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Four Lessons on Retail Recruiting from Two Industry Leaders

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“Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” The quote belongs to American novelist Rita Mae Brown and can easily be applied to not only life in general but any field of expertise in particular.

Take the retail industry, for example. There is much to be learned from heavyweights such as Macy’s and Belk, especially in the strategic talent acquisition front. Between them, they have over 1000 stores and approximately 150,000 employees, not to mention close to 300 years of experience in retail (294 to be precise, but who’s counting?).

We recently sat down with two vice presidents of talent acquisition, Owen Williams of Belk and Henry Casanova of Macy’s, to discuss the changes and challenges driven by digital advancements and omnichannel recruiting. And these are the four lessons we gathered.

Lesson 1: Leverage Employer Brand

To connect with candidates, both Belk and Macy’s call upon the reputations of their consumer brands. As with many retailers, the companies’ candidates are also their customers, so a high-quality candidate experience is all the more important.

People talk about Macy’s, this brand they grew up with knowing about, and when they don’t have a good (hiring) experience there, they feel the disappointment toward the brand.”

Henry Casanova, VP of talent acquisition at Macy’s

Because employer branding is so critical, Macy’s hired someone focused solely on promoting the company as a great place to work. The company recently interviewed staff members to create an Employee Value Proposition, which details values and culture. The final document paints a true picture of the Macy’s employee and helps attract the right candidate.

Belk created an internal partnership with its marketing department in order to stay aligned with the consumer brand. Williams said that the company builds on its in-store standards of developing an “emotional connection with the customer, not a transactional effort.” Belk accomplishes this by sharing authentic employee stories on its website and social media accounts.

Using social media, Belk and Macy’s create awareness of different recruitment campaigns. Although companies often base recruiting success on conversions, the value of social media is more challenging to measure. Casanova believes that it is important to manage expectations of a given social network.

“Twitter doesn’t create a lot of applicants,” he offered as an example. “It’s really about having your voice out there and engaging the candidate even in discussion, if it’s not application. … It’s all about getting granular and knowing how the candidate participates in this specific social media.”

Lesson 2: Recruit the Right Talent

Belk collaborates with its marketing department to create email campaigns – not only reaching the right candidates but also inspiring them to act. Using Avature, recruiters search for candidates within a certain zip code to fill positions in harder-to-hire regions. The company measures its return on investment by tracking how many applications come from a given email campaign.

Belk has started to incorporate other digital technologies, such as tablets for in-store applications and SMS text-to-apply functionality. The company now takes a regional approach to hiring in order to gain traction in areas that are more difficult to find hourly workers. Belk targets local news websites and has seen an uptick in applicant flow – simply by meeting candidates where they already are.

Belk’s recruiters attract harder-to-fill roles like software engineers by demonstrating how their tasks don’t have a narrow focus, but that they are instead able to work on a broad spectrum of projects.

Macy’s recruits for technology roles by highlighting the tangible impact of the jobs. “The thing that makes our position in technology attractive … is that people touch your technology,” Casanova said. “There is a connection.”

The company also noticed that the expectations of its candidates are changing. Millennials – who will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 – are native users of mobile technology. Macy’s realized that recruiting had to be mobile-first, and the company adapted its career site to this mindset.

If the application process doesn’t feel like it’s good in mobile, then it’s just not good. We have raised the bar in how we involve mobile, and I think that’s a big change.”

Henry Casanova, VP of talent acquisition at Macy’s

Lesson 3: Prepare for Seasonal Hiring

Casanova remarked that holiday hiring is a year-round endeavor. To illustrate this point, he said the company held its holiday hiring summit a month ago – more than six months before Black Friday kicks off the shopping madness.

Last year, Macy’s initiated a National Hiring Day, during which recruiters invited a selection of past hires to reapply. This year, the company plans to expand its past efforts by personally reaching out to candidates in hard-to-hire markets. Casanova cautioned against simply reusing programs: “You’re going to have to do something new and different every year. You’re never going to get the same results in year two as you did in year one from that shiny new strategy that you did last year.”

Belk prepares for hiring with two all-store meetings annually. Williams stated that stores really own their local events, and the corporate team supports these grassroots efforts. The company creates compelling signage campaigns annually, and it is also testing in-store technology like the text-to-apply SMS functionality. Williams said the multi-channel approach “gives in-store applicants as many options as possible.”

Lesson 4: Employ New Technology in Recruiting

A self-described “technophile,” Casanova pointed out that he is intrigued by automations intended to save recruiters’ time. Companies can utilize artificial intelligence to complete rudimentary recruiting tasks, such as screening candidates and scheduling interviews.

We’re not asking the computer to make any decisions for us. What we’re saying is, we’re going to make the decisions and then we’re going to feed the computer some information so that it makes the decisions exactly as we want it to make.”

Henry Casanova, VP of talent acquisition at Macy’s

While AI can be used to increase efficiency, bots fall short in completing many of the complex, human-involved processes carried out by recruiters. Selecting the right employee, for instance, is a nuanced and personal process. Williams believes that “there’s definitely no silver bullet.” He advises a test-and-go process when technology is concerned.

For example, Belk has begun incorporating automation into the recruiting process to screen candidates. During short video interviews, candidates respond to business case scenarios. Technology like this frees up recruiters’ time, so that they’re able to focus on the moments when their experience has the biggest impact.

For any technology that’s customer-facing, after X period of time, poll your customer, which is the people you just hired. How was the experience? Poll your hiring managers. If you’re not doing that, you’re not listening to your customers. Listen to the feedback.”

Owen Williams, VP of talent acquisition at Belk

For more information about recruiting across all channels, check out our recent blog post on omnichannel recruiting.

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