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Holiday Season Hiring Is Yearlong Process, Even in Downturn
 

By Theresa Minton-Eversole  9/22/2008
 
 

Bleak conditions for retailers as the 2008 holiday selling period approaches are expected to keep seasonal hiring well below the 2007 level, according to the annual holiday hiring forecast released Sept. 15, 2008, by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

“Retailers are facing an uphill battle this year,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a press statement. “Consumers are tapped, and credit is increasingly harder to come by. Meanwhile, retailers’ shipping costs are ballooning thanks to gas prices, and the weak dollar is raising the price of imported goods. With profits already getting squeezed, most retailers are going to be reluctant to take on the additional cost of extra staffing.”

The latest report from the Commerce Department shows that retail sales fell by 0.3 percent in August 2008 after falling 0.5 percent in July, the biggest decline in five months. And 2008 holiday sales are forecast to be the weakest in 17 years, according to TNS Retail Forward Inc., a global management consulting and market research firm specializing in retail intelligence and strategies.

“The holiday sales forecast represents a weakening from modest third-quarter growth as the boost from tax rebates runs out,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist for TNS Retail Forward, in a Sept. 17 statement. “The benefit from a letup in gasoline prices will be overwhelmed by the impact of rising unemployment, tighter credit and other hardships on households. And, unfortunately, the trends in economic conditions offer no sign of an impending recovery,” he adds.

Tips for Hiring

“The good news for retailers is that if there is a sudden change in consumer spending power, spurred by a second stimulus check, for example, they will be in a good position to enact a round of last-minute hiring,” said Challenger. “The labor pool is flush with qualified candidates who undoubtedly would be eager to earn some extra holiday spending money and take advantage of employee discounts.”

According to Challenger, the large discounters like Target and Wal-Mart will need extra workers on the store floors and in their shipping and overnight stocking positions. Other businesses besides retail—such as catering and shipping—might also need to hire extra seasonal workers.

But more candidates in the labor pool means recruiters have more hay to sift through when looking for the best seasonal help, according to Elaine Orler, vice president, talent acquisition management, for the consulting firm Knowledge Infusion. The key to finding the most qualified help in short order is to manage the candidate relationship year-round.

“The non-requisition-based recruitment model typically used to handle high-volume handling like that in retail requires proactive, continuous sourcing for qualified candidates,” said Orler in a Society for Human Resource Management webcast about recruiting the retail workforce that was conducted earlier in 2008. “Assume every applicant is a customer, and do things to keep them interested in the business and coming back [to buy and apply for employment]. Exposure to a company is key, so place company information where most people in the area will see it. The market research on who your customers are and what the area demographics are is well worth the time and money spent to get it.”

Shawn Boyer, CEO of the hourly-wage employment web site SnagAJob.com, says that companies also must collect job applications continually because of the high turnover rate in the hourly market. And, like Orler, he says that market research plays an important role in determining where and how to advertise job openings.

For example, Boyer and Orler say research shows that more companies are turning to online social networking and niche sites to source candidates. Companies report that 40 percent of applicants from a niche site are “above average” vs. just 18 percent from a general job board, according to data from a 2006 Booz Allen Hamilton Recruiting Trends Report.

You’ll be rewarded with applicants with a specific interest in the kind of job you’re offering, Boyer says.

Employee referrals also are a mainstay recruitment strategy. Boyer says that things like cash bonuses, gift certificates and free merchandise can inspire current employees to recommend others like them who might be a good fit for the job.

Finally, Orler says that companies need to be open to restructuring jobs in order to accommodate some qualified candidates. For example, “Older individuals are an absolutely perfect demographic for hourly employment, particularly in retail, but companies may need to be willing to restructure the work schedule to accommodate when these folks want to work.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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