BrainTrust Query: Can recently laid-off retail associates still work in the industry effectively?

Mar 10, 2009

By Doron Levy, President, Captus Business

As retailers look to cut overhead and maintain
profitability during recessionary times, underperforming stores and divisions
are being shuttered without hesitation. The recent closure of Sam’s Club
in Canada has put 1200 associates out of work and conditions for retailers
in Canada and the U.S. are only expected to worsen.

HR people must be asking themselves, "What
can we do with this huge pool of workers and how many will actually be
able to keep working effectively in retail?" Retailers that hire recently
laid off employees need to be careful not to bring on ‘unsalvageable cargo’.
Clearly, as the retail worker pool grows, HR recruiters will need to sharpen
their skills to find the best talent.

Layoffs in retail seem to hit workers harder
as they are not as frequent as in other industries. A simple way to find
out a job candidate’s true feelings is to talk about past experiences.
Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, says "…the most important
thing is to ask something like, ‘How did you feel about your last employer
going out of business?’ If they say something general, I still want to
know more." Opening up about the past is a good way to gauge feelings
of distrust and pessimism that could reduce morale.

Drilling them as to why the doors of their
previous employer were shut may not be productive but open-ended questions
that force them to examine their own performance may yield insights.

"I think we can all agree being let
go under any circumstances is rough. Do you think there was anything you
could have done better while you were there?"
…is a question Mr. Phibbs would pose to a potential candidate. "The
ones I would consider hiring will come up with something; anything that they
think could have been better," he added. "I’m looking for personal
responsibility in the question. If it’s all ‘I didn’t do anything – it was
them,’ avoid them like the un-ironed shirt they probably showed up in."

You can effectively gauge a candidate’s
enthusiasm level and thought processing ability by how well they deliver
their answers.

Discussion Questions: How should hiring managers
and recruiters deal with the onslaught of unemployed retail workers?
Is it possible to still find enthusiastic associates that will represent
the brand positively? How should HR modify its interviewing tactics to
be sensitive to the recently laid off?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

12 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Can recently laid-off retail associates still work in the industry effectively?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Al McClain
Al McClain
13 years 2 months ago

The sharply down economy means retailers have a fabulous opportunity to grab some great people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Just as they say companies can grab market share by continuing to advertise during tough times, they can grab “people share” by spending more time talking to potential employees now. The field has rarely been this full of great prospects.

Mel Kleiman
13 years 2 months ago
The retail world of unemployment. As late as last year the BLS was predicting that by 2010, we were going to be 10,000,000 workers short in this country. What a difference 8-10 months makes. Now almost every industry except health care and government is laying off people and it looks like by 2010 we will not be 10,000,000 employees short but we may have an extra 10,000,000 employees out looking for work. Where it used to be that an employer would hire a body–any body. It now looks like employees will take a job–any job. The wheel has turned and at some point in the future it will turn again. Now the question posed here is, if you are in retailing, how are you to deal with the new world we live in? Start with the premise that just having good employees is no longer good enough. Now build from there Here are the steps I recommend to my clients: 1. Evaluate your present staff and make sure you have the best people out there… Read more »
Christopher P. Ramey
13 years 2 months ago

This is an opportune time to hone your sales force. Search for employees whose companies have failed, as they will likely be more appreciative and more effective. Efficiencies and effectiveness are paramount in today’s economy.

Brian Anderson
13 years 2 months ago
Whether an employee has been laid off due to company restructure or closing, human resources and hiring managers should consistently look to hire achievers. There will always be a pool of non-achievers that should have been put on action plans and inevitably been dismissed. By and large, hiring the right people, training them effectively and following up with consistent coaching is critical. As we all know, senior management is the group that drives strategy and tactics. They will typically have many years of education, training and hands-on expertise in their fields. Those individuals who are most directly responsible for presenting to the customer on a regular basis will typically have less expertise, training or experience and are usually not the driving factor for why an organization will restructure or go out of business. Hence, back to your question: Is it still possible to find enthusiastic associates that will represent the brand positively? How should HR modify its interviewing tactics to be sensitive to the recently laid off? The answer is: Yes. As for the selection… Read more »
Rick Myers
Rick Myers
13 years 2 months ago

I would love this environment. I am not currently doing hiring but when I was, I would get 20 applicants for a position and maybe 1 or 2 were qualified. Now you can get 100 or 200 applicants for the same position. Sure, it takes a while longer to interview candidates, but the selection to choose from is excellent.

I do disagree with the article. Of course people will have ill feelings toward an employer who cut them because they were cutting costs. You give years of your life and loyalty to a company and then they cut you? Does it speak to their character? Maybe. But, any reasonable person would be a little disgruntled about losing their job purely because of the almighty dollar.

Mike Osorio
Mike Osorio
13 years 2 months ago

My view is that nothing has changed except the quantity of available candidates. I agree that a candidate’s ability to articulate what they could have done to be more effective in a previous role is an important indicator of whether they own their own performance or “blame” others. But this should have always been a part of the interviewing process. Hiring managers should focus on the best hiring practices that will hold true in any hiring environment:

1. Understand the talents necessary for success in the position you are hiring for.
2. Understand the mix of talents in the team, necessary for team performance.
3. Develop interviewing questions that provoke answers that signal whether the candidate has the talents you require. Hire only those that meet your criteria–never hire out of expediency or desperation.
4. Ensure an on-boarding and ongoing development strategy that creates emotional bonds and helps deter the ‘quick turn’ phenomenon wherein most retail turnover happens in the first 18 months.

Jerry Gelsomino
13 years 2 months ago

Just like good retailing is thinking about the customer first, I think that good HR is thinking about the employees role in the company first. So many comments here about how to take advantage of this glut of available staff. What about making your company highly desirable to work for, whether it be prestige, benefits, or salary. Those most bitter about RETAIL were probably hurt by their old company in some way during the downturn, probably not told the hard facts and truth about the situation.

What we are in danger of is losing the best potential staff at retail because retail is getting a bad name as a terrible place to work. Healthcare and the Government may be hiring, but are they great industries to work in if you had a choice? I guess that would be an interesting question to ask, “IF you had a choice, would you prefer to work here or in some other industry?”

Kevin Graff
13 years 2 months ago
Wasn’t it just ‘yesterday’ that we were all bemoaning the so-called labour shortage in retail? Oh, how the tables have turned! Personally, I don’t see much of a real differentiating issue here, when it comes to hiring staff who find themselves out of work as a result of a retailer going bust. It’s not like this is the first time retailers have gone belly up. So, whether they’re on the market because of being fired, moving up, downsized, right sized or any other reason, a retailer’s hiring process must be outstanding. If retailers keep getting ‘tricked’ in interviews then the front line will never get better. Here are some must haves for any hiring system: 1. start with a profile of your best employees, and then look for those same characteristics. 2. standardize the interview process so that all candidates get the same questions. 3. mandate a minimum of 2 interviews. 4. use various assessments; sales and service aptitude, integrity, personality and even general intelligence. 5. references must be checked every time. Investing more time… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
13 years 2 months ago
I do not agree that “Layoffs in retail seem to hit workers harder as they are not as frequent as in other industries.” Anyone look at the auto or airline businesses over the past few decades? The good news is that retail does have among the highest attrition/turnover rates of all industries, so many laid-off employees end up returning to work sooner than in other lines of work. We need to answer the three discussion questions individually: 1) “How should hiring managers and recruiters deal with the onslaught of unemployed retail workers?” There is a great pool of experienced and talented workers because of recent layoffs, so that’s actually good news. Hiring managers should be picky to an extent. 2) “Is it possible to still find enthusiastic associates that will represent the brand positively?” Yes, first because of the rich employment pool as noted above, but also because a few retailers have made it “fashionable” to work at their stores, with one of the best examples being Apple Stores. Nothing but enthusiasm there. But that… Read more »
David Livingston
13 years 2 months ago
On average, good people work for good companies that find no need to lay off workers. Bad companies go out of business mostly because they were run by bad people who hired bad people. There are a few exceptions, i.e. where there was actually a good Kmart manager someplace. Sometimes good employees will remain with a poorly-run employer for personal reasons outside of work. However, for the most part, only the worst and most unproductive employees are let go. Hiring managers always ask themselves why this person was fired and not someone else. If this person was so valuable why were they made redundant unless the entire company went under? I don’t believe in taking applications for key positions and giving them an interview. For many of my clients, if they are looking for a new manager and for some reason cannot hire from within, we go looking to our competitors. We go in the stores, look for someone who is working hard, is enthusiastic, and is doing a great job. We do a background… Read more »
Steve Montgomery
13 years 2 months ago

My first response is the recruiters should be thankful that there are so many people applying for positions. History has taught us that when the economy is robust you can not find workers and when it’s bad you have no need to find any.

As with any group of people who has been laid off, there will be those that are bitter, not only towards their former employer but also everyone in general. They feel they did nothing wrong (they may very well be correct) and yet lost their job. However, there will also be those who are excited (and a least a little nervous) about starting a new opportunity.

I believe retailers should continue with the HR practices that provided them with their best employees previously. The main difference is that they will have a larger pool to sort through–not necessarily a bad thing.

Ken Jackson
Ken Jackson
13 years 2 months ago
I believe this is an “opportunity” that does not come around very often to positively impact your organization. Although it is painful for a lot of people, it is not unprecedented, and history shows us that the window of opportunity will close before we know it. My suggestions are as follows: 1. Evaluate your current talent/mix and honestly assess if you have the best and brightest working for you. 2. Ensure you have a fair/consistent/quality hiring process in place. 3. “The Opportunity”–Don’t be afraid to look at people from other industries with similar but different experiences. Hire the best person, not the best applicant. You may find that the most productive/impactful person is someone with fresh eyes, is talented, and asks pertinent questions as to why we do the things we do. 4. Take care of your current A players. This should always be done, but in times like these, a little extra attention can go a long way. As to the other part of the discussion, I think people are more scared than bitter… Read more »

Take Our Instant Poll

Of the pool of workers laid off in the last six months, what percentage would you estimate will ultimately remain in the retail industry?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...