Retail recruitment is becoming harder and harder.
While the job market in the sector has slowed down slightly – with a 21% decline in job postings year over year between January and August – recruiters in the sector have still had to fill over 1.8 million jobs in the US alone this year. That means nearly 1 in every 10 positions in the industry have been available at some point in 2023.
In truth, recruitment in retail has always been a tough gig. The industry’s high turnover, relatively modest wages, and less exciting reputation in comparison to other sectors can make finding good people especially challenging, particularly if you want highly engaged candidates with long-term staying power.
But what can you do to make it easier? What are some tactics you might not have thought of that could give you a competitive edge? And how do you put the right foundations in place to build a sustainable long-term retail recruitment strategy? Read on to find out.
1. Start by aligning on what you want
One of the most important first steps when making any new hire is to make sure your team is fully aligned on what they want.
Too often, hiring teams will start a candidate search with a broad idea of what they’re looking for, only to find different stakeholders have different expectations on the specifics of the role, or what the more important qualities are in a candidate.
You might assume that this would be less of a problem in retail recruitment at larger companies, who will have fairly clearly defined expectations and job descriptions for specific roles. Even if this is the case, however, it’s well worth your HR team seeking feedback periodically from other stakeholders like store managers, team leaders, and even department staff.
You might not have a clear handle on what matters to them, or may not have updated your job descriptions in some time, so this feedback could drastically improve your chances of finding the right person. After all, these are the people that will work with the new hire on a day-to-day basis, and will be better able to identify the specific skills or personality traits they need to be successful.
This is especially important since many retail entry-level positions that are grouped under broad umbrella categories like ‘sales assistant’ actually cover a range of very different departments. A large retailer like Walmart or Target might have floor staff working in electronics, groceries, and clothing aisles all sharing the same titles, but the roles themselves might require different skills.
Managers might prefer staff in the clothing department to have an interest in fashion, for instance, or for electronics department employees to have specific product knowledge.
Apart from making sure everyone is on the same page, kicking off your retail recruitment process with this step will help you to build a better job posting, and to prepare more relevant interview questions. As a bonus, it also gives your HR team a window into what day-to-day life at your company really looks like for your employees.
2. Don’t ‘overask’ on experience
Another thing that it’s incredibly important to be fully aligned on is the experience levels required for staff. Some retailers make the mistake of asking for too much experience in job postings, even for entry-level positions. This is usually in the hope that they’ll attract some candidates who can really hit the ground running.
In reality, it usually serves to put candidates who might be a good fit off applying as they don’t meet the requirements on paper. Even when recruiting for a management or executive position, asking for 5 years of experience when you really only need 2 or 3 could be unnecessarily limiting your talent pool.
One thing we do at Guusto which could be easily applied to retail recruitment is to frame our job openings in terms of what the person will be doing, rather than what experience they need. This still gives you the opportunity to make it clear what skills and expertise you require, but leaves it open for candidates to judge whether they think they meet the requirements of the role.
Not only is this a good way to attract more candidates, it’s also more inclusive, as it makes your roles open to people who may not have had the same opportunity as others to build up their resumes.
3. Create kick-ass job postings
Another way to improve your retail recruitment results might be to change up your job postings. At Guusto, we get a lot of positive feedback from candidates for our job descriptions, and our simple template could be easily applied to a retail position. You can view a detailed breakdown from our People & Culture partner Julia Fulton in this video.
One of the best things about our postings is that we get to the point. The basic job details, salary, and benefits are listed at the top of the description, so that candidates know right away if we offer what they’re looking for. Showing everything you bring to the table early on can help draw in candidates.
As mentioned in the previous section, we also describe what a successful candidate will actually be doing in the role, rather than giving them a laundry list of requirements. We divide this into two sections detailing their responsibilities in the first 3 months and the first 12 months, showing how their role will grow as they progress.
For retailers, this could be a great way to highlight how quickly employees can advance in their positions. Knowing that you have a plan to help them keep growing and learning will help show candidates that you are ready to invest in their long-term development.
Another thing candidates like about our postings is our ‘What to Expect’ section, where we outline what the application process looks like. This includes how many rounds of interviews there are, who they will be interviewing with, and any other requirements such as references and background checks.
Candidates are given a clear idea of our hiring timeline and what to expect at each stage. Employers will usually have this figured out in advance, and it only makes sense to share it with candidates, rather than keeping them guessing throughout the process.
Taking an approach like this to your job postings can help them stand out as different from your competitors, while also making them more welcoming and clear for your applicants.
4. Find the right retail recruitment channels
Obviously, a crucial part of success in retail recruitment is finding the right channels to promote your openings. This could involve anything from online job boards, to print advertising, to placing posters in-store.
Use what’s worked for your company in the past as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. The ways candidates at all levels of retail look for and find jobs is evolving, and you might find new avenues to attract more applicants.
For instance, you might find you have more success advertising online through job boards, your website, or LinkedIn than you did in the past. Today’s workers will often prefer to go online to look for jobs rather than pounding the pavement, as it’s more efficient. You need to make sure you have avenues for them to do so.
Another thing to consider is whether you should be advertising for positions as needed, or inviting continuous applications. Some larger retailers find that keeping avenues for application open on an ongoing basis is helpful due to high turnover.
5. Streamline your interview process
How many interviews do candidates have to go through in your process? And what does each interview actually add? How does it help you find better candidates?
From entry-level to executive retail recruitment, candidates spend a lot of time and effort preparing for interviews, booking time off from jobs or arranging childcare. If they feel like they’re just being asked the same questions over and over again by different people, it can start to feel unnecessary.
Try to streamline your interview process so that it’s as lean as possible, and moves candidates through your funnel quickly.
Some retailers and other frontline companies even get creative and do group interviews, and may even hold them as a standing, walk-in event on a weekly or monthly basis. This is a great way to make applying to your company welcoming and easy, though it has its drawbacks. You might find that more introverted or less confident candidates don’t get the same chance to shine as others, and miss out on good applicants.
You should also organize your own interview workflow as an HR manager. Even experienced professionals in the field sometimes make the mistake of going through applications and setting up interviews in an unstructured way.
Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Wait a set number of days to gather applications before going through them, rather than trying to view them as they come in. Then aim to select a certain number of applicants and hold a certain number of interviews per week, with the aim of passing a percentage of them onto the next stage.
At Guusto, for example, our People team will usually aim to interview five people per week and pass three on to the next stage. Your goals might be different depending on the roles you're hiring for, how many stages there are in your process, and what your pipeline looks like. The important thing is that you create a process and stick to it.
6. Make sure you’re asking the right interview questions
Another way to improve your chances of success in retail recruitment is to make sure you’re asking candidates the right questions in the interview itself.
The most efficient – and most equitable – approach is to draw up a list of questions that every candidate is asked. This doesn’t mean your interview process has to be robotic, and you can still make room for conversation and follow-up questions for each candidate. But having preset questions ensures that everyone has an equal chance to speak about their experience, skills, and passions.
You and every member of your interview team should also score candidates based on these questions, and on their competencies, to make sure you're making your decision based on tangible evidence rather than gut feelings. If you're using an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), they will often have features in place to build this process out.
Another really important part of this is giving each candidate equal time to answer your questions. If you interview one candidate for ten minutes because you’re busy that day, but speak to another for an hour because you don’t have a hard stop, you’re not giving each person a fair shot.
7. Train your interviewers
Whether your hiring team is managers or HR professionals, giving them proper training is crucial to an effective retail recruitment strategy.
People who don’t interview candidates a lot don’t always know what questions are effective, and what questions are appropriate. A good, simple example might be certain personal questions about a candidate, like whether they have a partner or family. A lot of interviewers will ask these sorts of questions, usually with innocent intentions, but they can be viewed as discriminatory and can even be illegal to ask in some locations.
Inherent, unconscious biases can also be a big issue with inexperienced interviewers (and some more experienced ones), so making sure they are aware of them should be a part of your training.
Another thing you may want to focus on is debunking some myths or ingrained habits interviewers may have. For instance, some hiring managers will hold off on making an offer when they find a candidate they like early in the process. They might say they want to ‘talk to some other people’ and ‘see what’s out there’. This is more common when dealing with retail executive recruitment or management hiring.
While it might seem reasonable for them to want to assess all of their options, they run the risk of losing a great candidate. By the time they return to the person they were originally considering, that person may have gotten another offer, or simply cooled on the position because the process was taking a long time.
Ask them if they’d be happy with going ahead with that candidate as a hire, and if they’d be upset if they lost them by delaying the decision. If the answer is yes, they should move ahead to making an offer.
8. Keep candidates in the loop
One thing we’re very proud of in our recruitment process at Guusto is our commitment to never ‘ghosting’ applicants. No matter where they are in the process, candidates will be told if they are moving forward, and if they are no longer in consideration.
We’re also big fans of what we call the ‘no update’ update. If our hiring process is stalling for whatever reason, we will email candidates in our pipeline to let them know that we haven’t moved forward yet, but they are still in the running. It’s a small touch that makes a lot of difference to the candidate experience.
You can apply this philosophy to your retail recruitment strategy, even if your process is a bit different. For example, if you accept applications on a continuous basis, you may want to email all candidates at regular intervals, telling them you’re not hiring right now but that you will let them know when something comes up if they’re still interested. If you know you will need seasonal staff or will be looking at new hires at a certain point, give them those details, too.
This is an easy way to keep them warm, and show them that you have a considerate, employee-first culture. If they are still looking when you are ready to hire, they’ll be more likely to have retained their interest.
9. Onboard quickly
One point we can’t emphasize enough is that speed is everything when it comes to recruitment in retail. With the war for talent meaning employees looking to work in the sector have more choice than ever before, you can’t afford to lose good hires because your process takes too long.
And when you do make an offer, make sure to onboard quickly. Find ways to automate any paperwork, background checks, or other admin you need to do, and make the process simple and easy for candidates.
Communication is also key to a good onboarding process. Make sure your new hires understand what the next steps are, and have everything they need to be fully prepared for their first day.
Lastly, when they do show up for work, make them feel welcome! Have someone on hand to greet them, introduce them to people, and show them around. Beginning a job at your company should feel exciting, not overwhelming or disappointing, and starting on the right note will set the tone for their tenure.
10. Recruit for a career, not a job
One of the biggest issues that retailers face when recruiting is that a lot of candidates tend to view retail positions as short-term gigs rather than careers.
But with the challenges the sector is facing, HR teams need to work harder to position retail jobs as an option with real long-term career prospects. Make it clear in your postings and in interviews that there are pathways to management and leadership roles, and highlight success stories where employees have started at entry-level and worked their way up.
Even if you’re hiring seasonal staff, students in part-time roles, or other positions that will likely be more short-term, it’s still worth making this a key part of your retail recruitment strategy. You never really know when an employee might enter your company thinking it’s a stopgap job, only to find that they like the work and the culture and start thinking about it as a long-term option.
Making sure they know those pathways are open to them from the beginning can help increase your chances of finding these candidates. Even if you don’t, it still shows your people that you value and invest in each and every employee, regardless of who they are.
Get our free guide to recognition for retailers
If you’re looking for ways to attract and retain more retail staff, employee recognition could be your secret weapon.
In Employee Recognition for Retail: The Complete Guide, we talk about some of the challenges facing retailers today, and how we believe recognition can help HR leaders in the sector create better, more aligned cultures. We also offer a free planning worksheet and tips for creating a successful retail recognition program. Fill out the form below to download your copy: