In the Trenches: Seasonal Hiring with a Retail Store Manager

This week we sat down with Michele B., a store manager at a popular body care and home fragrances retailer at a mall outside Philadelphia, PA. In addition to ensuring the success of the store and managing staff, Michele is also responsible for all talent acquisition, including seasonal hiring, which kicks off the first week of September – yes, you heard that right!

Michele has been with her company for six years and started off herself as a seasonal employee. She talked to us about how her store sources talent and the challenges and opportunities that come along with hiring for the holidays.

Nexxt: Thanks so much for chatting with us! We’re curious – it seems like the holiday season is on everyone’s minds before kids are even back in school these days. When does your store typically begin hiring seasonal workers for the holidays?

MB: This year we can’t officially start extending offers until October 7, but our recruitment process begins in just two weeks – the first week of September!

Nexxt: Wow! That’s pretty early. And how many positions do you need to fill?

MB: I know. I can hardly believe we’re already talking about it!

I need to make 32 seasonal hires to work alongside our existing 22 associates over the holiday season. Some of those 32 employees will only work Black Friday weekend, but others will work throughout the entire season.

Nexxt: What sources or tools do you use to make these hires?

MB: For seasonal work, we use pretty simple and traditional means of sourcing talent. We hang a “hiring” sign up in our window and at our cash registers, post the job listing on job boards and the company website and ask for “friends and family” referrals from current employees, which tend to be great sources of reliable talent. Since many of our seasonal hires are college students, we distribute information at local colleges. We also reach back out to our best seasonal hires from the previous year to see if they’d like to come back and work with us again – and many do!

But a lot of talent proactively seeks us out. They’ll walk in the door knowing that we’re hiring for the holidays and ask us for more information. That’s also the case for year-round hiring. People like our brand and just drop in knowing we might be looking to hire an associate.

Nexxt: That’s pretty nice that the talent is coming right to you.

MB: It is, but that doesn’t always mean they’re quality candidates.

Nexxt: Great point – so what tools do you use to weed through the talent pool to select the best applicants?

MB: Our company just started requiring that all candidates fill out an application online, which is great for seasonal hiring, because we ask screening questions like, “Have you ever worked in a goal-driven retail environment?” and “Can you dedicate 12 hours to working on weekends?” If candidates don’t meet enough of the screening requirements, we won’t even see the application.

Additionally, most of our seasonal hires are wonderful people, but every year we’ll have a few people that lack work ethic, because they’re temporary employees. In a retail environment it’s really important that morale is high, so a bad attitude or poor work ethic on the team is definitely felt. That’s why a group interview process has been so successful for us. You can really get a good feel for a person by watching how they interact in a group. This really weeds out the weaker candidates. The applicants who are eager, friendly and kind to the other candidates in addition to the interviewers, are the ones we hire. After all, come Black Friday weekend, we’re all going to be in the trenches together!

Nexxt: What other challenges have you found with seasonal hiring and retention?

MB: Hours. I only have so many hours to divvy up between the seasonal employees each week. As a former seasonal hirer myself, I do my best to distribute them fairly leading up to and following Black Friday weekend, but someone is always unhappy unfortunately.

We’re very clear in our job listings and during the interview process that the position is seasonal and temporary. We tell applicants that they should not expect to be scheduled 25-30 hours a week and if that is the expectation, this job is not the right fit for them. Most understand that.

Nexxt: Do you offer any benefits to entice the top candidates to stay on through the holidays, even without the guarantee of a lot of hours?

MB: Yes, all seasonal hirers receive our employee discount while they’re with us. That’s a great perk for a lot of people, because our products make really great holiday gifts! We let candidates know that based on performance and availability, we could extend them an offer for a permanent position after the New Year, which also motivates employees. Our company has also raised the starting wage recently to help retain and attract talent across the board – can’t complain about that!

Nexxt: I’m sure you’ve heard the unemployment rate is pretty low right now, so in general it’s been difficult for employers to source quality talent. Have you found it more difficult to hire seasonal retail talent?

MB: We’re pretty fortunate to have a strong brand that attracts talent, whether that’s a stay-at-home mom or a college student looking to make a little extra cash around the holidays. Like I mentioned before, we haven’t started seasonal hiring yet, but we already have a lot of applications in our system. And again, not all of them are going to be quality candidates. For other retailers that don’t have a strong brand to lean on, I could see them having more difficulty in today’s tight labor market.

Nexxt: Thanks so much for your time – and happy holidays, I guess!

MB: Thank you!

For more insight into the world of retail and warehouse workers, check out our latest whitepaper, What’s in Store for Retail Workers?

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Nexxt is a recruitment media company that uses today’s most effective marketing tactics to reach the full spectrum of talent – from active to passive, and everything in between. Learn more about hiring with Nexxt.

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