A Social Networking Solution for Retail Recruitings Challenges

By Mike Dwyer

Nov. 18, 2009

We’re all aware of the challenges facing the retail and restaurant industries during this recession. In fact, Aon Consulting’s 2009 Holiday Retail Survey reports that most companies’ hiring volumes will be the same or lower this year compared with 2008.

Few have escaped the effects of the recession, and certainly very few retailers can say the recession has not upset their business in some material way. Consumers are closing their checkbooks and are shredding their credit cards.

Is there anything positive? Is there relief on the horizon? The short answer is that we are seeing a glimmer of hope: 19 percent of retailers plan to hire more than last year.

A perfect example is the news that Toys R Us is slated to hire 35,000 employees for the holiday season. This report and other major retailers’ hiring moves are an indication that markets may be looking up and consumers may indeed be spending money again.

The holiday staffing survey reinforces the ongoing challenges that face retail organizations when researching candidates they want to hire, whether it’s for two holiday months or two years. I’ve worked in retail staffing and understand the challenges of hiring great customer-focused individuals who understand retail or restaurants and are quick on their feet. Here are some insights that retail managers face, according to respondents to the Aon survey:

• Store managers said their best source for quality holiday-season candidates are the tried-and-true methods of employee referrals and walk-ins, followed by job boards and the company Web site.

• Store managers indicated their biggest seasonal challenges are finding quality candidates and time wasted on unqualified candidates.

I’ve felt their pain. And now I know there is a way to tip the hiring equation in their favor.

I believe it lies in an integrated approach that uses social media channels to engage the business’s target audience. Once the audience is engaged, you can create a strong community of candidates, employees and customers for future needs while marketing your regional stores in the process.

I am an avid user of social media channels and have daily challenges weeding through all the noise, spam and misinformation that can dilute my focus on finding quality candidates and talent.

Despite those distractions, I most often find myself having many positive networking experiences via social media channels.

They frequently result in the discovery of quality candidates (as well as new business leads, media placements and, most important, new like-minded friends and professional contacts).

I see the unlimited hiring and discovery potential that can be had by tapping into current employees’ online communities via the holy trinity of social media: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Let’s contrast the current state of affairs with what was going on several years ago when I was a corporate recruiter for an upscale quick-serve restaurant chain.

I was in charge of hiring retail staff in new markets with an aggressive growth strategy and I was constantly reaching out to regional store managers and employees for referrals. The idea that “employees of a feather flock together” was our hiring mantra.

At this company, we would host weekly job fairs in the existing or newly built stores, and we’d advertise these fairs on Monster and in leaflets posted in every restaurant shop window, community bulletin board and college campus we could find within a five-mile radius of a store. This was 2004, the year after Facebook started.

The strategy foundered, though, because our employees didn’t have the resources to go to school, work two jobs and refer great candidates to us for the restaurant’s burgeoning demand. In fact, the weekly job fairs were something of a crapshoot: There was either heavy candidate traffic that was impossible to manage or there were no candidates whatsoever.

Back then, I could see that job fairs and other traditional ways of advertising open positions were falling short. What I couldn’t envision then, I can more easily see now thanks to social media. Just imagine:

• Qualified candidates served up to store managers every day.

• Empowering your regional and store managers to hire great people without a great deal of effort.

• Hosting a daily employee-referral driven job fair through a trusted Twitter or Facebook community.

• Providing a predetermined, targeted in-market recruiting event that can be scheduled without taking valuable time from your store managers (they have a store to run) or you (you have a recruiting strategy to execute).

• Finding virtual places to host job fairs driven by employee referrals each day—even on weekends or after hours.

• Solidifying and implementing a recruiting strategy that, in addition to attracting the right candidates, also helps drive a groundswell of new customers to your door.

Social media is an easy way to tap into existing groups of employees outside of their direct friends and family. It’s a way to organize a Meetup or a Tweetup to pull together a consistent in-market recruiting event that keeps great candidates available for future anticipated upticks and seasonal influxes. It’s a way to help motivate current employees and valuable store alumni to stay connected for future needs.

I wish I’d had this resource seven years ago when I was going storefront to storefront down Beltline Road in Dallas in 100-degree August heat. If you would have told me I could find and develop relationships with the best retail candidates from my BlackBerry, I would have thought you were crazy.

But now I think we’d be crazy if we didn’t grab these tools and run with them.

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