What to do with all those laid-off retail workers?


Can recently laid-off retail associates still work in the industry effectively? 3/10/09


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?

My post: 

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.

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! TM strategist


Go to the full discussion at RetailWire.com:


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