Want to Improve Retail Hiring? 8 Things to Think About

Todd Raphael
Todd Raphael

As one speaker said yesterday at the HR Technology Conference, “high-volume hiring is not for the faint of heart.” Indeed, as we come up on one of the most important times of year for retailers, the holiday season, a challenge emerges: how do we hire quality employees for the rush? Retailers will inevitably need to hire a seasonal workforce quickly and in high volume, all while competing with other retailers for the same talent.

Ashutosh (Maddy) Madeshiya, VP of operations, Eightfold, Brian Fieser, Managing Partner, Blue Crab, and Pete Lawson, VP of Talent Acquisition, Postmates, recently had an online conversation about how leading retailers are facing the challenge of holiday hiring. Check it out here. In summary:

Retail hiring is unique. A great candidate experience and employer brand are not just great for hiring; they also impact revenue generation. “A poor candidate experience means you may not just lose candidates, but a customer,” says Madeshiya. He gives the example of Walmart, whose employees alone are worth in the ballpark of $20 billion of revenue through their own spending. The interdependency between the employer and company brand is what makes hiring unique in Retail.

Candidate experience does not equal “chatbot.” Transforming your candidate experience cannot be boiled down to just configuring a chatbot. It is more about meaningful and personalized experience for candidates from before they even apply (including the outreach they’re getting through your CRM) through the application process and after. The experience must enable the candidates to meet their goal of finding the right job aligned with their skills and potential, in a frictionless way.

A bad search destroys the experience. Spending a fortune on a careers site and then having candidates fail to find a job that matches them (despite there being an appropriate job) is… a failure. Madeshiya gives the example of both Amazon and Google. At both websites, Madeshiya says, he can find most everything he’s looking for. He leaves the experience usually feeling like his search is complete on either site. A job seeker should have a similar feeling after leaving a career site.

Companies need to match people to jobs at scale. Many retailers get millions of applications during the weeks prior to Christmas. “It’s practically not possible for human beings to go through those applications,” says Madeshiya. “And if you’re not getting back to candidates in a compassionate way, that is a big miss for retailers.” Candidates need to be able to upload a resume, a bio, a CV, a LinkedIn profile saved as a PDF, and get matched to jobs based on their potential. Hiring teams need to see a list of who’s a match to their open jobs. They need to make sure they respond to everyone at scale.

“Rediscovery” is essential. Most of retail involves high-churn positions. People change jobs every six months or so. Most of the candidates retailers engage through social marketing campaigns are people they have already engaged with in the past. It’s a matter of rediscovering them for the right role and engaging at a personal level. Another way to put it: lots of money is being spent on expensive ad campaigns only to find the people you already know. Fieser says companies are often ignoring alumni and past applicants because their applicant tracking systems lack a good way of searching for these potential hires, particularly if they applied a year or two ago. Instead, companies can use AI technology to enrich the profiles of past applicants, getting a view as to what people have been up since. Lawson says Postmates has been working on this, sending drip-marketing campaigns to past applicants who were sitting in his Greenhouse ATS and could now be unlocked. “That’s a free audience you already have captured,” Lawson says. “Maybe you didn’t give a great experience years ago, but that doesn’t mean you can’t re-engage them now.”

A platform approach is the most efficient approach. Using one, unified platform for sourcing, career site, chatbot, referrals, matching, screening, interview scheduling, and the entire hiring process makes you far more efficient and improves the candidate experience. Lawson says talent departments have had a huge number of “point solutions” thrown at them over the last few years. Over time, companies have found some of those tools to be useful, but others are not really addressing a paint point or problem. He has become skeptical about new tools as they come out, and has found it more useful to have one end-to-end platform.

Diversity and inclusion needs to be at the center, not an afterthought. Lawson says that Postmates moved to an upload-your-resume system on its career site to show each job candidate where they match open jobs. This has addressed the well-known axiom that female applicants are less likely to click the apply button than males. The percentage of female applicants has shot up 30 percent, Lawson says, after Postmates’ female candidates have seen how well they fit into open roles. Lawson says he also is using diversity analytics now to see where in the hiring process candidates from under-represented groups are dropping off. Without getting a read on where the problem is in the first place, he says, you can’t find a solution.

Retail hiring shouldn’t just happen all of the sudden. As we said before, seasonal hiring needn’t involve a chaotic seasonal hiring rush. “It’s always on for me,” says Lawson. Referring to drip-marketing campaigns, collateral, and branding, he says, “You have the rest of the calendar year to do that.”

As you improve retail hiring, think about the best metrics. Much has been said and written about metrics for talent, including cost per hire, time to hire, and quality of hire. Madeshiya says that if you have to take a look at one metric, examine the percentage of candidates you are contacting through recruitment marketing campaigns that are matches for your open jobs. That goes to the heart of whether you’re using an intelligent approach to attracting and matching talent to your roles.

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