Retailers are relying on assessments like the Predictive Index® to improve their holiday selection process.
By: Andrew R. Mcllvaine
Hiring indexes offer conflicting information on whether employers will be hiring more seasonal workers, but experts agree that retailers, hospitality and customer-service organizations are being more selective in their new hires. Technology, including behavioral screening and scheduling tools, help provide more flexibility.Seasonal hiring appears to be up this year compared to last, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier for applicants to land a position at a store or restaurant anticipating some holiday crowds.
Changes to the retail landscape, not to mention technological advances, mean that many retail employers have become fussier about whom they’ll hire — a dramatic change from seasons past, say experts.
“Several years ago, if you could fog a mirror, you were hired,” saysSteve Waterhouse, president of Predictive Results, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based talent-screening firm that works with retail companies. “Stores would try and make their jobs as simple as possible so that seasonal hires could get right to work. Now, they’re willing to take more time to find the right people.”
In fact, when it comes to retail, many stores — especially mid-market apparel chains and electronics retailers — are looking for “specialists” who can turn a $300 sale into a $3,000 sale, says Waterhouse.
“It’s a very different person than the traditional retail clerk who can fold sweaters and ring up sales,” he says.
“Specialists behave differently than the average retail clerk — they have more patience and pay greater attention to detail. These are people who can master the art of ‘wardrobing’ — getting customers to buy more than one clothing item. They bring in 10 times the sales of a typical salesperson.”
The holiday hiring season is off to its strongest start since 2006, according to Chicago-based Challenger Gray & Christmas, which notes in its latest employment-situation report that retail payrolls experienced a net gain of 151,000 in October, which is three times greater than last October, according to Challenger, which uses non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Even if November and December hiring remains flat from a year ago, seasonal job growth will top 600,000 for the first time since 2007,” says CEO John Challenger.
Aon Hewitt reports that more than 80 percent of companies in customer-service and consumer industries plan to hire the same amount of or more seasonal help they hired last year.
The Chicago-based consulting and outsourcing firm surveyed 70 large organizations within the retail, hospitality and quick-serve restaurant industries and found that more than half (55 percent) are hiring the same amount of seasonal workers this year compared to last, and nearly one-third (29 percent) plan to hire more than they did last year. Only 16 percent plan to hire fewer workers.
Not everyone is predicting an uptick in seasonal retail hiring.
Kronos Inc.’s latest Retail Labor Index, a monthly report based on hiring activity at retail chains that use the Chelmsford, Mass.-based company’s hiring, time-and-attendance and scheduling products, predicts that this year’s level of holiday hiring will be 19 percent below last year’s.
The November RLI, based on sample data from 27,034 retail locations throughout the United States, recorded 31,569 hires (on a seasonally adjusted basis) during the month of October — a decrease of 17 percent from the previous month and a 34-percent decline from October 2009.
But Kronos’ chief economist, Robert Yerex, who oversees the RLI, says it’s still possible for seasonal hiring this year to increase from 2009.
“Each year, the ‘peak point’ at which you see the peak of seasonal hiring activity occurs later and later each year,” he says. “So it’s possible that when we look at the numbers for November, they’ll show the trend coming back up.”
Technology (including Kronos’ own products) has enabled retail employers to be choosier about whom they hire, when they hire and how many they hire, says Yerex.
“Lots of companies have purchased scheduling software that lets them match the number of employees in the store to the peak periods of customer activity,” he says. Doing so enables them to staff their stores with fewer employees.
Additionally, many stores are working with tighter levels of inventory this year in order to avoid having too much left over after the holiday season, says Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm that hosts online screening and training materials.
That means a more fast-paced holiday selling period than ever, as retailers race to adjust inventory levels to meet customer demand — and it will mean store managers have even less time to screen job candidates.
“Retail companies are giving themselves as much flexibility as possible this season,” she says. “If the season goes well, managers are going to need to hire and onboard additional people very quickly. Many of them will turn to technology to make this process easier.”
When it comes to finding those specialists, Waterhouse says his firm identifies the behavioral characteristics of the retail client’s top-selling employees and uses them as a basis for identifying ideal potential candidates. It also uses the Predictive Index, a specialized screening tool from PI in Wellesley Hills, Mass., to filter the candidate pool.
“We find that retail firms are getting smarter and pickier about whom they hire — but if you do get hired, you have a much better chance of staying with the organization even after the holiday season ends,” he says.
Indeed, Aon Hewitt found that 69 percent of organizations plan to convert at least some of their seasonal hires to full-time status after the holidays.
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