Hiring college students during the holidays is how Mike Catania, co-founder and chief technology officer at PromotionCode, deals with the exponential increase in seasonal demand for his company's coupon codes. By posting openings on college campuses, offering good pay and setting a few candidate requirements, he has discovered an effective way to maximize the effectiveness of these temporary employees and make it a win-win situation for all involved.
PromotionCode provides information on deals all year-round, the fourth quarter is when the workload multiplies. Major retailers usually provide information on upcoming deals in late September, but before Catania announces those promotions to his community, he makes sure all the coupon codes work. So he has to test them — thousands of them.
That's where Catania says one to two paid college students come in handy, taking over the massive testing effort during the fall. However, once Thanksgiving hits, he adds as many as 10 more college workers to his payroll to keep up with code testing. By the start of the new year, Catania's company is already tapering its use of the temporary student hires.
"During the holidays, the students' role doesn't change, but the volume does," says Catania.
Use College Career Centers to Find Talent
Catania pays $25 to $100 per semester to post the jobs in local college career centers. In Tallahassee, Florida, where his business is, the biggest university is Florida State, but Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College also offer qualified candidates. While he has had some success using Craigslist to find college students, he cautions others that nonstudents will also apply.
In his postings, Catania describes the temporary job and emphasizes the schedule flexibility he offers. Catania says he previously tried instituting strict rules about work hours, but it just didn't work with college students. Although Florida's minimum wage is $8.05, PromotionCode pays $11 an hour.
"College students are eager for any job," says Catania. "So you can offer minimum wage and still get applicants. But if you set the pay higher, you'll lure out the best students."
Catania also requires the applicants to be in good standing academically, so he knows each candidate is a hard worker. To qualify for a job, students must have at least a 3.5 GPA, which Catania believes helps zeroin on students who are more performance-oriented and willing to work.
Higher Pay = Better Talent
While Catania readily admits that his company couldn't function without those additional hands during the holidays, he's careful about whom he brings on board. Adding even temporary workers that take too much time to train or require too much support slows down the pace of work. Given the short holiday season (once it's in full swing), he prepares early to find the right workers.
"If you think you're going to need holiday help, write the job description as soon as possible," says Catania. He suggests going into great detail about what needs to be done and how. Then, show one of your employees, and ask them to do the job for a couple of days. If they can't do it well based on your write-up, revise it to better define what you need done.
After the first of the year, PromotionCode starts tapering its use of college students. This feels natural to the temporary workers, as they understand the job was seasonal and are typically preparing for their upcoming semester by this point. By Feb. 1, with a successful holiday season under its belt, the company is typically back to only one or two college workers on staff.