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Who’s Minding the Store? 5 Hiring Lessons from Retail Management

Who’s Minding the Store? 5 Hiring Lessons from Retail Management

by Quincy Valencia

20th Feb 2019

Long before I ventured into the world of recruiting and recruiting tech I began my post-college career with a retail giant. It may not be immediately intuitive, but the education and experience I received about how to run a store was directly transferable to how to hire for one.

My first ever post-college boss, a Store Manager at what was, at the time, one of the busiest stores in the chain, was a stickler about some really basic principles of managing a store.  Follow these 5 directives, he said, and the sales will come.  It went something like this:

1. Curb appeal matters. Park your car and pretend you’re a customer.  Are the lights in your store sign burned out? Fix it.  Immediately!  Is there trash in the lot? Pick it up.  Carts everywhere? Corral them.  Front walk is dirty? Sweep it.  No one wants to shop at a store that looks gross when you get there.

2. Tell the people what they want to buy. If there’s something you’re promoting, put it at the front of the store, right when they walk in.  High margin item? Put it on an endcap, and put colorful signs around it.  You’d be surprised how many plastic ashtrays you’ll sell at 90+% margin when you put a bunch of them on a display and make it pretty.  People who don’t even smoke will walk out with two.  

3. Keep it fresh.  Don’t leave key real estate untouched just because no one bought anything from it, it still looks nice, and you don’t have to do the work to restock.  Change it up.  Keep it interesting.  Give people a reason to come back, and don’t make them look at the same stack base of crock pots they saw last week.  They didn’t want it then, they still won’t want it this week, and you’re wasting valuable space.

4. Make it easy for them to get out. Lines too long? Open more registers.  Nothing is worse than seeing abandoned carts that could have been logged sales just because people felt trapped in line.

5. Engage your customers! This is most important.  Greet them.  Get to know them and their preferences. Talk to them in line. They ask where something is? Don’t point…walk them there.  Make the experience pleasurable and they’ll spend their money with you rather than the red store down the street. 

So what does this have to do with hiring, you ask? As it turns out, everything! Let’s look at those 5 again, now with an eye for our industry.

1. Curb appeal matters. When was the last time you tried to apply for a job at your own company?  Is your Career Site inviting or cluttered? Is it easy to find the job you’re looking for? Are there broken links in your menus or text? Are there jobs advertised that aren’t even available anymore? Reqs that need to be closed? Think about the experience you’re creating, and give the candidate pool a reason to spend their time considering you as an employer rather than the store down the street.

2. Tell the people what they want to buy.  Do you need people specifically to unload trucks on 3rd shift, and you’re paying a premium?  Feature that job prominently, and make sure they know the benefit of it.  Do you have cashier positions available at two locations within a mile of each other, but one has an abundance of applicants and one has none, where you really need them?  If so, do you have a mechanism in place to let them know when they apply? Curate the content for your applicants in the same way you curate product content for your customers, even if you have to engage an outside tech partner to do it for you.

3. Keep it fresh! Don’t leave stale content on your website.  Employee testimonial videos are an excellent way to promote interest and keep candidates on your real estate once they get there, but if the person you’re featuring is wearing bell bottoms and the video quality looks like a WWII documentary, ditch it and do something new.  Make it relevant.  And whatever you do, don’t leave reqs open if the job isn’t actually available.  

4. Make it easy for them to get out.  How long does it take to apply? If it’s more than 10 minutes, it’s too long.  How many clicks does it take to submit an application? Is interview scheduling automated? Consider use of tech to help with all of this. Can someone text to apply, schedule, and get updates about the process?  According to SHRM, 86 percent of Millennials feel positively about text messages being used during the application and interview process, and Gen Z prefers text to any other form of communication.1. You can make it easy and enjoyable while still being compliant.

5. Engage your customers! Make it easy for candidates to get answers to common questions.  Chat bots are much more engaging than an FAQ document, can be used to push information you want candidates to have, and improve throughput rate.  Show them what it will be like to do the job they’re applying for (or considering applying for), using realistic job previews. Make it ridiculously easy for them to find the job they’re interested in (walk, don’t point). And for true differentiation from your competitors, have a  strategy for rejection.  A recent survey by TA tech company iCIMS revealed that seventy-six percent of applicants relate the feeling of not hearing back from an employer to the frustration felt when not hearing back from someone on a first date.1 Don’t ghost them! If you’re not moving forward with an applicant, tell them. Sooner, rather than later. 

Bottom line, if you want to keep your store fully staffed with the right people, you have to treat the recruiting process like you treat the rest of your business.  This is easier said than done, and even merely striving towards the directives, if not always living up to all of them, can make a big difference. 

Just like you’re not the only game in town for your customers, your candidates have choices.  If you want to win, you have to invite them in, make them feel at home, make it easy for them to get what they want, and give them reasons to keep coming back.


  1. Maurer, Rob. (2017, October 16). How Text Messaging Broadens Recruiting Outreach, Cuts Time to Fill. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/how-text-messaging-broadens-recruiting-outreach-cuts-time-to-fill.aspx.
  2. Candidate Engagement: A Competitive Strategy For Texting And More. [Web log post]. (2018, October 23). Retrieved from https://www.icims.com/hiring-insights/blogs/article-candidate-engagement-a-competitive-strategy-for-texting-and-more.

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