As the crucial holiday shopping season begins this year, most of the nation's retailers are reporting double-digit declines in early fall sales. Instability in the economy has touched all wholesalers and retailers, from discount to luxury and everything in between. As a result, companies are reducing headcount, particularly in entry-level seasonal hiring, and looking for smarter ways to accomplish work before approving a new headcount or backfilling vacancies.
Despite the contraction in jobs, many companies still need to make strategic external hires. A recent hiring trends survey conducted by Generator Group, a search and selection firm specializing in recruiting for consumer products and technology companies nationwide, shows that while the pendulum has swung a bit in favor of employers for recruiting entry to mid-level positions, many challenges exist when looking to fill crucial high-impact senior to executive level positions. As evidence, Generator Group saw a slight decrease in the number of open positions per client, but an increase in the number of new clients and an increase in level of positions filled in 2008.
Entry and mid-level positions hit hardest
With the holiday shopping season ramping up, job prospects are not as good for seasonal retail employment. Whether people have been laid off and are looking for temporary work, whether they have been able to hold on to their jobs but with a pay cut and are seeking to supplement their income or they're just trying to make some extra money for the holidays, they may have a difficult time this season.
The most recent release by the U.S. Department of Labor showed the nation's unemployment rate at 6.5 percent in October, a 14-year high. Retail jobs fell by 38,000 in October as well. With more job seekers going after fewer jobs, the competition for retail jobs this season is intense.
Further compounding the problem is a projected decline in seasonal retail jobs due to a shaky retail sales outlook. According to a study by Manpower Inc., 52 percent of retailers surveyed do not plan to hire any seasonal employees this year.
No retailers are immune to this trend, including online retailers. U.S. online sales are predicted to increase by 12 percent over last year, according to a survey by Forrester Research, but this marks the slowest growth rate to date.
"For the first time in the company's history, we are not doing any seasonal hiring," said an executive at an online/catalog consumer goods company who wished to remain anonymous. "Budgets are too tight, so we will have to backfill and overflow with existing internal resources."
Competition for top talent has not diminished
Job prospects are still strong for many senior to executive level employees with specialized skills and industry experience. The results of the Generator Group hiring trends survey highlighted that the hardest-to-fill positions in the consumer products industry are in product development, product design, sales leadership and strategic marketing. Sixty-three percent of respondents to the survey cite a lack of qualified candidates as one of the three biggest challenge in recruiting top talent. Overall, companies have seen an increase in the volume of resumes versus 2007, but are not seeing a corresponding increase in quality.
The Most Sought After Talent
(Percentage of respondents citing position as most difficult to fill)
VP of Product Design -- 25%, up from 9% in 2007
VP of Sales and Marketing -- 28%, up from 15.2% in 2007
Mid to Senior Level
Product Developers -- 28%, up from 15% in 2007
National Sales Managers/Directors -- 28%, up from 20% in 2007
Product Designers -- 28%, up from 22% in 2007
Brand Managers -- 23%, up from 13% in 2007
Survey responders indicated that networking is the most effective source for generating top talent for executive level and mid to senior level positions, with 88 percent and 78 percent respectively, citing networking as being one of their top three most effective sources. For executive level positions, search firms are second only to networking, chosen by 75 percent of respondents as one of their top three sources.
Tips for recruiting top talent:
- Be proactive. Regardless of whether or not you have an internal recruiting team or utilize an outsourced recruiting firm, competitive companies will proactively build a network of contacts for hard-to-fill and competitive jobs, even if there are no open positions in those disciplines.
- Make time for networking. Many corporate recruiters still struggle to find time to proactively hunt for top talent as a result of being buried by a deluge of unqualified resumes that they receive on a daily basis. Regardless of the resources used, the focus should be on going beyond active candidate resume collecting to build real relationships with key talent that can make a difference for your company.
- Consider additional resources. Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) models are recommended for companies where building an internal sourcing team does not make financial or operational sense. Even with an internal recruiting team, companies are advised to consider partnering with a search firm that has a deeply established network and a credible reputation within their industry for key positions or for ongoing support.
- Be flexible on relocation. Organizations should really consider hiring virtual employees or teams as a strategy to get top performers that are not interested in long commutes or relocating. Companies will adapt by implementing creative solutions to address the real issues associated with relocation. According to Roy Notowitz, consumer products practice partner for Generator Group, many consumer products companies are using creative strategies to remove the housing and relocation barriers for top talent. "For example, if a house does not sell, the candidate may have to drop price to sell the house faster," Notowitz said. "If it is a critical hire, a company may consider helping to bridge that gap to make it happen. They won't buy the house outright, but they will consider paying for realtor's fees and closing costs.
Click here to download the 2008 Generator Group Hiring Trends Survey to read more about hiring trends and benchmark your company against others in the industry.
Candie Fisher is director of client development for Generator Group (www.generatorgroup.net), handling support for its consumer products industry clients. She has more than 15 years of experience in business development, sales and marketing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-618-9495.