Proctor & Gamble is an international consumer products company founded in the US in 1837.
One of the world's largest firms in its field, the company develops, manufactures and markets over 300 labels in 140 countries. Its primary product categories include household cleaners (e.g. Ariel laundry detergent), beauty and personal care products (e.g. Pantene and Head & Shoulders, Wella hair coloring and the Gillette line for men) and personal hygiene products (Always and Alldays).
The company has approximately 140,000 employees. One of the company's 80 branches worldwide was set up in Israel in the year 2001.
We spoke with Sharon Weinbaum, director of human resources, and Sivan Baron about how workers are managed at the local branch, which has more than 50 employees.
Who sold Procter & Gamble products in Israel before the year 2001?
Sharon Weinbaum: "Proctor & Gamble products were sold in Israel starting in 1993 by a local distributor called Diplomat. Until 2001 marketing activity was coordinated from the company's base in Geneva. After company management saw the untapped potential in the Israeli market they decided to open a branch in Israel to allow the company to approach consumers and optimally match its activity to the needs of the market. The results prove it was the right decision."
From the start the local Proctor & Gamble branch has been struggling with a problem created by the company's marketing policy, which tends to position its products at the front and promote their exposure, whereas the company itself keeps a low profile. Thus products such as Ariel laundry detergent, Pantene shampoo, Gillette shavers or Pampers diapers are well known around the world, but the company behind them – one of the largest and highest valued companies in the world – remains anonymous.
This approach makes it difficult to recruit the outstanding employees the company seeks. Some potential job candidates have never heard of the company, others identify it as a distribution company and only a minority knows that behind the unfamiliar name (i.e. unfamiliar in Israel) lies a multinational corporation with a sterling reputation.
Sharon: "Despite the small number of workers at the local branch and although the turnover rate is just 7%-8% per year, still we're making substantial investments in employee recruitment activity."
How come? How many new workers are needed for an organization that numbers only 50 employees and has a low turnover rate?
"The amount of activity does not necessarily stem from the number of new employees that join every year, but from the search for outstanding candidates. We are a company that advances employees from the inside. That means workers who stay with us over time get promoted to key posts at the organization and build a successful career at the company. Therefore it's very important for us to know we're recruiting a suitable person who will advance in the company. This year we recruited 12 new employees, including five interns."
What is the internship?
"It's a process we began this year. We offer students, or recent graduates, internships in the company's various departments. The intern commits to execute a project lasting several months. He gets a chance to try working at a leading company in its field, while we get to know him. At the end of the internship period a decision is made whether to continue working together."
Are the universities your central recruitment source?
"Definitely. This has to do with our policy of promoting from within. That means positions that require experience are generally manned by company employees and are not open to external recruitment. Therefore the open positions are generally designated for inexperienced young people. We also want the candidates to be high-caliber people. Presumably such candidates are found primarily at the universities.
"We don't just go to the universities when a position opens up, but try to maintain cooperative ties with them throughout the year, because it's important to make students aware of the company. If we want the top students we cannot be a default option. They have to be familiar with us."
What type of activities do you sponsor at the universities?
"We've had ties with the universities since 1993. We organize various activities, such as spotlight events in which the company presents itself to the students. Company managers, including executives who fly in from abroad to take part, tell students about their job and about working at the company. We also post ads in various departments, participate in job fairs, etc.
"This year, for example, we gave students an opportunity to take part in a case study competition, which included a team competition to solve a business problem. At the end of the project we held an event in cooperation with the university in which we selected the top three teams. Of the nine members of these teams, six applied for work at Proctor & Gamble and are now undergoing the screening process. The screening process is prolonged and extensive resources are invested in it."
Please describe the process.
"The candidate contacts us through the company's global website, which is in English. The site verifies that the candidate is over the age of 18 and has a college degree and a work permit (in Israel). Those who pass this phase are asked to fill out an online questionnaire on their life experience. The system analyzes the responses and generates a score."
Sivan: "At this stage we, the creators of the position in Israel, step into the picture. I receive the data from the global system and begin to screen resumes, which arrive as a Word file the candidate attaches to the online application. On average 170 resumes pass the online phases for each job opening. If the workload is too heavy the department the candidate is applying for assists me in the screening process."
What, for example, causes you to reject certain applicants and how many candidates remain after the resume screening process is complete?
Sharon: "The company looks for outstanding candidates, that's the policy. The local branch is the one that defines who it considers outstanding candidates."
Sivan: "For example, we look for specific details that point to excellence: graduating with honors, attending top universities, studying in prestigious departments. We also look for excellence in other areas of life."
During the resume-screening process 75% of the applicants are rejected. Those who pass this phase, about 40 candidates, come to the Proctor & Gamble offices for an exam administered in one of the company's meeting rooms.
Sivan: "It's a problem-solving exam that tests their analytical thinking abilities. The exam resembles the psychometric exams somewhat and therefore in the results we see a higher passing rate among graduates of the leading universities, approximately 70%, compared to candidates who come from the colleges, among whom the passing rate is less than 50%."
Approximately 60% pass the exam and go on to the next phase, the interviews.
Who conducts the interviews?
Sharon: "Since the company attaches great importance to recruiting high-caliber personnel, the interviews are held with employees from all departments and all ranks. Besides the two of us there are 20 interviewers who took a training course based on principles formulated by the global corporation. All of the employees who were trained as interviewers underwent extensive practice drills before becoming authorized interviewers, in order to insure they were able to identify candidates suited to the company.
"The candidate undergoes three interviews with three different people. The first interview is a screening interview. This is a fateful interview (therefore it's not conducted by an interviewer with limited experience) because if the candidate does not pass he cannot get hired to work at Proctor & Gamble anywhere in the world. It's final.
"If the candidate passes the first interview he goes on to the next two interviews, which are conducted by different interviewers who do not speak with one another about the candidate between the interview, to insure their opinion is independent.
"The additional interviews are conducted because we are looking for someone who will stay with us for many years and in order to make such a fateful decision it's not enough to rely on a one-hour interview. At the end of the series of interviews all of the interviewers sit down with us at Human Resources, and together we discuss the matter and reach decisions on the candidates."
That means hundreds of screening interviews are conducted at the company every year. Some are conducted by people in departments the candidate isn't even applying to. Doesn't that create resistance among the interviewers? They are being asked to spend time on an activity wholly unrelated to their professional tasks.
"There is no obligation to be an interviewer. In fact, it's a privilege for people to choose the next generation of company managers. Furthermore, every manager at the company is gauged not only for his performance in his field, but also for his contribution to developing and building the organization.
"Based on this attitude a significant portion of the managers undergo in-house training. For example, once a year our CEO gives a leadership course. I give a training course on interviewing and staff development. Other courses are also available."
Anyone who wants to can become an interviewer? Doesn't this task demand abilities not everyone has, even if they've undergone training?
"If somebody wants to be an interviewer apparently he feels it's right for him. Also the training and practice process allows them to see whether they are suited or not. We won't authorize somebody who is unsuited to serve as an interviewer. In practice, so far everyone who wanted to be an interviewer became one.
"The primary condition for accepting an employee as an interviewer is two years' seniority at the company, since an interviewer also represents the company in speaking with the interviewee, and therefore he must be rooted in it."
What do you assess during the interview?
"The interviews are behavioral. We assess traits and aptitude suited to the character of the company. For example leadership, decision-making ability, critical and analytical thinking, etc.
"Why do we assess leadership ability in a candidate applying for an entry-level position? Because the company policy is to offer the employee a long-term career in which he will advance over the years. We want to insure he has the traits needed to develop at the company."
How, for example, do you assess leadership?
"According to 'e' criteria: envision, engage, energize, enable, execute – a combination of vision, motivation and performance ability. We evaluate the candidate's past experience and achievement, which tells us to what extent these traits are present in him."
Aren't all of the principles the global corporation puts forth viewed cynically at times by company employees? After all, we're in Israel.
"It may be true that in Israel we tend to be cynical, but it's not less relevant here because the corporation really does stick to the principles it sets for itself, and the same applies around the world. Cynicism arises when there is no real connection between the declarations and the posters on the walls, and what takes place in practice. At Proctor & Gamble things really are run according to this spirit. Of course there may be certain people who would be unable to conform to this."
That means as long as the company operates in accordance with the messages it conveys and shows the employees it has a real commitment to those messages, the employees will react cooperatively and not cynically.
"Exactly. I used to work at a high-tech company whose managers went around with shirts printed with the words, 'We are committed.' But in practice they would come in to work in the afternoon and take long breaks. Obviously the employees related to this slogan accordingly.
"At Proctor & Gamble the employees feel commitment and esteem toward the company because it operates according to its values. They're not just empty slogans."