Home Depot says it has an edge in the battle for hourly workers in a tight labor market: making applying and scheduling an interview really easy, with only a smartphone.
The world's largest home-improvement retailer always faces a human resources dilemma this time of year -- when it brings on thousands of temporary workers for its busy spring selling season -- but the current environment is especially tough. Home Depot is looking to fill more than 80,000 positions, the same amount as last year.
The company has learned that a lengthy application can limit the number of potential candidates. Last year, it made starting the process as easy as sending a text. A mobile website then finds openings based on the user's location.
Home Depot also reduced the amount of information asked. In all, applying was cut to 15 minutes, from about an hour, and applications surged 50 percent. Now, this spring, people can complete pre-screening and choose an interview time through Home Depot's mobile website. A digital map even shows them how to get the interview.
"Most Americans today have an expectation that they can seamlessly do something on their mobile device really quickly, no matter what it is," said Eric Schelling, Home Depot's senior director of talent acquisition. And now they go through the application process "themselves, without dialing a 1-800 number or returning a phone call."
The company's strategy comes as the U.S. unemployment rate held at a near 17-year low of 4.1 percent in January. That's caused worker shortages across industries, putting pressure on wages and forcing companies to start increasing benefits. Corporate tax cuts, championed by President Donald Trump, have also given firms more money to spend on labor.
Schelling has been involved in seven previous spring hiring seasons for Home Depot, and said this is one of the tightest labor markets he's seen, calling it a "war for talent." That's pushed the retailer to try to stand out by integrating technology into the hiring process, he said. While smartphones are part of many aspects of consumer life -- whether ordering dinner or booking a vacation -- the job application has largely been ignored, he said.
Competitor Lowe's is also trying to simplify the process. On Wednesday, the chain announced it would hold its first national hiring day on Feb. 21 -- part of a plan to bring on 53,000 workers for the spring season. Candidates can visit any of the retailer's more than 1,700 U.S. locations on that day, get an interview and possibly be offered a position.
This spring, Home Depot is also rolling out a mobile application for new hires called PocketGuide. It uses a gamelike environment that pushes employees to score points by learning about the chain's practices and products to reach new levels. It will first be used by associates in the garden department and then expanded to other areas.
"The first conversation with a company is really important," Schelling said. "We want to say this is simple and easy. We don't want to make it difficult. That leaves a bad impression with candidates."