial puts a premium on hiring and retaining the best talent to make those merchant deals happen.
LivingSocial hires about 15 sales people each week to fill new positions and make-up for turnover. Potential candidates are put through seven rounds of interviews before they are offered a job, said Jennifer Trzepacz, the company's head of human resources.
LivingSocial employs about 5,000 people, up from 2,500 in June 2011 and 600 in January 2011. Half work in sales throughout the U.S. and in more than other 20 countries, Trzepacz said. LivingSocial interviews about 500 potential sales candidates a week. The best 30 are flown to D.C. for one of LivingSocial's "super sessions," where the company's recruiters, hiring managers and HR team put each candidate's skills to the test.
Only those who work well under pressure and thrive in the face of constant change are likely to make it, Trzepacz said. The reward: competitive pay, extensive benefits, and the chance to work overseas or in one of the world's coolest offices in the U.S., according to Inc. magazine.
Damian Ghigliotty: How many resumes do you receive a week and how do you filter through them?
Jennifer Trzepacz: Our recruiting team receives about 5,000 resumes a week and goes through them all. About 10% of those resumes lead to phone and Skype interviews with our recruiting team. We'll do phone interviews if a candidate doesn't have Skype, but that can potentially be an indicator in itself. We'll go through three rounds of those interviews, two with our recruiters and one with our hiring managers, before we fly someone in to meet face to face.
DG: What's the best way to make it into the second round after submitting a resume? What makes one resume more appealing than the next?
JT: For our outside sales jobs we look for people with prior experience in the field, ideally media and advertising sales, and people with the kind of sales experience that involves marketing and business solutions.
For our entry-level positions, which are mostly inside sales jobs, we look for recent college graduates, preferably candidates with entrepreneurial spirit. What their degrees are in doesn't matter as much as their talent and values.
DG: What are some employer brands that stand out on a resume?
JT: We source job candidates from all over the country, so the range of companies that we consider attractive brands is pretty diverse. We generally look for people coming from Internet media and technology companies such as Yahoo and AOL, as well as sites like Citysearch and Yellowpages.com, to name a few. We also look at people coming from smaller companies that sell to small business owners.
What we look for most of all though is a person's talent attributes and attitude. That is where we spend the most amount of time -- finding out whether or not someone is the right fit for LivingSocial rather than what brands on are on their resumes. That is what we focus on during our Skype and phone interviews.
DG: How do LivingSocial's super sessions work?
JT: We fly our top candidates into Washington D.C. so they can experience LivingSocial's workplace culture firsthand and go through a full-day's interviewing process, which includes four interviews and a short technology test to gauge their comfort navigating the web, using customer relationship management systems and researching merchants.
When the candidates get here they meet with some of our hiring managers and go through a mock business transaction where they have to sell a deal and then present a territory plan to our sales managers. The second two interviews focus less on what they do and more on how they go about doing things, such as problem solving, working with colleagues and using technology to research a potential client base.
At the end of the day, our internal super session team comes together and we deliberate around all 30 candidates. From there we typically hire about 50% of them.
DG: Which candidates usually work out?
JT: The candidates that usually work out are the ones who come very prepared with their sales plan and are very thoughtful in their research. They also know how to quickly adapt to new circumstances and are able to handle any of the mock business scenarios we present. They understand that their primary job is to provide solutions to the customer. As far as personality goes, we look for people have a strong passion for the business and also for winning, people who are both agile and resilient, people who can work well in teams and people who are willing to do things that sometimes may make them feel uncomfortable.
DG: What kind of uncomfortable?
JT: Uncomfortable meaning that your reaction might at first be, "Wow, I've never done this before, I'm not sure I know how to do it." We are constantly trying out new approaches to selling. That means you might feel awkward about it, but you are growing and learning from it. When people say, "Hey, I'm kind of nervous about this," our reaction is good, you should be a little nervous. We like to know that people are stretching themselves.
DG: Any examples where people have completely flopped during one of your super sessions?
JT: We have that happen every time, unfortunately. We notice that people more often succeed in showing us their selling capabilities and business smarts, but typically flop when it comes to aligning with how we operate as a company, which is more about doing what we need to solve customer issues rather than giving our employees concrete roles and title descriptions. In other cases, people don't fit with our culture because they are more concerned with the amount of hours that they work rather than showing us that they're hungry to help grow the company.
We also occasionally get people who are completely unprepared and come with the wrong attitude. The way candidates interact with our travel team is a big indicator of what to expect when they get here, so we have started to ask our travel team how the coordination went. The candidates who are really high maintenance when it comes to travel arrangements typically prove to be the wrong fit for us.
DG: What happens to the sales people that you've hired that fail to keep up as LivingSocial evolves?
JT: That does happen, especially as we fine-tune and optimize our market. We might get two new products and need our sales people to get up and running on those product lines right away. Or we might introduce a new territory coverage model that requires our sales people to expand their areas. We try to help and coach our sales people who struggle to adapt throughout that constant change in order to make them more successful at their jobs. In the cases where one of our sales people simply lacks the resilience to get through it, that person either opts to move on or we opt to move on. Sales is a job where results are pretty tangible, and you are either making it or you are not.
DG: Is there a performance review process at LivingSocial?
JT: There sure is. We regularly provide coaching feedback. In addition to looking at the hard numbers that come through our selling dashboard, our managers are required to go through coaching checklists to ensure that it's not just what our sales people are doing, but also how they are going about it. We also make sure that our employees are engaged in their work and that their relationships with our merchants are continuing to evolve.
For those who are struggling to keep up, most performance reviews usually last between 30 and 90 days, depending on the situation.
DG: What marks your top sellers?
JT: We did a recent exercise where we talked to 50 of our top sellers to find out what makes them tick, what their experiences have been and what industries they came from. What it boiled down was their organizational and communication skills and their ability to stay resilient in the face of change. Interestingly, we found that a lot of our top sellers came from sports -- who are athletic in nature and who are competitive.
DG: How are LivingSocial's sales people compensated?
JT: Our overall compensation is competitive with market rates, split about 50/50 between salary and commission. Our benefit packages are fairly attractive, but they range depending what country you are based in and what that country offers. For those in the U.S., we pay for medical plans as well as vision and dental. We offer a 401k plan with company matching and stock options. We give a commuter stipend of $1,200 a year that goes towards parking or public transportation. In the U.S. specifically, we also offer daily opportunities that range from yoga sessions to massage therapy treatments to on-site tax advice.
DG: Is there anything else the company does to retain talent?
JT: For sales people, it's all about making sure they make money. That's what retains talent. We recently started using this social performance management system called Rypple, which allows our sales people to earn badges and get additional financial incentives. In that way we make it fun and give it a gaming element with real rewards.
Write to Damian.Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com