How to Hire Seasonal Employees

For industries like retail, increased demand for seasonal employees in Q4 is a holiday tradition as cherished as pumpkin pie. But 2020 is a year unlike any other.

Retailers are expected to announce changes to how they present their annual Black Friday sales this year. For example, Walmart announced that in addition to having doorbuster deals online, they will have three separate in-store sales events to replace a single day of Black Friday deals. Understandably, businesses don’t want to risk overcrowding stores amid the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With more people shopping from home, we could also see a shift in the types of seasonal roles that are typically available during the holidays. While seasonal staffing usually means an influx of store employees, we can expect 2020 to see an increase in “the last mile” roles – the employees who get consumer goods through “the last mile” to your doorstep. This can include warehouse and logistics employees, delivery drivers, personal shoppers, and other gig workers. 

Brick and mortar businesses will also need to be strategic about how to leverage their in-store staff to best serve customer needs and safety. Increased online ordering could mean store managers will need to increase the number of employees dedicated to fulfilling online and curbside pickups. High in-store traffic may require managers to deploy employees to focus exclusively on managing capacity limits and social distancing. 

For all of the unknowns the 2020 holiday shopping season presents, one thing will always remain true: you must have a plan for recruiting the right people for your team during the busiest time of the year. 

Here are our tips for how to hire seasonal employees.

1. Reduce your time-to-hire. 

Because the holiday shopping season will begin sooner in 2020, you’ll want to get your job postings up as soon as possible. Our data shows that in 2019, retail businesses took an average of 22 days to make one hire. Hiring managers will need to reduce that figure significantly for the holiday season.

One easy solution is to reduce the time it takes to contact applicants. Our data finds that across all industries, it takes businesses an average of 7.52 days to contact a candidate after they apply. You can beat this figure by scheduling interviews on a rolling basis, which means inviting applicants in for interviews or phone screens as they apply. 

In 2019, businesses took an average of 22 days to make one hire.

2. Ask employees for referrals. 

While speed is the name of the game for hiring this holiday season, it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t come at the cost of quality. Luckily for hiring managers, employee referrals are a readily available source of quality candidates.

Our data shows that referrals produce the lowest percentages of applicants and yet the highest percentages of hires. In fact, we found that candidates from employee referrals were 85 times more likely to be hired than applicants from job boards, which means that employee referrals should be a major part of your recruiting strategy all the time, not just during the holidays.

Referred candidates tend to be better company culture fits and can often be onboarded quicker. Consider creating an employee referral program to incentivize your existing employees to recommend candidates. 

Candidates from employee referrals are 85 times more likely to be hired than applicants from job boards.

3. Consider recruiting former employees.

Another recruiting strategy that can help cut down on hiring time is boomerang hiring, or rehiring former employees who have previously left the company. For many businesses that have had to layoff or furlough employees due to the pandemic, this can be an easy choice. Boomerang employees are hired faster, ramped up faster, and result in fewer surprises. 

Pro tip: Seasonal roles can also be a great employment option for college students who may have previously left your company due to scheduling conflicts with classes. Reach out to them and see if their current class schedule will work with your staffing needs, or if they’d be interested in working during their winter breaks. 

4. Ask pre-screen questions that determine applicant availability.

We spoke with retail management expert Josh Alexander, who advises that when it comes to seasonal employees, hiring for flexibility in schedule is key. “Many of your employees will usually ask for time off here and there during the holiday season, so hiring seasonal employees with open schedules can help fill the gaps,” he says.

Pro tip: Have candidates submit their availability as a prequalifying question on your job postings. Using an applicant tracking system makes it easy to add prequalifying questions like this to the application and automatically fast-track applicants who have the availability you need and gracefully reject those who don’t. This can help save you precious time while also ensuring you’re getting the right people for your seasonal staffing needs.

5. Seek out candidates who already have industry experience.

Alexander also advises: “If the candidate has some experience in the industry, it helps them get up to speed faster so you don’t have to spend as much time training them on the basics.” 

For example, while point-of-sale (POS) software might differ from one store to another, chances are the same basic skills will transfer over to whichever software you use. 

Other questions that can signal existing experience:

  • Do they know your brand well?
  • Do they know your products well?
  • Do they have experience working with customers?

You can add these (and any custom questions you need) as pre-screening questions to your applications to better pre-qualify your candidates.

Furthermore, since you may not be able to devote as much time to your training seasonal employees, experienced professionals can naturally lead by example for any newbies you might put onto a sales floor during the busy holiday shopping season. 

An applicant tracking system can automatically fast-track applicants who check your most important boxes, like availability and experience level, and gracefully reject those who don’t.

6. Try creative interview methods to save time. 

When you need to evaluate a large applicant pool quickly, you may need to get creative with your interview formats. Group interviews can be an effective way to save time. These can include a discussion portion where you ask the group questions that candidates answer individually and group exercises so you can evaluate their ability to work on a team.  

You might also consider doing video interviews rather than in-person interviews. Not only are video interviews a safe option to limit physical contact during the pandemic, but they can be more efficient and easier to coordinate in terms of scheduling.

Pro tip: One thing we do not recommend is one-way video interviews, in which job seekers record themselves answering a set of questions for the hiring manager to view later. The job seekers have spoken: they absolutely hate one-way video interviews, and using them could be bad for your candidate experience.

For more tips on how to hire remotely, check out the video below from CareerPlug’s Director of HR, Natalie Morgan.

7. Don’t forget the candidate experience.

Speaking of candidate experience – it matters! In a recent CareerPlug study, we found that half of all job seekers surveyed have had a negative experience during a hiring process within the past year and 50% of respondents had declined a job offer due to poor experience.

When we look closer at the reasons job seekers declined an offer, 22% cited a negative experience with people in the interview process as their primary reason.

When you’ve got to hire the right people quickly, you can’t risk losing them to a negative candidate experience that’s entirely within your ability to control. Put your best foot forward when recruiting and hiring seasonal employees just as you would with any other employee.

8. Standardize your onboarding process before you make offers.

If there’s one theme to this guide, it’s speed, speed, speed! And having a standardized onboarding process in place before you make job offers will allow your new seasonal employees to hit the ground running immediately. 

Remember that you may not be able to simply throw last year’s onboarding and training materials at your new seasonal workers. You may need to provide updated materials and safety guidance in the era of COVID-19. Take the time upfront to structure your onboarding process so that it can run like a well-oiled machine the moment your new team members walk through the door. You’ll thank yourself later.

For more onboarding tips, check out the video below:

9. Hire like you’re hiring for permanent employees.

This is the most important piece of advice on our list. Don’t fall into the trap of cutting corners because “it will just be temporary.” 

Josh Alexander advises: “Hire like you are going to keep them. If you find exceptional people in a seasonal role, do whatever you can to offer them a permanent role. You should always be looking for the right people who can help your business grow.”

That’s why it’s important to hire seasonal workers who match your core values and who fit your typical ideal candidate profile. 

At the end of the day, the people you hire are going to represent your company, even if only for a season. Make sure they add value to your team and aren’t just a warm body there to do a temporary job. 

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