Jenn ThomasDecember 7, 2023
Topics: Customer Stories

Redefining Talent Acquisition: How United Airlines Helped Better Hiring Practices Take Flight

To remain competitive, the world’s largest organizations are setting lofty goals to expand their human capital footprint — and United Airlines is no exception. In this effort, United’s Talent Acquisition group recognized that there was a need to change how they approached processes and technology to empower their teams for success. 

United’s Jess Austin, Director of Talent Acquisition Processes and Systems, and Alex Schemionek, Director of IT Applications, HR & Resource Management Systems shared how they improved the way they attract, engage, convert, and hire talent during IAMPHENOM 2023.

Watch United's entire presentation on demand here

Sky-High Demand

In 2021, United faced pandemic whiplash when it came to staffing. After shut-downs and hiring freezes, they needed to pivot rapidly to meet rising demand as travel took off again. The company planned to add two airplanes per week to its fleet. In terms of staffing, that would translate to 20,000 hires per year over a 5-year period, and 10,000 pilots by 2030.

“These were lofty hiring goals, and we really wanted to keep up and deliver for United,” said Austin. “We needed to hire quickly and efficiently, and we needed the tools to do that.”

But manual processes and a variety of systems that didn’t integrate well were sabotaging efficiency and detracting from the talent experience, according to Schemionek. Recruiters felt like they couldn’t work effectively. Meanwhile, candidates weren’t receiving the personalized attention that’s so critical to a competitive talent experience.

“We couldn't do things the way we were doing them before …. it wasn't enough to work for the future,” Schemionek said. “That’s what led us to do the market research on the products that were out there. Phenom’s team and the product — the combination of the two — were the best choice for us.”

United recognized that Phenom’s tools and capabilities could help them:

  • Leverage AI and machine learning for a modern approach

  • Create a world-class end-to-end talent experience

  • Increase diversity

  • Decrease time to fill and cost per hire

  • Provide ease of use for recruiters and other TA stakeholders

Creating a Turbulence-Free Talent Experience 

Since launching the Phenom platform, United has made measurable progress creating the kind of modern, engaging talent experience they envisioned. With many important areas now enhanced by automation such as sourcing, screening, and interview scheduling, they’re getting closer to whittling down time to hire from as many as 14 weeks to their target of two to four weeks.

The apply process is significantly shorter, according to Austin, and recruiters especially love the automated interview scheduling tool, which lets them schedule multiple interviews faster than ever. 

Streamlining the tech stack from multiple point solutions to a single platform and ATS has lifted the complexity from an IT perspective. “It’s a lot easier to support and manage,” said Schemionek.

Check out the key products that have been driving progress:

Phenom Career Site & Chatbot. United’s new AI-powered career site has been central to improving their candidate experience and promoting their employer brand — featuring dynamic visuals, intelligent job search, multiple options for engagement and conversion, and a quick and easy apply process. The chatbot not only provides easy site navigation, but also helps candidates who are looking for a more automated experience get the personalized information they’re looking for and apply to a role without ever leaving the chat. 

What they’re doing is clearly working. Shortly after launching, career site traffic rose by 50% compared to the year before. (Check out their site here)

Phenom Events. The Events module makes it easy for recruiters to set up and manage events of any kind — complete with support for registration, automated reminders, and attendee tracking. In the first six months of usage, United ran 100+ events that drew tens of thousands of job candidates to the doorstep, according to Schemionek. 

Phenom Talent CRM & Campaigns. United uses the CRM and campaigns functionality to segment candidate audiences and send timely, relevant communications that help forge a lasting connection to their employer brand. For the first time, their campus recruitment team was able to target incoming summer interns, sending helpful tips and content as well as fun perks like discounted flights to Vegas during spring break. 

“That helps them feel like part of a cohesive group before they’re even in the door as interns for us,” Austin said. “The open rates are tremendous,” Schemionek commented. “You don’t get email open rates like that, ever.” 

Phenom AI Scheduling.  Instead of wasting precious time coordinating calendars, United is impressing candidates with a faster hiring process using their career site’s AI-powered chatbot to efficiently schedule and re-schedule interviews. 

“I showed some people how to schedule multiple interviews one day and they were… so shocked how easy and quick it could be done,” said Austin. 

Phenom Talent Analytics. With new-found visibility into metrics, TA leaders can analyze and provide feedback to the recruitment team, as well as make informed decisions regarding marketing tactics on job boards, job postings, and more. 

The robust analytics capabilities have also been key to measuring diversity and inclusion, Austin said, and ensuring they’re getting the brand in front of people they might not have reached before. “We have a new EVP coming out soon and really want to focus on skills-based hiring,” she said.

How United Leveraged Phenom To Shine in the National Spotlight 

Last fall, United’s TA team found themselves in an exciting (but somewhat stressful) position. The company’s newly created apprenticeship program designed to fill openings for airline maintenance technicians (AMTs) — an extremely high-demand role across the industry — caught the attention of the Biden Administration. United’s CHRO was invited to the White House to announce the program. 

With 10 days’ notice, the team was able to leverage the career site to publicize the program through an easily customizable landing page, complete with videos and other compelling visual content. The no-code Phenom Content Management System (CMS), which allows non-technical users to create and populate new content within minutes, gave them the agility to get it done. 

Meanwhile, the team used the platform’s events registration functionality to collect applicant information, allowing for quick, targeted outreach to AMT apprentices. 

“It was a lot of work,” Schemionek clarified. “But Phenom made it doable. We’ve had hundreds of people apply.”

Lofty Goals and Parting Advice 

What does the future TA flight plan look like as United expands their Phenom capabilities and adoption? 

With a goal to hire 50,000+ more people in the next 5 years and 10,000 pilots by 2030, the TA team plans to tap into more automations as they carefully assess processes and decide which solutions could benefit their specific pain points most. According to Austin, Phenom High-Volume Hiring will be a likely choice for their customer service and flight attendant roles, which routinely garner 10,000+ applicants. 

They have also rolled out the Internal Mobility portion of Phenom Talent Marketplace as well as Referrals to help drive employee mobility and facilitate actionable skills visibility within the organization. 

Schemionek’s parting advice for attendees: 

  • “Change management is going to be bigger than you think it's going to be, especially when the organization is larger,” he pointed out. 

  • Ensure HR and IT are in lockstep from the beginning. “We all have the same goals. We're just looking at them in different ways,” he offered. 

“The Phenom partnership has been wonderful,” concluded Austin.” It’s a really amazing toolset that we can use.”

We can’t wait to see how they use it next. 


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