The Retailer's Guide to Smarter Holiday Season Hiring

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year―and for most retailers, that isn’t just because of pumpkin spice, sugar cookies and feel-good vibes that come with the holidays. It’s also because it’s incredibly profitable.

Between November and December this year, the National Retail Federation expects holiday spending to soar as high as $730.7 billion in the U.S. alone. That figure will make up between 20 to 30 percent of annual retail sales for most stores.

To keep up with demand, retailers brought on 554,000 seasonal employees last year. In 2019, that number’s expected to grow to 590,000 employees. But while seasonal hiring reaches a peak, the candidate pool is in a valley, as unemployment now rests at 3.5 per cent.

In short: there’s a busy season ahead… and store managers are under pressure to fill those positions with stellar candidates, with a shrinking pool of applicants to choose from. Amid the hustle and bustle, those managers need to find room to get new employees up to speed in a short time, without sacrificing customer experience or slowing the momentum of the team as a whole.

So how do you hire smart when you're swimming against the current and battling competitors for the best talent for the holiday rush? It starts with a good strategy.

Here are 5 ways to take your holiday hiring from humbug to happy.

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Start looking early

Some retailers start hiring as early as July to get first dibs on the best talent. Others never stop—their pipeline goes year-round, whether they’re creating relationships with potential candidates or maintaining contact with previous hires. The sooner you get in there, the less likely you are to find yourself sifting through the leftovers. And consider working backward to make sure you have enough time to recruit and onboard new hires, stock your shelves and work the registers in advance of your season kick off.

Fit their schedule

Hiring a lot of college students? Think about when they’re busy with schoolwork and when they have time to spare for their job hunt. Looking to attract retirees? Their schedule will look a little different. Either way: get to know who you’re hiring, and meet those people where they are.

Keep the process short

The holiday window is short and your candidates will most likely be applying to your competitors too. So try to simplify your hiring process to take people from application to job offer in as few as 1 or 2 days. Longer hiring timelines work for a select few aspirational retailers, but if the candidate is really strong, you may not have much time before they are scooped up by someone else. Give your teams the option to hire quickly if the right candidate appears.

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Prioritize candidate experience

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Be crystal clear

In your job description and interview process, get specific about the hours, duties, duration, location, flexibility and compensation, as well as your company culture. Set expectations early to avoid surprises that might cause a new recruit to run when you need them the most.

 

Make it easy to apply

A walk-in should have an easy time submitting an application, and so should someone visiting online. Retailers are adopting QR codes, dedicated landing pages, mobile-friendly application processes, flexible communications and automated interview scheduling to make the whole process as quick and seamless as possible in every channel.

 

Meet applicants where they are

Twitter and Instagram may work well for millennials or Gen Z, but your boomers may be more likely to search via job boards or professional networks. That’s why it’s important to advertise and promote your seasonal positions in multiple ways. Get creative and go broad!

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Put information in one place

From paper resumes delivered by hand to mobile applications submitted online, no matter how applications come through, collect them in a single place so managers can find them easily—and good candidates don’t slip through the cracks.

Share between stores

One good candidate can work multiple stores, where and when they’re needed most. Most seasonal employees understand they’re working during crunch time in a role that needs to be flexible. Plus, applying for jobs in more than one location boosts their chances of getting hired.

Get employees involved

Your frontline staff can lighten the load by reaching out to their own networks and finding referrals that are likely to be a good fit. Don’t overlook past employees either—if you ask, you might find some who are happy to return, or who can help spread your message.

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Stand out from the pack

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Consider your compensation

What’s your hourly rate for seasonal talent? The wage you pay could be the difference between a great candidate deciding to accept your offer or losing them to a competitor who pays more.

 

Promote your culture

Compensation is one thing, but candidates also want to know whether they’ll fit in. Your culture might be the goal that wins the game, so give applicants a behind-the-scenes peek into what it’s like to work with you through your employer branding.

Highlight employee perks

Employee discounts can attract more applications and swing the decision in your favor for candidates who are fielding multiple offers. Get creative with it, too. Chances are, if they’re applying, they’re fans of your brand, so employee discounts might seal the deal. Savvy candidates will be on the lookout for other highvalue perks like higher pay, benefits, gym memberships, discounts and training and development opportunities. Just make sure the perks you offer appeal to the people you want to attract.

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Get them up-to-speed

You have significantly less time to turn a new seasonal hire into a fully productive member of your team. Adapt your training for a shorter timeframe and start them early enough so they can reach competency without feeling overwhelmed when the holiday rush begins.

Throw out the firehose

Your timeframe for onboarding is shorter, but that doesn’t mean you need to blast recruits with all your information all at once. Training seasonal employees effectively means focusing on just the critical things they need to perform up front and then continuing to feed them bite-sized chunks of training so they can start feeling confident sooner and keep up with new prices and promotions without getting buried.

Open the lines of communication

Store managers should check in regularly to make sure seasonal associates feel supported and valued. But they’re busy people-especially during the holidays. Your training can fill in the gaps by tracking each individual employee’s progress and pushing critical communications to all staff in real time.

Hire smart to get a head start

Remember, your seasonal staff are here for a good time, not a long time. Your customer experience relies on a solid holiday season hiring strategy that finds the best talent and gets them up to speed fast at a time when there’s zero room for turnover. So make the most of the time you have together—and give them a good reason to come back next year.

Discover more great tips on keeping all your associates―from seasonal to seasoned―engaged and delivering awesome customer experiences.