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Special Delivery! How UPS Leverages Text Recruiting

Text messaging, or SMS, first came into prominence two decades ago by voting on American Idol, but the technology is as hot as ever for employers. It’s starting to look like text recruiting is here to stay. That’s why we invited Rick Koerner, VP of unified communications at UPS on the podcast. Rick has been texting with job candidates for almost a decade, and he brings his best tips and takeaways to the podcast. Along the way, he throws in anecdotes on all things UPS, like how deliveries only happen one right turn at a time to increase efficiency, and his own story about why he doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile. Say what?!?!?


Intro: Hide your kids, lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: Oh yeah. It's your bartender's favorite podcast, AKA the Chad and Cheese Podcast. This is your co-host, Joel Cheesman. Joined as always, the peanut butter to my chocolate, Chad Sowash is in the house, and today we are excited to welcome Rick Koerner, VP of Unified Communications at UPS. Rick, welcome to the podcast.

Rick: Thanks. Thanks, Joel, for that. Yeah, Rick Koerner, UPS. I'm a UPSer. I've been there 22 years. I'm native to the Northeast. I live in New Jersey, born and raised. Spent a little time in Florida in there. New Jersey Devils fan. And I'll let you guys take it from there.

Joel: And a Giants fan as we learned in the green room. So Rick, when I do a show, I go to LinkedIn and I do my research on where you went to school, past jobs. I couldn't find you on LinkedIn because shockingly you're not on LinkedIn. Please explain to me why you are morally opposed to LinkedIn.

Rick: So when LinkedIn was first developed, right? So I'm not a social media guy. And being a man north of 40 years old, I will say that I usually tell people, anybody that's on social media or Facebook at my age, only three things are going to happen. You're going to end up in jail, you're going to lose your job or you're going to get divorced. So you should probably stay off of social media. All right. So at the end of the day, that's my stance on Facebook and social media. However, when it comes down to LinkedIn, I was all in. I built this huge profile and I was so proud of it. I put in dedicated hours and I really wanted to do, when it was first deployed, it was about networking with other peers, right?

Rick: So we're going back more than 20 years ago. At that point in my career, I want to do some networking. Maybe I'll find another opportunity. Maybe I won't be at UPS. I'll see something else because of my experience. And then the phone calls started and it was every head hunter, and they didn't want me. They wanted to know what UPS was hiring for the next year. And after constantly weeding through emails, and I'll tell you, even after I deleted my profile, it took like a year and a half before I finally fell off the list, and I would get phone calls and it'd be like, "Hey, we want to know, what's UPS looking to hire for the next year?"

Joel: You were scrapped.

Rick: Yeah. So at that point, I abandoned LinkedIn. If there was a way to build a profile to avoid that, I probably would go back. And I'm sure the profile still exists and I could resurrect it, but at the end of the day, that's why I'm not on LinkedIn.

Joel: That's a negative.

Chad: So today it's all about wealth managers instead of recruiters.

Joel: Life insurance.

Chad: You've got all these wealth managers and life insurance like, "Hey Chad, how's your life insurance look?" So it's starting to develop, and let's say for instance, transform a bit, but not in a good way, Rick. Not in a good way. So I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I am addicted. I don't agree. I think that in my 20s and 30s, I would have been screwed with social media. Luckily, it really wasn't around, let's say 20s or early 30s. But as being an adult, let's just say a more mature adult now, I don't have that problem 'cause I see all the kids and them doing stupid shit and I'm learning from that.

Joel: Thank God we didn't have it in our 20s.

Rick: Yeah, you have emotional intelligence now. My wife will share with me some of the things that people post, and you're right, a lot of it is in maturity, but usually my first reaction is not one the world wants to hear, so.

Chad: Yes, I feel you. No, I feel you. The why are you such an asshole response, right?

Rick: Right. Exactly.

Chad: That being said, tell us a little bit about what you do at UPS. What makes you tick on a daily basis?

Rick: Coming out of the gate, I started UPS 22 years ago. I was in the IT vertical. I was part of a team that helped to work on the package delivery system that you have today. Back then it was just all about tracking numbers and tracking your package to see when it was going to be delivered. Just as a lot of new technologies, things tend to mature, and as they mature, the groups tend to change, and that job evolved into more of a project management. As I grew as a person, I think I realized that one of my talents is that I tend to look at things, and it doesn't matter if it's in IT or not, but I tend to look at them and ask myself why? But then I also come to a solution. So I had two really quick examples. One, I was in, of all places, Cheesecake Factory. So when I'm in there, I only eat cheesecake 'cause why else would you not get cheesecake in the Cheesecake Factory?

Chad: That's why you go to the Cheesecake Factory. I mean. Come on.

Rick: So I was in there and I had said to the waiter, I said, "I want to try all 30 of these." And he was walking me through each one, 'cause you got to go one at a time. And I told him, I said...

Chad: We're fast friends already. I love this.

Rick: Yeah. I said, I go, "I don't understand why Cheesecake Factory doesn't offer cheesecake flights." I would pay for three or four pieces of cheesecake in a smaller portion. And I said, "Look, you want a job in the corner office. Why don't you write that up and send it up there and see if they give you a bump or something." But my brain constantly works that way.

Joel: Rick, my friend, you're an evil genius. Cheesecake flights. I love it. I love it. Continue, please. Sorry...

Rick: The second one I had was I was in the Apple store 'cause, of course, eventually, one of those products gives us pain we can't fix with Google. So I'm in there and the Apple genius was helping me out. And as he was, I told him, I said, "I go home at night, and despite this being a wireless technology, I always have to plug it in or I have to put it on the Mac charger or whatever it is." I said, and then I have a watch, then I have earbuds. I go, "Why can't I plug the phone in and then put the earbuds on top of the phone and put the other devices, the watch sitting on the phone and let the phone charge off of it without plugging it in?" So, I'm sure Apple will get there. I also don't understand why it's not self-charging like the old watches, not all day, but just a little bump, something to make me go an extra two hours without having to plug it in. So.

Chad: A self-winder.

Joel: You're like the Kramer of recruitment, like let's put the mustard and the ketchup in the same jar.

Rick: So I've lucked out in UPS in that I've had management and leaders that have kind of accepted the fact that I don't necessarily think that way. And they don't tell me no. And through time, so with HR systems and whatnot, because they don't tell me no, when things come along, they let me spread my wings a little bit. And then sometimes I get pulled back down to earth 'cause not every idea is a good idea, and I'm okay with that too. But if I have one out of every 10, then it's a win-win for everyone. Right?

Chad: Yeah. Let's talk about UPS, obviously big into automation. Have to be, to be able to get those packages out as fast and as quick as Americans demand, because we have to have it in the next five minutes. So, being on the recruiting side of the house, what have you been seeing in automation that has gotten you excited and gotten your brain going and thinking, okay, we could prospectively implement something like that to help our recruiters do less administrative types of jobs and tasks?

Rick: I like to look at the younger generation, and the ones that are coming up that will eventually replace us. And luckily, I have two of them in my house. I tend to ping things off of them. And I'll say to them, like, "What do you think of this?" Or, "How do you want to communicate?" So primarily, the generation coming up, the high schooler and my college age student, they want to text. They don't want to call. So you sit back and you look at their engagement in applying for a job, they want to do it all online. They have the fastest thumbs I've ever seen in my life, and they fill out an application, and then they just sit back and they're like, "Oh yeah, I'm just waiting. They're going to schedule an interview." On top of that, I think they want this. They want the face-to-face interview. They don't want a phone call. They don't want a rejection card like it was 1997. They want a rejection like, "Hey, we're going to keep you on file," via text. That's fine.

Rick: It's funny because I made fun of texting back when phones didn't have a keyboard. But the bigger thing I made fun of was the fact that when the camera came out on a phone, I didn't realize that my camera also needed to have the ability to text, But yet, nowadays, I take more pictures and texts than anything possible. And it was a younger person at an amusement park that I worked with on like a day trip that educated me when we parked the car. And I was like looking at the sign, I'm like, "Oh, G37. I need to remember G37 is where the car is." And he takes out his camera, takes a picture and he goes, "I got it." I'm like, "Genius." I'm a little older. I use the camera now to read the menu in the Cheesecake Factory to blow it up so I don't have to wear my glasses.

Chad: With the light on. With the light on.

Rick: With the light on.

Chad: And say, "Can we turn the lights up in here for God's sakes? It's a little dark."

Joel: My sister-in-law does that. She takes a picture then enlarges it to see what it is. It's crazy. Younger people are communicating in a different way. We also know they all have ADHD. And I found it really intriguing on the UPS website. It says, "Get a job offer in 25 minutes." Is that driven by youth? Are there stipulations? How did that come about and what's the response?

Rick: I would love to answer that question. I have no idea we even have that out there. I am sure that it is driven by the need for UPS to fill the position and the fact that people want instant gratification. Chad, you mentioned it earlier with deliveries, we want... I ordered something yesterday at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. It was in my mailbox at 6:00. How and why, I don't know, nor do I care, but...

Joel: That is a great point. If people expect their packages in such a short period of time, you have to have an application process, I assume, that is just as quick. Talk about that.

Chad: It's standard.

Rick: Yeah, that's exactly where we're taking it. And nowadays, with the texting solutions that are available today, and we use the product offered by iCIMS, and primarily during our peak season, so UPS starts ramping up, September we start thinking about it, October we start deploying. You're talking about adding 105,000 peak helpers. So these are part-time jobs where it's going to be 20 hours or less. We also have PVDs, which is personal vehicle drivers. Based on business need, we need a way to communicate to them. So, from the second that they're onboarded, we ask them if it's okay if we send them a personal text message. So we had to go through the process of getting legal to sign off on it. Now, most people, surprisingly, the uptick in employees that say, "Yeah, you could send me a text," is probably more than 90%.

Rick: And they want that text because they want to hear like, "Hey, flight was delayed today. We don't need you until 10 o'clock." They don't want to come in at 8:00 in the morning, hang around and wait. So this communication apparatus helps us to get to that point. Deploying something like that, we did it seven years ago and we vetted iCIMS up against the big boys, which was Google and Microsoft at the time, and that was actually my project. We had a month to do it and to deploy, which is lightning fast when you're moving in a company of 500,000 employees. It takes a long time to turn a battleship around. We didn't have that because they wanted this immediately in the operations. So, we went out, we did a small proof of concept, and the reason that we chose them, and I'll go back to, sometimes it's the salesperson.

Rick: So, there was a girl that worked there at the time, and whatever we threw at her, she said, "Yeah, we can do that." And that was the reason. So when I stood and asked for the money to fund this, that was one of the things that came up. It was like, really, you're choosing virtually a startup. It's not one of the big behemoths in the room, and you're gonna vet that this is the company that's gonna provide us with this texting service. Why is that the case? And then I said, "Because every question that came out of every person, they were either going to make changes to make it happen, or they were gonna push it forward," and that's why we ended up where we are today.

Joel: I'm shocked that a salesperson said that the company's product could do anything. That's a really rare... Never.

Chad: Never happens. That never happens.

Joel: Really rare occurrence. So seven years of SMS. How have you scaled that? How much is automation versus they're actually corresponding with a human being, and maybe future features, what are you looking at?

Rick: Yeah, so the original deployment started, so a learning curve, right? Having never deployed anything like that, I had to make a manual for what we call the center operation. So in every building, there is an HR assigned human being that now can text all these different centers and all these a hundred thousand people, and each person is put into a different vertical. The manual that we had put together was actually 22 steps to onboard them. So we had one page per step. It was kind of ironic because we deployed it a week later. Our C-level executives were touring a facility and they asked someone like, "Oh, okay, is there any improvements?" And that person whipped out this 22-page instruction manual for how to onboard and they were like, "Yeah, it'd be great if you could get rid of this."

Rick: So, ironically, that next Monday, someone was standing in my desk and telling me, "Really?" And I really... It was great because I had no idea that we even had people that could do that at UPS. So we ran fast into the fire, we had a solution, we fixed that. We got all that up and running. But back then, the way that we onboarded everyone and got it working was still UPS internal applications. So nowadays, that right there is all what we call Birthright. So, if you're a UPS employee, you have access to the tool. So that piece of automation in the background and how we make that happen, kind of smooth everything over.

Rick: Now, with that, as we deployed and began to text, there were other applications in UPS that send messages or wanna send messages that began to see added value. So they said, "Well, we wanna communicate with our employees too. How are we gonna do it to make their their life better? And we want to communicate through." So while HR started spearheading it, and they were using it to onboard these 105,000 UPSers for our peak season, there were other opportunities that came up too that now the product has grown because there's other messaging opportunities out there beyond HR.

Chad: What are they? What are you guys currently using them for?

Rick: So even for package tracking incidents. So, say that there's a problem with a belt system, a conveyor belt system. That automated system now has the ability to text directly to the person where it is the location so they can go in and expedite the repair of that system. That's one example, but there's numerous ones on that side of it.

Chad: Wow. So early indicators on what's broken and what needs fixed?

Rick: Exactly.

Chad: Very nice. Okay. So, first and foremost, I've heard two things thus far. The C-suite in operations, when they say something, it moves. It doesn't take the Titanic to turn. You're a speedboat at that point. So my point is, and this is pretty much I would say standard in just about any operation that's out there. C-Suite says something, you're on it. So why is it in, in your 22 plus years of being in this industry, Rick, why is it that TA doesn't build a business case for the C-suite and operations every single time they want something? 'Cause that seems to be the answer. Not that they're gonna get everything, but if they continue to be the squeaky wheel with great business cases, why wouldn't we do that more often?

Rick: So, I think for UPS, we do. When our C-suite comes out and they ask for something, the UPSers that I've worked with through the years, we always deliver on what their ask is.

Chad: I get it. I get it.

Rick: And then, as far as the operations goes, so most of us understand that the only reason that we are still here is because that driver has the ability to pick the box up from point A to deliver to point B. So without him, then you wouldn't need me. So at the end of the day, the operations is our golden ticket, and we need to treat them with the respect that they deserve. And when they ask for things, it's a matter of finding it. We don't expect them to have the technical acumen or to have the HR presence to know what they need. They just know that they need. So when they do present those challenges, I think that's when UPSers really come through to shine through. As example, recently there was a pending teamster strike. That was during a contract negotiation, and everyone was talking about that.

Rick: On the backend side, the UPSers that were internally, we were preparing for how do we make adjustments in the case that that does happen. What do we need to do? And there was training going on and people were preparing. These things were done to secure the fact that the company was still gonna be there. UPS just had their anniversary, 116 years old. We wanna all make sure that we're still there and we're providing for our customers, because that's what we do best.

Joel: Did I hear a dad joke out of Rick?

Chad: Yes. Yeah, of course you did.

Joel: Nice one.

Chad: You always deliver. Yeah, you didn't even get it, Rick. You didn't even get it. I mean, come on.

Rick: I'm in the industry.

Chad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, the point to me is that you guys in talent acquisition, you understand the business. 'cause you have to understand the business because, again, you have to deliver. Is that really the underlying thought process that you have?

Rick: Yeah, I mean, if the operations tells us that they need to have X number of human beings employed during a peak season, they have an estimate of volume and how many packages, then the HR teams need to get together and make sure that that happens.

Chad: So let's talk about calculus here. Knowing what the estimates were going to be, 'cause I'm sure you guys work with logistics and operations, and then knowing that a truck or a position that's open in a truck not working costs the organization money. Have you guys done the calculus to actually say, "Hey, look, that position, if it's open for this amount of time, it costs X per day of downtime? Have you done that so that you can take that business dollar sign to operations and to the C-suite and say, "Look, if we don't get faster automation and/or technology to be able to make sure that we get people in place, we're losing X amount of money per day. Nobody wants that." Are you guys doing that calculus internally?

Rick: So that's exactly how a lot of things are driven within UPS. So, how do we budget for the future? How do we budget to prepare for automation? And we do that by presenting it in a way that says, this is the possible loss or this is the loss, or, and this is gonna fill the gap. We do that every single day. I don't know what it was that drove the texting portion of it. I don't know what the metrics were, but you're also talking about a company that routes are calculated to the point where there's no left turns, because left turns waste time, sitting at a light. Everything's right turn. So if we're gonna take that to that degree, you could just imagine when it comes to human capital and how we're going to work those resources in too.

Chad: So that being said, do you have your own, instead of Google Maps for navigating, do you have like a UPS maps that does not allow left turns?

Rick: So, I don't wanna say it doesn't allow, because the driver is the driver, and there may be a reason that he has to make that left turn as opposed to the right, and they know their routes probably better than most of us do. But yeah, UPS for decades has had their own version of Google Maps with their own mathematicians doing the calculations on all that.

Joel: So trucking, UPS in particular, have been in the news a lot lately, and I'm just curious about, one, your take, but also what it's meant to candidate flow for quality, quantity, et cetera. So one thing that Chad and I talked about a few weeks ago was Yellow Trucking, 100-year company almost, I think 30,000 drivers. Company went bankrupt. What has that meant to your candidate flow? And also, you mentioned the labor negotiations at UPS. They make great headlines, the $170,000 a year. I got to think that some truckers got wind of that and that increased traffic quite a bit. How have you handled it? What's been the response? Has it been good? Has it been like over hyped and the flow isn't what you think it is? Talk about trucking in the news and what it's meant to UPS recruiting.

Rick: So yeah, Yellow Trucking, so that's a little bit different envelope than what UPS does. We do have a portion of over the road trucking. However, that's not our primary business. So LTL trucking is handled differently. With that, a lot of those drivers do a different type of job, and that's more of a senior position at UPS that's kind of earned over time. However, that doesn't mean that those drivers wouldn't look to join UPS now, especially like you said, with a more attractive package overall, salary plus other opportunities. But I think a lot of that was driven by volume. So if Yellow was down on volume, that volume's gonna get spread out to the other LTL carriers, and then those LTL carriers will either pick up the volume plus the drivers, and then hopefully, they'll be able to pick up some more work in that area.

Chad: You're talking about different skill sets to some... I mean, you're talking about package delivery versus over the road driver, right?

Rick: Yeah.

Joel: So I'll let you out on this. Chad and I have been talking about driverless trucks, drones delivering packages for a long time and it never seems to happen. Just curious about your take. How much longer do we have to wait for the Terminator to deliver my whiskey delivery?

Rick: So, I do know a few years ago that UPS does have an over the road project working from, I wanna say California to Texas and through Arizona that was driverless with a third party company. I don't know where that is today, but I mean, drones in the sky and delivering packages, I don't know that we necessarily will be there in the next 20 or 30 years. I don't see the added value. I know UPS has done some great things with drone deliveries in remote locations. I saw a video years ago where we delivered vaccines in Africa via drones to areas that normally a driver just couldn't get to. So, there is an application for everything. We might not see it in New York City, but travel the world and eventually you're run into everything.

Chad: Yeah, all I have to do is watch the videos of the Uber Eats drones getting bashed on the sidewalks all over the place to know that's probably not a great deal. So Rick, where can people find you? Obviously you're not on LinkedIn, so if they want to connect with you, maybe you just don't connect with Rick. I don't know. That's okay. But if people do want to connect with you, where would you send them?

Rick: So, you could just email me right at UPS. My UPS email is

Joel: And odd fact, no packages were delivered to my home during the recording of this podcast.

Chad: And that never happens.

Joel: Which is a very, very rare thing, my friend.

Rick: You haven't met my wife who clearly keeps package delivery a business.

Joel: Oh, I can go toe to toe with any wife, with my wife. Trust me. Rick, thanks for joining us. Chad, that's another one in the can. We out.

Chad: We out.

Outro: This has been the Firing Squad. Be sure to subscribe to the Chad and Cheese Podcast so you don't miss an episode. And if you're a startup who wants to face the firing squad, contact the boys at today. That's


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