Sodexo Starts From Scratch With New Recruiting Technology System

Foodservice giant Sodexo has gone live with what its talent acquisition VP Arie Ball calls an “absolutely huge” implementation of a recruiting system to manage candidates, resumes, and interviews, including internal employees, external employees, and alumni.

Though Ball admits any company would say this, Sodexo, she says, is highly focused on talent. Indeed, that’s what increases curiosity about Sodexo’s ATS selection process and all else the company does with human resources: the outfit has won multiple awards for human resources and recruiting, including the ERE Recruiting Excellence Award for the recruiting department of the year in 2010.

“This is a big deal for us,” Ball says. “We’re in a growth mode. We need to have the right tools. Our ATS is kind of like the plumbing in the house.”

The plumbing wasn’t broken, but it was aging. Sodexo had tinkered so much with its Kenexa system, which as of this year was nearly 10 years old, that it didn’t have easy access to Kenexa’s system upgrades. “Because of the tremendous degree of customization as technology evolved,” Ball says, “we were still working with old technology. We knew we wanted to do something different. We wanted to start from scratch.”

In 2007, Sodexo put in a three year-plan that would ultimately result in a new technology system for its 59-person recruiting team. In 2008, it sent out an approximately 28-page Request for Information to eight vendors.

A very structured scoring process was used to narrow down the vendor list to five. At the end of 2008, those five companies were sent a Request for Proposal. That document began with a template from the Recruiting Roundtable (now called CLC Recruiting) that was modified by Sodexo’s IT experts and others.

Sodexo narrowed that list of five to three companies, with two the clear leaders. Recruiters, procurement employees, the legal department, human resources professionals, and others watched demos of the products. Not everyone – not legal, for example – had voting power. HRchitect, a consultancy, was brought in to help with the final decision.

Icims had very heavy support among the recruiters in particular on the selection team, and was the preliminary winner. Selecting it wasn’t the last step, however. Ball had to convince an IT governance committee that this purchase was necessary. The committee, which included the CFO and CIO of North America, only met certain times. A year ago, they gave approval.

iCIMS seemed to have the customer service record that Sodexo liked. It appeared easier to use than some of the other systems, with what the demo-watchers felt was a good user interface, and search capabilities. The reference checks Sodexo conducted went well. The system also was able to provide candidates a similar look and feel as they got on the Sodexo career site (a challenge I wrote about in more detail in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership recently; often, fancy career websites lose their mojo when you get to the part of the site where you apply for a job or search for one).

Cathy Barton, a critical player in this process, said that the Kenexa customization had “backed us into a corner” (not due to a fault of Kenexa’s, she notes) and that iCIMS would give them flexibility to change as time went on. Barton is a director of talent administration, managing back-of-the-house functions like recruiting systems and metrics tracking.

Other key players, by the way, included Sherie Valderrama, handling communications and change management, and Anthony Scarpino, handling the branding in the various portals (internal, external, alumni).

Long and Winding Road

Sodexo chose the system last fall, and just went live this August. So, it took a bit less than a year to get it all done.

The first three months were centered around figuring out all the requirements of the system, such as how the reporting hierarchy would work. And the company found that as more and more areas were affected by the implementation, it became a challenge to keep other day-to-day work going on as normal. It was not only installing a recruiting system for candidate management, but also moving away from the “bolt-on” products for interview management and scheduling it had been using, and toward third-party systems. So this wasn’t about moving from “Kenexa to iCIMS” but rather “Kenexa to iCIMS and others.”

Sodexo also has three different portals (something that affects the pricing of its iCIMS system). These are for internal candidates, external candidates, and alumni. Sometimes jobs are posted just for internal candidates; other times just for internal candidates and external candidates; and so on, for other combinations. The messaging a candidate receives changes depending on whether they are internal, external, or alumni.

Anyhow, recruiters who were working on the implementation had some of their requisition workload reduced. Cathy Barton also got relief from some of her responsibilities handling competency interview management.

There were a ton of moving parts to manage during that time, and a steering committee of Ball, Barton, HRMS and finance representatives, as well as Dawn Atwood, met monthly to handle any major decisions that needed to be made. Atwood is a project manager who’d worked on other projects, like payroll, and was brought on to do this for about a year and a half.

The timeline of the system’s rollout went roughly like this: On July 3, Sodexo implemented a blackout period for a couple of weeks, with no new jobs posted. (“Since not a lot happens” the week of July 4, Ball says.) Ball says that it took “an incredible amount of communication” to handle that period. Heavy training on the new system happened around July 12, for all recruiters. On July 19, the iCIMS system was launched at the same time as the Kenexa system was still in use.

On August 6, the old system went dark. Data was migrated to the new system, which was no small potatoes. Sodexo moved over many employee profiles, as well as information related to the interview process. Barton notes that they didn’t want people to have to sit through a 45-minute interview again, just because the information was lost in transition.

The new system launched on its own August 24.

“Recruiters are very pumped about it,” Ball says. “But it’s a lot to learn all at once. And you can’t postpone this and learn it next week.” What she means is the system is part of everyday work, not an extra tool.

Sodexo has been doing some major training on the new system. As the launch approached, recruiters were given tips and “pre-training”; they were provided with things like “top 10 reasons you will like the new system” and were taught the new lingo that goes with it. Hiring managers have been watching 60-minute webinars, and for HR partners 90-minute webinars, on the new system. Ball says having recruiters teach recruiters was critical. Webinars, particular surrounding the most frequently asked questions, continue.

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With the old Kenexa system, Sodexo couldn’t tell when a candidate dropped out of the process — only that they dropped off. Now it can tell at what point the candidate bailed, something Ball feels should allow it to tweak the system improve drop-off rates.

Ball didn’t add in any headcount savings with the new system. In other words, Sodexo doesn’t plan on cutting recruiters because of it. But, she feels recruiters will be more effective, with fewer administrative tasks and more time to focus on candidates and hiring managers.

Sodexo will be working with iCIMS to see if the system can accommodate the various ways social media is changing the management of candidates. As an example, Sodexo would like to have only the jobs individual recruiters are working on to be fed to their Facebook pages.

Also, it’d like its Softscape system for succession planning, and its background checking system, to interface with this new talent acquisition system. It might add the iCIMS onboarding system eventually, too.

This raises the question of why Sodexo didn’t go with one company to handle all HR processes. It thought about this, but in the end wanted to find the best recruiting system for its hiring needs, and not the company that could do everything from recruiting to payroll. “A lot of companies do all of it,” Ball says, but outside of their area of expertise, “”they’re not as good at the other stuff.”

For now, Ball, Barton, and team are happy to have most of this out of the way. “It was absolutely huge,” Ball says. “So many details, and the devil was in the details.”

Just Say No

Sodexo does a better job than most at keeping in touch with job candidates, and letting those who don’t make the cut know they didn’t. It sends out, for instance, a newsletter to candidates in its pipeline, featuring jobs and career articles about the food and nutrition field.

I applied for a senior vice president of operations job September 17. It asked me to upload a resume. I didn’t have one, and there wasn’t have an easy way around it, so I loaded up a Word document with some random verbiage just to progress through the system and become part of Sodexo’s “talent community.” Regarding this resume requirement, Barton and Ball say, without a lot of specifics, that they’re working on it. They’re looking at some sort of system changes that would make it more flexible and allow people to upload some other format of resume.

I received an email back that read: “Sodexo USA Careers – Welcome to the Talent Community! ?You have been added to the Sodexo talent community, which will help keep you notified of when great opportunities are available that match your interest.”

Barton says that this is one of 100 different emails that Barton says Sodexo now sends candidates.

I also got this email:

Dear Todd,

Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with Sodexo. The success of our organization begins with our employees looking for career growth and development opportunities.

We have received your application for position 2847, Senior Vice President – Operations and will be reviewing your qualifications. We will contact you as soon as possible by phone or e-mail to provide an update regarding your status. In the meantime, please click on the link to learn more about our Hiring Process.

We encourage you to continue to visit our Career Center at where we post new and exciting positions every day. You may search for open positions, create a Job Agent, review and update your profile or check your status for jobs to which you’ve applied at any time.

Diversity and inclusion, sustainability, wellness and fighting hunger are fundamental to Sodexo’s commitment to making every day a better day for us all. We are known throughout our industry as a top employer of talented individuals, and are proud of our track record in providing a highly rewarding work environment, with opportunities for professional and personal development, and career growth.

Again, thank you for your interest in Sodexo.


Sodexo Talent Acquisition

This was on September 17. That email came with a job search widget, courtesy of Jobs2web and pictured at the top of this article, for me to put on my computer and keep up with future job openings.

On September 21, I got a rejection that went like this:

Thank you for posting your resume to the Senior Vice President – Operations position – (2847). It has been determined that you will not be forwarded for further consideration of this position.

We encourage you to continue to visit our Career Center where we post new and exciting positions every day. You may also create a Job Agent so that we can e-mail to you newly posted positions that match your pre-set search criteria or review and update your profile to ensure that you do not miss new opportunities in your area of interest.

Again, thank you for your interest.


Sodexo Talent Acquisition

The fact that Sodexo said “no” to me was nice, as it provides the closure that candidates wish they got from many companies. So I’m now in its talent community, which on the back end means I’m in its new talent acquisition system, one that Ball says will make life easier for the 300,000 annual Sodexo job candidates, as well as the recruiters who sell them on jobs and the managers who hire them.


17 Comments on “Sodexo Starts From Scratch With New Recruiting Technology System

  1. Excellent article. I don’t think I’ve read an account of a vendor process as fleshed-out as this, and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it in the future. Thanks for your contribution.

  2. Well done case study. the description of the cutover process was spot-on with how we usually do it (e.g. major holidays are usually big project dates for our teams), and I’m delighted to see that the reports of the death of stand-alone ATS have been exaggerated; good on ICIMS for coming out on top in a multi-way beauty contest.

    On the other hand, I think the remark about “bolt-on” products for interview management and scheduling that were used with the legacy system are telling; I’m a huge believer that SharePoint (and its ilk) will be handling the majority of workflows over the next decade or so, and vertical software vendors will no longer need (or want!) to handle those functions because they are hard to code/maintain on a per customer basis.

    That little bit about a resume being required when they don’t want that behavior shows that it’s just starting all over again, but ICIMS will be probably faster to innovate/update than Kenexa, and Sodexo is no doubt saving some $$ going this way. It’s part and parcel of any complex application that tweaks can be desired and helpful.

    The real lesson from this case is that careful planning and full involvement of everyone helps ANY project with ANY vendor on the other side of the deal. ICIMS is a fine product, but you could have slotted any of the ten or so best ATS solutions into this environment and likely come up smelling fine.

    Todd hopefully you will stay on the case and report in a year or two about lessons learned and thoughts for the future from the progressive team at Sodexo that put this deal in motion.

  3. Sodexo continues to exhibit its leadership in the talent community as shown by its willingness to be so open, honest, and transparent about its process. A lesser organization (and people) would have pointed fingers at Kenexa but it is apparent from this article that Sodexo took ownership to the issues that it had with its old system.

    One of the great things about iCIMS is that it is an applicant tracking system that actually tracks applicants. I am always astounded at how few organizations are truly able to understand the source of their hires. They rely on the applicants to self-identify their source, which has been proven to be fundamentally flawed because the applicants don’t know or remember how they learned about the organization or the particular opportunity so they make up answers that sound logical.

    With iCIMS, the employer client receives a unique web page address (URL) to provide to its job board or other media partner and iCIMS then automatically tracks for the client how many clicks and applications came through each of those URLs. So Sodexo, for example, can post the same job to Monster, Careerbuilder,, Twitter, Facebook, and Google AdWords and know with a great degree of accuracy how many clicks and applications it received from each source. I don’t know this, but I suspect that there’s a way to enter the cost of each ad campaign into iCIMS so it will also calculate the cost per application and cost per hire.

    One of the great stories in the marketing world is about the client who says with great certainty that she’s sure that 50 percent of the money she spends on advertising works well. The problem is that she’s not sure which 50 percent. With iCIMS, Sodexo will know.

  4. Todd,

    Great article but I have one small correction to this paragraph:

    “…That email came with a job search widget, courtesy of Jobs2web and pictured at the top of this article, for me to put on my computer and keep up with future job openings.”

    To clarify, the Sodexo jobs widget, which is actually a Yahoo! widget, was created by Davis Advertising Inc.

    We have used various sources for the job feeds in the widget, adapting to changes in the technologies used by Sodexo. iCIMS via Jobs2Web was most likely the feed source at the time of your download.

  5. @Steven –

    So if I get 1,000 applications from Job Board “A” and 5,000 from Job Board “B”, this tells me… what? B is better than A?

    Also, if I actually hire someone from Job Board A (only 1,000 apps) rather than Job Board B (5,000 apps) then the difference between them is… what?

    Further, if Job Board “B” (5,000 apps) was less expensive yet I actually found the person I hired at “A” (the expensive site), where should I advertise in the future?

    Embedded URL tracking simply provides a definitive value to the customer allowing them to associate cost-based sources with a volume of applicant activity. It does absolutely nothing to identify how an individual candidate “learned about the organization or particular opening”. The “fundamental flaw”, as you aptly describe self-identification by applicants, has not been remedied by any ATS, Jobs2Web, or other tracking utility. It has been re-packaged and gift-wrapped for the psychological benefit of those who understand that only half of all advertising works. But we still need to spend 100% of our advertising dollars.

    And it was John Wanamaker who commented that we don’t know which 50% of our advertising works. And he did it without tracking URL’s. Amazing!

  6. Dave-
    Going to disagree with you a bit. I think it’s pretty golden to be able to track applicant source (e.g. which job board) against number of candidates and their performance in candidate pipelines. If I can go to my VP and say “We get about half the applicants with Job Board X as with Job Board Y, but 75% of them are worth interviewing, versus 10% with Y”, it’s going to be a heck of a lot useful than the guesswork we’d be relying on otherwise. Maybe it doesn’t give you the kind of granular information on individual advertising channels attached to each, but it’s still useful as a guiding tool.

  7. You have to be mighty careful to not confuse correlation and causation in determining source of hire (or anything else for that matter).

    Advertising is not a yes/no deal; you rarely sell on one ad. You get accumulated exposures of brand and action messages, with no easy way to say which part “worked” and which part did not. Note that I said no easy way- pro marketers at top firms can do some pretty amazing work. Without randomized testing of a treated group and a control group, its really, really hard to draw actionable conclusions from simple snapshot metrics.

  8. @Tyler –

    Golden it is… but my comment was more related to Martin Snyder’s observation. That is, source of hire and the assumption of anything related to that source *other than* volume. You are talking about tracking volume and volume only so actionable conclusions from that volume are simply “best bets”.

    But here’s the reality:

    Would you take that negative info on Job Board Y to your VP if you knew he was going to pull the plug on advertising on Job Board Y? What if you had more hires from Job Board Y than from Job Board X. Would you stop advertising on X? If you are taking action on volume indicators, you should!

    I maintain it makes sense to advertise – period. It does not make sense to try to correlate where you advertise with a nebulous quality indicator like “worth interviewing”. If you did this, you’d be grouping the qualities for ALL your jobs into one bundle and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, many think you can actually correlate the qualities of individual job-types in this manner as well.

    I have requested this many times before when the topic of “Source Analysis” is brought up. I have *never* gotten a response: Show me any study at all that supports a correlation between an advertising source and employee quality. This is the holy grail of recruiting… and it doesn’t exist.

    We may feel better about placing bets on Job Boards if the volume indicators are through the roof, but the fact remains, the quality of any single individual is not being measured. Therefore, looking back to that source for the same quality individual is a fallacy.

  9. Dave-
    Apologies for using such a nebulous oversimplification. When I’m evaluating process, I would look at the number of applicants from a particular source which were then slated to be interviewed, and look at the conversion ratios of each (as well as onwards in the process). While I was looking at the very base level here, the overall analysis is much more complex. If you want to expand the example, if one resource is not providing you with enough results and is killing your ROI, it’s worth exploring canceling that and reallocating advertising funds or even labor.

    My attempted point was to suggest precisely that looking at volume metrics alone is pretty worthless (where we agree), but that it doesn’t negate the usefulness of source tracking as an element of other reporting.

    On the other hand, hire volume vs expected hire and cost of vacancy is an important metric when you’re looking at the bottom line. If you need to make hires to fill out a team, and you’re focused too much on the “top 10 percent” candidate, you face a slew of issues (retention issues, loss of productivity, etc.). To me, it seems like there’s often too much focus on any one orthodox set of metrics, or too much rejection of the orthodoxy when it has its place, which brings me to:

    CPH is a pretty common metric, perhaps the most common “bottom line” metric. However, It should definitely not sit alone at the bottom line. Factors such as REI (Recruitment efficiency index) that look at cost of hiring as a percentage of total 1st year compensation, or quality hire metrics, can become more important than CPH depending a firm’s situation.

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