Recruiting Enablement Blog



Retail’s Top Recruiting Challenges and Best Bets: 11 Ways Leaders Can Address Volume Hiring in the Era of the Casual Candidate

Josie Sutcliffe December 2, 2019

Last holiday season was record-breaking for retailers in the US with  a 5% increase over the previous year, the largest sales increase in 6 years. And in the UK a report from credit card giant Barclaycard showed consumer spending grew 1.8% year-on-year in December. Yet, as we head into Retail’s make or break time of year,  retailers are facing new challenges, including a possible economic slowdown. This is compounded by increasing competition from digitally native brands like Caspar, Boden, Joe Browns, Allbirds, and (the latest grocery store announcement) Amazon opening brick and mortar stores and actively hiring for them.

High Volume Hiring

Between 2009 and 2018 job openings in Retail grew by 242%, with an average of just under one million openings per month in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the same years, hiring and separations (turnover) grew 43% and 31% respectively. Perhaps surprisingly, despite the 242% growth in job openings, total employment in Retail increased a relatively small 9% during the same time. The insight:  retailers today have to do a lot more recruiting legwork to simply maintain their current workforces, much less meet their seasonal workforce requirements.


Seasonal hiring has long been a staple challenge for Retail recruiting leaders, with larger retailers starting their seasonal hiring as early as summertime. As shared in company press releases, Target is hiring 100,000 seasonal workers this year, Kohl’s 90,000, and Macy’s 80,000, to name a few. Seasonality takes the challenge of volume recruiting to a new level -- with recruiters needing to screen, engage, and hire thousands and thousands of workers in a very short timeframe.

Ghosting and the Casual Candidate

Volume recruiting is made more complex by ghosting, a phenomenon that, as this Washington Post article discusses, is on the rise, likely largely due to low unemployment rates. Ghosting is when “someone suddenly ends all communication without an explanation.” 

Today 92% of candidates are considering another job offer when they consider yours, up 61% from 2016 (Gartner 2019). As explained by Gartner analyst Jason Cerrato, candidates have shifted from “committed” to “casual”: candidates apply to more jobs with less up front research, and short list their top picks only after they have met with recruiters. This means employers are dealing with an even higher volume of candidates and longer cycle of consideration than before.

Economic uncertainty

While the US economy showed strong growth in 2018, “the United States is facing a flattening yield curve, rising asset prices (and possible market corrections), and tightening monetary policy—all common indicators prior to a recession. Combined with geopolitical uncertainty, the changing business and economic climate means retailers should plan for a variety of scenarios.” (Deloitte’s 2019 Retail Outlook.) Similarly, “2019 is shaping up to be another tough year for the beleaguered UK retail sector.” (Deloitte UK 2019 Retail Trends.)

Put simply, agility is a critical business capability for retailers now and in the coming years. Retailers need to be prepared to adapt their business strategies on a dime -- and their recruiters need to be able to modify their recruiting strategies and processes in quick response to these business changes.

What can retailers do?

1. Ensure your recruiting system can really handle high volume

The faster you can move candidates through your recruiting processes, the more competitive you can be. Yet many recruiting systems aren’t technically able to process high volumes of candidates fast enough to meet business needs. Make sure your system has the bulk processing capabilities needed to action a high volume of candidates quickly, so you can hire at the pace of the business. (Read the Marks and Spencer case study.) Logical, data-driven automation capabilities are also important. A system that is able to drive candidates down the appropriate workflow path without the need for recruiter interactions can accelerate the recruiting process and get you candidates quicker. The more automation the better when dealing with high volume recruiting. 

2. Create diverse recruiting processes 

Sameness is mediocrity and one recruiting process certainly does not fit all. To be competitive, create strategies and workflows that are tailored by role type, geography, volume needs, to give just a few examples. Don’t limit your team to just one or two workflows.

3. Be ready to adapt your recruiting processes

New stores opening. Higher turnover rates. The need to accelerate hiring for certain roles. These are just a few of the reasons recruiters need to be able to adapt their recruiting strategies and workflows quickly. Ensure your system is not only flexible enough to support your unique workflows, but also allows processes to be changed on a dime. 

4. Automate administrative tasks

Look to automate administrative tasks, making processes and candidate experience as quick and seamless as possible, keeping candidates informed and engaged. For instance, automate interview scheduling, testing and assessments, and onboarding tasks. Consider how you can automate the tasks associated with “super hiring” days and events to reduce the burden on recruiters.

5. Care deeply about Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

D&I isn’t just the secret to greater business success (as proven time and again by research), it is also the secret to widening your talent pools and improving your new hire retention rates, creating an environment where everyone feels included. Ensure your recruiting processes not only bring in diverse talent, reflecting the communities you serve, but are an inclusive experience.

6. Leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to debias recruiting and achieve better  results

Using AI and prescriptive analytics to support decision making means allowing recruiters and hiring managers to reduce the time they spend on these tasks. Recruiting solutions are available that harness machine learning technology (and reams of data) to score candidates based on their skills, cultural fit, offer acceptance probability, and probable retention. This reduces bias (correctly implemented machine learning algorithms will overcome human biases in candidate selection and widen your talent pool), saves time (high scoring candidates can be moved forward in the process automatically), and allows recruiters to focus more of their time on high return activities such as recruiting strategy, developing relationships with candidates, and having career conversations with candidates.  

7. Ensure an exceptional candidate experience

In the era of the casual candidate it is critical to provide a great candidate experience. From targeting candidates with multi-channel recruitment ads to tailoring your nurturing campaigns to ensuring your top candidates enjoy relevant content that keeps your company at the top of their minds, look to leverage tools that will help you nurture the right relationships and strengthen your pipeline. As well, aim to simplify the experience for candidates, avoiding complex online application processes.

8. Partner with Hiring Managers and Beyond

Hiring managers can make or break your recruiting outcomes. Enable busy managers, who spend more of their time on the shop floor than a desk, with automated interview scheduling, simplified interview feedback capture, and digitized onboarding.  

9. Measure, measure, measure

As Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.” Whether it is measuring recruiting efficiency and effectiveness, uncovering areas of bias in recruiting processes, or understanding the diversity of your pipelines, measuring and monitoring your results is critical to continued improvement.

10. Speed is everything

Admittedly, this tip is a consolidation of several above. But in today’s recruiting environment, speed really is everything. Whether it is handling large volumes of candidates via bulk processing, automating process steps and tasks, responsively adapting recruiting workflows, or leveraging AI and machine learning to facilitate better and faster decision making, recruiting speed -- when achieved without sacrificing quality -- is an unassailable competitive advantage.

11. Engage known talent

Keeping past candidates and seasonal workers engaged throughout the year can make a significant difference in enabling you to quickly fill both permanent and seasonal/part time opportunities. Take a multi-pronged approach to engagement: share content, event invitations, and personalized outreach with your talent pool all year long, tailoring your approach by audience for greater success.  

Learn more. Download the resource “Oleeo for High Volume Recruiting” or visit Oleeo for Retail.

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