Seasonal hiring after COVID-19

In a year when nothing is business as usual, seasonal hiring after COVID-19 is no exception. First of all, a recent Monster poll shows that 84% of Monster members plan to look for a seasonal job this year, a 59% increase over prior years. Of those, more than a third of candidates (39%) are looking for seasonal jobs in customer service, with retail (21%) and logistics (15%) rounding out the top three preferred jobs.

Also, companies like Pinterest and Google are revealing data that show consumers are shopping earlier, and with pandemic-influenced behavior.

For instance, according to Google, 69% of holiday shoppers will shop earlier to avoid an item being out of stock and 80% of consumers will plan their holiday shopping earlier to avoid crowds.

Pinterest says “pinners” started searching for holiday ideas in April this year instead of their normal September holiday search spike, a 77% jump from April prior. Consumers shared concerns like delayed shipping and a potential shortage of ingredients to make favorite recipes and a need to make the holidays more special than ever in the wake of COVID-19.

Whether you’re a retailer or part of the industries that support retail (warehousing, transportation and logistics), this means shifting strategies to account for different consumer trends, as well as economic uncertainty and high unemployment that may result in weaker consumer spending.

We turned to the experts for some predictions about how the holiday retail season may look this year, plus strategies to adjust your approach to hiring this year.

  • For some, the hiring rush already happened. While some retailers have had to furlough workers and have just started opening back up, the peak season has come early for others, including the logistics distribution sector, says Mike Hudy, Chief Science Officer of Modern Hire, a recruiting and hiring solutions firm.  “It’s usually steady throughout the year and peaks in the fall where the volume goes through the roof,” he explains, but organizations already hit peak hiring numbers after March. “The thinking is that there’s going to be no lull. It peaked and will stay high,” he says.
  • Don’t discount the holiday psychology factor. When it comes to the holidays, people want to celebrate despite financial hardships, according to Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis for the National Retail Federation. “Even in the worst recessions, you don’t see a big drop in holiday spending, because it’s something that everyone wants to do,” he says.  “Our expectations are positive. Retailers I speak to are planning on having a busy holiday season.”
  • We’ve seen stronger than expected retail numbers throughout the pandemic. Despite dire predictions, we just saw the highest sales figure for a non-December month ever, says Mathews. “There’s a lot of spending going on now. We have to see what happens with the new bill in congress, and how much more assistance the government is going to provide,” he says. Even so, with people not spending on vacations, commuting, or sports and concert outings, much of that discretionary spending has transferred to the retail world.
  • There’s been a major shift to online purchasing. The question retailers should consider is how much shopping is going to take place in-store vs. online. In June, total online spending reached $73 billion, a 76.2% increase year-over-year, according to Adobe research. That is expected to level off a bit as more physical stores open, but some shoppers may remain hesitant to go back to stores in person.
  • The only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. Despite all of the optimism, there is so much more that is unpredictable in this environment based on what’s going on with Covid. “We don’t seem to be on any particular ramp to improvement, so there’s really not an easy way for companies to know what to do,” says John Myers, Chicago President of Keystone Partners, a talent management, career transition and outplacement firm. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an environment like this in 40 years,” he says.

With all that in mind, here’s what you need to know in order to plan, as best as you can, for this odd seasonal hiring year.

Holiday 2020 Strategies in the Midst of Covid-19

 While going with some of your tried and true hiring methods can still serve you well, there are some additional considerations to make for the 2020 holiday season.

Revamp old job descriptions. Hiring teams can’t rely on traditional seasonal hiring messaging in their job descriptions, since the rules have changed this year. “Some of our retailers had one sales model that worked for 50 years, but now they had to get creative and find new models,” says Hudy. That might mean using more digital tools to connect with customers, for example. “What a sales associate profile looks like before and after Covid is different. What that means for hiring plans is designing a different profile and recognizing these traits,” says Hudy.

Hire those with transferable skills. Merchants don’t know if they’ll be able to fully open or be forced to scale back should another wave of the virus come around. In other words, they’ll need a flexible retail workforce that can pivot quickly, says Mathews. “The expectation now is that as a retailer, your workforce isn’t just going to be in the same store during the same hours. They might have to move to being a picker off shelves to fulfill online orders, or hop in a car and help deliver stuff,” he says. Finding applicants who can easily bounce between these roles will make such transitions seamless later on.

Communicate your extra expectations. One of the most important things retailers are doing now is sanitizing and following safety protocols, says Mathews. You do see an increase in retailers hiring people with titles like sanitization expert, but there’s also an expectation that all employees will step up to handle many of these tasks, he says. Be sure to update your job descriptions and employer branding with these new requirements.

Highlight flexibility in your outreach. It’s important to be very upfront and let candidates know what to expect from the hiring process, says Myers. You can say something like, “we will give two week’s notice before we need you here,” for instance. Having a more flexible work experience is important, “especially as everybody is experiencing different things on the homefront,” says Myers.

Have a pipeline ready to go. Traditional job postings and social media presence is still going to be important for employers that need to ramp up significantly, says Myers.

“But what they’re going to want to do in addition, is develop their own farm system, if you will,” says Myers. The goal should be to develop a relationship with people who are warm to the idea of working with your organization, while also leaning on an employee referral system.

Leverage technology to deal with resume overload. Almost overnight, employers are dealing with candidate abundance, says Hudy. “The good news is there’s a lot more talent, but mixed in are people who are desperate for a job but not a great fit,” he says. You need to rely on technology, like screening tools and resume search technology, to help you do some of the heavy lifting of sorting through applicants.

Speed up your process. Why the rush? “Our research is that the best, most qualified candidates get taken off the market soonest,” says Hudy. An internal Modern Hire survey asked candidates why they removed themselves from the hiring process, and 65% said it was because they took another job offer. In addition, the company’s data shows that those opting out the fastest also had the highest score on assessment. “In other words, the best are taken quickly,” says Hudy.

“You need to be engaging candidates and using tech to move them through the process,” he adds. Tools can help you pick out those with the minimum requirements, and then advance them to a smaller pool of prequalified candidates you can move much faster on.

Access today’s larger-than-usual pool of talent

 “This year more than ever, it’s a good opportunity to bring on a seasonal kind of worker,” says Myers. Employees without a permanent full-time commitment can do a sort of “test run” so that if the pandemic situation improves, and you need to ramp up your full-time staff, you’ll already have them on board. “You can see how they do things, and whether you’re comfortable with them,” says Myers.

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