The tight labor market has recruiters thinking differently about how to hire seasonal talent

Companies like Macy’s and UPS are reimagining the hiring process to compete for holiday hires.
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· 5 min read

Imagine if every October, Santa had to update his résumé, hitch Rudolph to his sleigh, and fly to the nearest Macy’s to interview for a seasonal job. Luckily for Kris, the department store’s shortened, digital-first seasonal hiring process does not require applicants to jump through many hoops.

“We have a longstanding and very special relationship with Santa Claus,” said Macy’s head of talent John Patterson.

That relationship now extends to his helpers, too. In order to stay competitive in a tight labor market, companies including both Macy’s and UPS—which plan to recruit 41,000 and 100,000 seasonal workers this year respectively—have revamped their hiring processes to meet their end-of-year goals. To woo potential hires, they’re relying more heavily on speed and ease, rather than depth.

“Candidates are speaking, either by ghosting or not applying to jobs that have onerous processes, and if you don’t respond, you’re gonna get left behind,” said Matt Lavery, UPS’s talent acquisition director.

Hiring workers is still an issue. Macy’s and UPS have prioritized the candidate experience in order to make sure how they recruit seasonal talent doesn’t impact who they’re able to hire. Both Patterson and Lavery view their hiring process as a competitive advantage.

“We’ve seen a lot of uncertainty the last few years in all sorts of different ways in the economy,” said Andy Challenger, SVP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks seasonal hiring each year. “But one thing that’s been pretty consistent for two years is that companies have needed to hire flat-out as fast as they can.”

But that’s not discouraging HR teams. Challenger noted that the environment is “creating all sorts of innovations in hiring.”

Slash steps, move online. “One of the most important factors to consider when hiring seasonal workers is ensuring that the candidate experience is as seamless and efficient as possible,” said Kristy Willis, chief sales and operations officer at staffing agency PeopleReady, in an emailed statement to HR Brew. “Complex and lengthy job applications need to be shortened and simplified.”

At Macy’s, candidates apply via a five-minute online application, during which they are asked a series of qualifying questions and about their availability. Recruiters at one of its four centralized locations in the US review applications, and offers are emailed within 48 hours.

“Speed, cost, quality. The two that really matter is speed and speed,” Patterson said of Macy’s system, which it released ahead of last year’s holiday season. “Yes, we want to hire quality people, but we don’t even have a chance if we don’t move with pace.”

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UPS’s recruiting team also saw simplifying and speeding up the application as the key to recruiting quality candidates.

“There’s competition out there, [job-seekers are] not just applying to our job...they’re applying to multiple jobs, maybe 10 jobs,” Lavery said. “They’re shopping, and if you have a bad process that doesn’t meet their needs, they’re going to…go somewhere else.”

The logistics company collapsed its application, hiring, and onboarding processes into one in 2019. Some 80% of candidates do not have to interview, and those who receive offers are notified and begin onboarding during the less than 25-minute process.

“We took a process that [required] four and a half hours out of the candidate, with travel, into less than 30 minutes for 90% of our jobs,” he said. “We felt that that was imperative in the environment that we were be competitive.”

Other perks. For companies that rely on seasonal hires to get in the black, there’s a limited number of ways to attract candidates.

Challenger said that many companies are exploring “totally novel things that we’ve never seen in the labor market before,” such as the interview-free process.

A simpler hiring process is a big draw, but experts say it’s not the only way to snatch seasonal help away from rivals.

“The biggest factor, by far, is wages,” Challenger said. “You see a lot of competition for people and increasing wages for these jobs that don’t have high barriers to entry.”

Seasonal job-seekers also value flexible scheduling and career advancement opportunities when job hunting, Willis said. Just because your new hire starts as seasonal help, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to stick around in the new year.

A path to long-term employment could make the difference. Patterson and Lavery both said their companies anticipate retaining a sizable number of their seasonal hires.

“We want someone to come for the job and stay for a career with us,” Lavery said. “I started as a seasonal employee many years ago; I’m here, 25 years later.”—AD

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Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.