Finding the next generation of retail workers through persona-based hiring

Cliché or not, there’s a lot to be said about knowing your audience.

Marketers use buyer personas to identify how and why customers make purchase decisions. Candidate personas are the same thing, except on the recruitment side. Persona-based hiring shifts the focus from the specifics of the role to the potential of the individual—providing an opportunity for businesses to consider a different way of looking at future hires. And since the retail hiring landscape has changed dramatically and old playbooks no longer apply, a fresh approach just makes sense.

Retail employees training on device

What are hiring personas?

Think of them as candidate mini biographies. These profiles are a blend of qualitative and quantitative data that can tell you:

  • Why they’re interested in retail work
  • What kind of work they’re looking for
  • Where you can find them
  • How to get their attention
  • How you can get them to stay

According to a recent report from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions RPO, this innovative approach to staffing is as much an answer to significant attrition as it is to shining a light on those who might have been historically left out:

“Retail job openings are vastly outpacing the number of quality job seekers. The best chance to fill the gap between jobs and candidates is to better understand the types of workers retail could attract—including personas that may have been overlooked.”

Retail work is more than a paycheck—it’s a choice

The retail employee of the future no longer fits into a narrow candidate profile—young, part-time, short-term—and that means businesses need to evolve their hiring practices in tandem. Developing hiring personas takes you through the process of uncovering who your ideal candidates could be and the answers may surprise you.

“The pandemic has completely altered the way retailers compete for, attract and retain talent,” says Evan Armstrong, Vice President, Workforce, RILA, in the same report. “The old challenges are now compounded by entirely new ones. The sales floor is staffed by the people on the front lines. The warehouse is full of essential workers. Priority number one is to expand workforces with candidates who are ready to work, ready to learn and ready to grow. Finding them means attracting candidates we may not have thought about before.”

Who are the people that will thrive on the retail frontline? Exploring candidate personas—including ones identified in the RILA report, like artist/actor/musician, caregiver, military, retiree, product champion, etc.—can give retailers insight into an expansive and often-overlooked workforce.

Innovation introduces diversity

As retailers broaden their approach to hiring, they’re discovering that job seekers are increasingly motivated by company culture, ethics and values. In turn, this also opens opportunities for greater representation, which statistically leads to greater financial benefits.

In fact, companies in the top quarter for gender diversity are 25% more likely to outperform those in the bottom. Similarly, businesses that boast an ethnically diverse workforce are 36% more likely to outperform their more homogeneous peers.

“From my vantage point, any comprehensive search for viable candidates should include, among others, stay-at-home parents, persons with disabilities and teens,” says Jil Greene, Field Human Resources Operations, AutoZone. “These historically underrepresented individuals in the labor market routinely add tremendous value and often prove to be outstanding fits culturally.”

Pair personas with professional development

“The future of work is learning and adaptation,” says author and expert Heather McGowan, and young workers consider as many as 16 or 17 different jobs across five different industries before deciding where to work.

If newcomers are among your key personas, you need to figure out how to become their employer of choice by aligning with their career aspirations, goals and values and create a workplace that’s “sticky”—which also includes actively listening to employee concerns and addressing them in a real way.

Regardless of demographics, if you’re hiring for aptitude, you need to address any skills gaps by providing tangible pathways for growth through solid training and ongoing development strategies. If someone wants to work for you, the next step is putting the right tools in their hands.

The race to retail resilience is now a sprint

The merging of digital ecommerce with brick-and-mortar retail was well underway before 2020. But the pandemic and the Great Resignation have only quickened the pace.

Frontline retail workers aren’t all looking for the same things and retailers need to thoughtfully consider what they are going to do to find, and keep, them by creating an environment where their unique motivations, interests and goals can be harnessed for a mutually beneficial future.

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