October 1, 2014

Best Practices in Hiring

Many companies know the principles of effective hiring. It takes discipline to actually implement them.

Mike Vogel | 8/1/2009

Inktel Direct CEO Ricky Arriola uses the TopGrading process to vet potential employees. Applicants must go through behaviorial-based interviews with executives, managers or peers. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]

In a training room at Inktel Direct’s headquarters in Miami Lakes, 30 new hires sit through an orientation session. If history is a guide, 96% of them will still be on the job in a year.

In an industry where high turnover is the norm, Inktel’s retention is a good number — just 4% turnover — a testament to the benefits of its rigorous hiring practices and its workplace. Call centers spend upward of $5,000 to train each employee, only to see 33% of them leave, says David Butler, a University of Southern Mississippi professor who does research on call centers and is executive director of the National Association of Call Centers. “If you lose 33% of your workforce each year, that is lost money out the door. If they go to your competitor, you have just subsidized your competition with training,” Butler says.

Good hiring not only saves Inktel money, but also contributes to a satisfied workforce, so satisfied in fact that Inktel ranks as the No. 1 company in Florida to work for in Florida Trend’s large company category. What’s extraordinary about Inktel is that so many of its 650 employees — and the bulk of its 450-employee workforce in Florida — do call center work. Call centers, with their low-wage, high-stress work, tend not to make best companies lists unless they’re part of a larger organization like a Southwest Airlines.

Inktel does direct marketing outsourced by the likes of Verizon, the U.S. Marine Corps and USA Today, doing jobs — depending on the client — ranging from outbound sales calls to handling inbound customer complaints. It also does database management, designs marketing materials and prints and ships them from its fulfillment center in Chicago. Inktel was founded in 1997 by Ricky, Dan and Ed Arriola, three sons of entrepreneur Joe Arriola, who himself founded Avanti Press, a printing company that he sold for a reported $42 million in 2001 before going into public service as volunteer interim business officer for Miami-Dade’s school system and later as Miami’s city manager, where he had his share of controversies. Says Ricky Arriola: “From day one, we knew to build a great company you had to be employee-centric. It’s a lesson learned from my father.”

Inktel is a young company. “I’m 40 and I’m one of the old guys,” Arriola says. It has an in-house development program, called IDEA (Inktel Direct Excellence Academy) in which Inktel executives teach time management, goal-setting and other skills. The brothers’ belief in social obligation — and their belief that community service helps workers develop leadership skills — engenders lots of participation in charities, community groups and events. It matches up to 4% of 401(k) contributions dollar-for-dollar. Inktel covers 65% of the cost of healthcare insurance for employees, less for family members.

Arriola says creating a Best Companies environment is not a matter of paying the highest wages and having the most generous benefits. The highest wage often attracts “mercenaries,” he says. The key for Inktel, says HR manager Miguel Arguelles, is its emphasis on opportunity and merit. Nearly the entire staff receives some form of incentive-based pay. A walk through the offices shows some of the culture at work. A flat-screen TV in one call center displays the names of the “A” players who will be lunching with the CEO.


Inktel Direct corporate recruiter Carlos Morgan interviews intern Jennifer Verdon. Morgan interviews
all job candidates. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]

Inktel utilizes an exhaustive vetting process called TopGrading, developed by author and industrial psychologist Bradford Smart, to hire and retain only the highest performers available at a particular salary level — the “A” players, or top 10% of the designated workforce. At Inktel, TopGrading means extremely long interviews, including behavioral-based interviews, interviews with multiple executives, managers or peers and patience in hiring. Inktel corporate recruiter Carlos Morgan says the company went through more than 200 candidates for his slot before settling on him.

That time investment isn’t practical for staffing customer service representative and telemarketer slots, so Inktel reconfigures the process. Even so, candidates who come to pick up an application are turned away unless they’re in business attire. Candidates have to pass a basic math and verbal skills screening. Candidates take a personality inventory that screens for desired traits such as an outgoing personality. Morgan interviews every candidate as does the team leader on the client account for which the candidate would work. There’s a drug test and background check.

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