With ‘Chat & Chow,’ Cogent aims for relaxed atmosphere for job candidates

September 15, 2013

Company: Cogent Communications.

Location: The District.

Employees: 258 locally; 670 nationwide.

Recently, recruiters at Cogent Communications were having difficulty finding top talent for their sales teams in their Northern Virginia branches.

So recruiting manager B.C. Shannon and recruiter Kim McRoy ginned up an event for job candidates that they hoped would set their District-based firm apart from its competition.

The events have been dubbed “Chat & Chow,” and they bring together a group of pre-screened prospective employees for an informal lunch and gab session at Cogent’s offices. The most basic rule? No PowerPoint presentations.

“We wanted to make something that was more of a give-and-take, something a little more interactive,” Shannon said.

The recruiting team invites job candidates and lets them chat with Cogent staffers of diverse levels of experience. The idea is that the relaxed setting allows for a more natural exchange in which the interviewee can see if the company is a good fit, and vice versa.

“We can allow for that two-way mirror,” McRoy said. “This platform really enables them to be their true selves.”

After the lunch and socializing, the candidates participate in more traditional one-on-one interviews.

Adam Kuhn, a regional account manager, accepted a job offer at Cogent after attending a Chat & Chow.

“The thing I liked about it, it didn’t have that pressure atmosphere,” Kuhn said.

Cogent has found that the Chat & Chows typically have a 55 to 60 percent hiring success rate, a figure that is sharply higher than hire rates it has seen from open houses and other sourcing events.

Because of the success of the Chat & Chows, Cogent is planning to revamp another of its hiring initiatives. The firm often holds open happy hours, luring attendees with wine, beer, artisanal cheeses and cupcakes. Now, instead of opening those sessions to anyone who is interested, they will make them more targeted events for pre-screened candidates, similar to the Chat & Chows.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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