3 Recruiting Lessons Learned From Retail

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Dec 18, 2017

As both a recruiter and a consumer, I have been reflecting on retail business lessons that are also relevant to recruitment. At The Container Store, we face stiff competition; many of our retail employees don’t even come from a retail background. We hire teachers, firefighters, students, and people from all industries to work in our stores, warehouse and home office. So we are not just competing for talent against other retailers, we are competing against virtually every company and industry, despite being rated as a Top Place to Work.

Lesson One: Speed to Consumer

With an annual subscription to Prime, Amazon created the expectation that customers can get almost any retail item delivered to their door in two days. This caused retailers to think hard about how to compete with that speed. Retailers now use delivery services, and we have seen the rise of buy-online-and-pickup in store, which enables customers to get products even faster than two days. The lesson here is about speed-to-consumer. In today’s hiring market, recruiters have to reach candidates faster, communicate more quickly, and move candidates through the hiring process swiftly.

The Container Store doesn’t just hire warm bodies: we like to call our employees “1=3” which is the philosophy that one great person equals three good people, in terms of business productivity. As a business, we can do more by hiring talented team players, instead of just average salespeople. In addition to our high bar of qualifications, our company has a multi-step interview process. Our retail salespeople go through at least two interviews and a background check before getting an offer. Recently we found that by the time we reviewed an application, and set up a phone interview, an applicant would be off the market. Our recruitment methods had been too slow. Our desire was to be thorough and intentionally vet out great people, but we needed to do it in a way that catered to the speed of the market-and our candidate’s expectations. We didn’t have any kind of guideline for how quickly we should be hiring.

We ultimately came up with a 10 Days to Hire philosophy, which enabled us to move through our stringent process, but at a quicker pace. We didn’t cut out any steps: we just layered activities in the process. Hiring managers can do a phone interview the same day a candidate applies (and should!), as well as schedule their personal interview. By creating guidelines, it increased the speed in which we moved, and has become a more effective way to flow candidates through our process.

Lesson Two: Change for Good

Directly across the street from our office is an Amazon distribution facility. Within one square mile, there are two more. These are stark daily reminders that we have to stay creative, innovative, positive, and relevant to outpace our competition.

Due to our growth, over the past year we had what we affectionately called a “hiring frenzy” to fill a massive number of openings within our IT department. We tried some new things like adding a programming exercise for developer candidates, and using a project management app to track candidate flow.

After a year of experimentation, we wanted to reflect on what worked, and what didn’t, so we held a hiring retrospective. After gathering hiring managers, recruiters, and new employees who went through the process, we asked questions about what was worthwhile and received some valuable takeaways. For instance, our project management app was an awesome tool that allowed our internal hiring managers and recruiters to stay on the same page. To increase consistency, we need to create a core interview team, instead of just pulling available managers. And we found that there is value in creating an interview guide that aligns with our job descriptions. By evaluating what is working as a business, we have been able to pivot and shift to stay relevant.

Lesson Three: Selling Through Positive Experiences

Many consumers today really want a shopping experience. Shoppers want to test drive the new Lexus, try on shades of blush at Sephora, and stomp around on new hiking boots at REI. American Eagle’s new retail concept in New York features a laundry facility for students, and fitting rooms equipped with concierge iPads. Petco now offers a grooming salon, dog training area, vet hospital, and wellness clinics. These customer experiences within retail are evolving rapidly in an effort to attract consumers. In talent acquisition, just like in business, we have to create positive experiences for our candidates. Every. Single. Time.

Our company abides by our “man in the desert” selling philosophy. It’s the theory that if you were wandering in a desert and stumbled upon someone at an oasis and you asked for water, they would give it to you. But is that all you really need? Hopefully they would recognize your additional needs for sunglasses, shade, maybe a hat, aloe vera, a phone to call home. You need more than just water. Our retail salespeople have a one-on-one conversation with customers, inquiring what they really need. “You came in for a shoe rack. How many shoes do you have? How do you store them now? What else is in your closet?” We keep asking questions to fully understand a customer’s needs.

In recruiting, we have to do the same thing. “What are you looking for in your next position that you don’t have right now? What is really important to you?” We talk about whether we can offer that. A career match needs to be mutually beneficial: a great fit for the candidate, and a great fit for your company, ensuring long-term fit for everyone. The ultimate positive experience is the one where a candidate walks away knowing they got their dream job at an ideal company.

Ultimately, consumers have choices: they do homework, research, and evaluate their options to make the best decision. Candidates echo retail shoppers in many ways: desiring a positive experience, with the promise that life will look a little better on the other side. And with the low U.S. unemployment rate, and stiff competition for talent, they need the process to move quickly. As recruiters, it is our job to swiftly and gracefully usher them through our process, and share why our opportunity is the greatest value to them and their future (more on that in San Diego). It’s our job to evaluate our process, keep the good, and throw out what isn’t working. It’s our job to design a beautiful experience from the first connection through onboarding. It’s time to take these lessons from our business and apply them to our business as recruiters.

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