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 In this episode of Talent Chronicles, Peter Garneau, Talent Acquisition Consultant for SMCP talks about recruiting in the fast-paced retail industry. Peter also explores the art of recruiting passive candidates as well as the importance of employee referral programs. 

JCSI: Hi, everybody. This is Bergin Sullivan from JCSI. I’m here today with Peter Garneau for another interview in our “Talent Chronicles” series. Thanks for joining us today!

Peter: Good to be with you.

Bergin: So, you’re a highly accomplished recruitment professional with experience working in international organizations and world-renowned Retail brands in the Apparel and Fashion industries as well. Would you like to start by explaining how you got into Talent Acquisition? 

Peter: Sure. It started quite some time ago. I’ve been in Human Resources really for about 20 years and throughout my HR career, there was something about Recruiting and sourcing talent. When I had my list of to-dos as an HR generalist, the recruiting piece always would kind of rise to the top of the list. 

So, in 2011, I had the unique opportunity to assume a dedicated role in Talent Acquisition, where I was helping to create a center of excellence for one of my prior employers. It was an amazing opportunity to do a real deep dive and to search for the best of the best as it relates to Luxury Retail and providing the finest client experience. So, for me, it was that passion for finding great people.

JCSI: Okay. And what are some key factors and strategies when recruiting for talent in the Retail industry?

Peter: So, you know, Retail is a unique industry in the sense of it is fast. And I know that a lot of companies say that they have a very fast work environment and the pace is frenetic but in Retail, it truly is. 

We have to hire large volumes of many, many high people to run our stores, and it’s really hard. It’s a challenge to find people who enjoy a commission type of environment. 

So, what ends up happening because the market is so competitive for talent in Retail, you need to be the first. You have to respond very quickly when people are seeking employment with you because they’re probably also applying at five other Retail companies. The first person to get to them and engage them is usually the one who will get the talent.

The other thing about retail is there’s so many places for people to work, so many different Retail establishments and malls and free-standing stores that it’s forced us to become creative at seeking non-traditional types of talent. I’m talking professions like Financial Advisors, Teachers, Hospitality folks, Pharmaceutical Sales Reps, Realtors, Car Salespeople. 

Our motto has always been “Hire the smile and train the skill” because you can’t do it the other way around. And I think if you start with somebody who’s just got a charming and a very winning personality, we can teach them the product without a doubt. 

So I think those are some of the differentiators in Retail, in addition to language skills and technological skills becoming more important as well. There’s new technology in stores that help the Sales Associates to relationship sell, build customer loyalty, and connect with their customers. They have to be savvy with all of the devices and technology. 

The other thing is even language skills. One of the brands that I work for currently has a huge appeal among the Asian customer base. And as a result, we need to find associates in our stores who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. 

I’ve worked in other markets where we’ve had to find people who could speak Portuguese and Russian. So, I think to sum it up in terms of what it feels like to recruit in the Retail space…it’s fast.

JCSI: What kind of qualities do you look for in those candidates to make sure that they are going to be good customer-facing rather than just a good manager or sales representative?

Peter: Yes. So, it comes down to, in companies where I’ve worked for, core values. We look for people who have an entrepreneurial mindset. In other words, they come on board and run the business like it’s their own business. 

We need passionate people. We need people who love fashion. We love people who get a thrill from wardrobing a customer from head to toe. So, they have to be engaging in this with a big personality if possible. We also look for humility. We look for things like a global mindset

We can start with a great, as I said, winning personality, and then we can teach them the product. We can certainly teach them selling skills. But it all starts with their DNA. And what we can’t do is teach someone how to be nice. So, it starts with what they can bring to the table and someone who just really enjoys helping people. 

JCSI: Okay. And going into a technological standpoint, what types of recruitment technology do you find that you use in your role?

Peter: There are a couple of different things here that I can speak to. 

It wasn’t just with the pandemic that I shifted over to video interviews. I’ve been doing video interviewing really since the technology became available. There’s no need for me to do a phone screen because it’s just as easy for me to connect with the candidate and do a video screen through FaceTime, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom. What we’re doing has been great. 

From the Applicant Tracking System technology, I think the systems have markedly improved to help Talent Acquisition professionals develop their data and dashboards around really important metrics, like quality of hire, time to fill, hiring speed

Also, how we are spending our investments in terms of LinkedIn or Indeed, and looking at the candidate experience as well. I think from a technological point of view, this has helped to tell our story and to raise the credibility of the whole recruiting function within an organization. 

We now have metrics. We now have data just like many other groups have had for years. So, it’s made people kind of step back and a light switch has turned on about the world of recruiting and what a major, major function recruiting is to help an organization continue to grow and expand.

JCSI: Okay, do you find that you have different interview approaches for a Passive Candidate versus an Active Candidate who’s actively seeking a role?

Peter: I do. And I think the way you can think about this, with an Active Candidate, it’s sort of like, what can you do for us? For a Passive Candidate, and this is somebody who I am seeking out because I think they have a great background and would fit nicely into our company, then it becomes, what can we do for you

I think the real art of recruiting comes into play when you’re recruiting a Passive Candidate, someone who’s very happily employed down the street at a competitor. It’s an art of engagement. It’s selling the benefits. So, “if you want a career in Retail, then you’ve got to hear me out because we’ve got a great story here”, and focus on the things that are important to a candidate in Retail. 

Talk about your financial results, talk about your growth, talk about your culture, your core values, and talk about the product. And really what I try to do to further engage a Passive Candidate is, I look at their resume and I try to advise them,

“If you were to make a change from where you are currently to come with us, this is how this opportunity could potentially help your development. We are an international French luxury company in growth mode, so there are many opportunities.” 

There is a great culture in Retail. It becomes an art of getting this Passive Candidate excited about the prospect of what it could mean for them to leap into this new opportunity. I think that’s where the challenge is. 

It’s less so with an Active Candidate and that’s where your typical screening comes into play. But that’s where I think the thrill is, and that’s what I love is being able to get somebody super excited who didn’t even know they might be interested in a new opportunity. 

JCSI: Right. And when you’re looking at past candidate experiences, when you’re in these interviews, are there any specific things that you are looking for within experience, or are there things that you’re not looking for?

Peter: You know, for us in Retail, I try to get a sense from the candidate first, in a general sense, their general service orientation. Then digging in deeply in terms of asking them things like, 

“How do you grow your customer base? How do you build your business? How do you create customer loyalty where a customer does want to come back and shop because of you and not necessarily because of the brand or the store?” 

So, it’s hearing what they’ve done in the past in terms of how they’ve built their business and what they could potentially offer to us. 

Of course, the other thing that we look for is the potential for someone to bring clients with them and how many solid, dedicated, dependable, loyal clients do they think that they have. So, those are some of the things that we kind of focus on. 

Once they’re on board, it becomes our responsibility to teach them all aspects of our product. The inspiration behind the collections, how you wear them, how you style them, the fit, the fabric. So that when they’re interacting with a customer, they are perceived by the customer as a true fashion stylist or a true fashion adviser.

Bergin: Okay, and then going into things that you might see for the future, what types of recruitment and technological advances do you see in not only Talent Acquisition but also the Retail industry? 

Peter: I think this is a key question. And I think that every year we look ahead to say, “Okay, what’s on the horizon for next year?” But I think it’s even more of an important question now, especially as we are recovering from the COVID pandemic, and how does that potentially also factor in, in terms of transforming recruiting. So, I think several things are really important as we move forward. 

I think employer branding as critical as it always has been, is even more important in post-pandemic to be able to highlight for a prospective job seeker the culture, the core values, and sustainability. I feel very fulfilled to know that my company has put together a very robust strategy around helping everyone to get through the pandemic. So, I think that branding will continue to be very important. 

College recruiting is going to be turned upside down because it’s going to shift from probably on-campus to virtual in most cases. I already have three career fairs on my calendar for this Fall, where I would’ve attended in person are now all going to be done virtually. I think there is going to be more digitalization and more technology. 

One of the other things that I think is maybe a little bit unique to Retail is that companies have had to significantly reduce their expenses and control their costs. And, of course, one of the biggest costs is payroll. There are still very critical roles that need to be filled. So, what this has caused is looking more at internal mobility and looking at how can we upskill someone to move them into this function. 

They’re already a great culture and core values fit, so let’s develop them. And down the road that will also positively influence retention. So, I think there’s going to be more of a focus on looking internally for talent

And then finally, I think continuing to tell the story, where data and metrics are going, it’s going to become more important as we move forward. 

So, I think those are some of the trends that I think we’re gonna start to see as we move forward in this post-pandemic world. 

JCSI: In terms of the data and metrics that you had just mentioned, what types of analytics do you measure to make sure that the retention that you’re hoping to get is met with the candidates that you’re onboarding?

Peter: There are several things that we look at. There’s an HR dashboard, but there’s also a Talent Acquisition dashboard. From a Talent Acquisition perspective, we focus on things like quality of hire. We focus on hiring speed. In other words, how long does it take a candidate from the date they applied to the date they receive a job offer? 

We look at time-to-fill. We look at the candidate experience. We give a candidate a survey to everyone who gets interviewed at whatever stage in our process. We also look at referral sources and we look at offer acceptance rate

We also look at turnover and, interestingly enough, I think everyone needs to keep in mind that Retail, in general, is a higher turnover industry. We do a lot of part-time. In my current company, it’s probably 70% part-time, 30% full-time. So, because of that, there is a higher level of turnover, but there’s been a lot of studies around particularly employee referrals. 

I am so passionate about an employee referral program and for us, it accounts for 33% of our total hires. There have been studies done that show if somebody was hired and they were a referral, they stay longer because they already have a sense of someone who works here, and a sense of the culture. They seem to transition nicely into the company. So, you know, from a metrics standpoint, those are some of the things that we focus on.

In my current company, we have some great results. I’m specifically proud of our candidate experience results, they’re at 90%. It can be such a differentiator in today’s competitive talent market to the point where a Retail person applies for multiple jobs. 

I’ve had cases where, because of the experience they had in our company, we offered them a job and probably we’re not the highest offer, but yet they decided to forego the money part and join us. They felt so positive about everyone who they interacted within the company that at the end of the day, candidate experience really in their mind was a differentiator. And we had to work at that because we’re not the number one compensation brand so to speak in the market. 

So, those are some of the main metrics that we focused on.

JCSI: Okay. That’s an interesting point on the candidate experience outweighing the compensation because you would think it would be the opposite.

Are there any final thoughts, anything we didn’t get to touch upon that you’d like to share?

Peter: You know, I was thinking about this and I would like to talk through very briefly some tips for recruiters, I’ll say for retail, but probably the general tips for anyone in the profession that would, in my opinion, differentiate mediocre from great

  • Learning the Business: it is so important that a Recruiter can have a conversation with a Hiring Manager and speak the same language. This helps the credibility of the Recruiter with the Hiring Manager. 
  • Spending Time in the Field: I think it’s so important to have it as part of an onboarding program to spend a week in a store. What better way to learn the field roles but to go out there, see them, observe them, participate? Much better experience than reading job descriptions in my opinion, and you can start to develop relationships with the Hiring Managers.
  • Being Proactive: how a Recruiter communicates is so important. They should be proactive. We should be giving updates to Hiring Managers before the Hiring Manager asks for one. Maybe it’s an ongoing weekly reoccurring touch base that we have regarding a search. Getting back to people on the same day is so important.
  • Pipelining: Focusing more on pipelining and having conversations with candidates, even though you might not have a role available, is so important.

Two other things I would say: be genuine & be human.

JCSI: All right, great! Thank you so much again for joining us at another episode in our “Talent Chronicles” series.

Peter: Thanks so much, Bergin.

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