Retailers need to remember that job candidates are also potential customers, says Liz Morrell

Retailers’ HR departments are finding themselves swamped with applicants, and when this happens it can have wider business implications.

“We have noticed an increasing desperation in dealing with and handling volume applications,” says Sean Howard, vice-president of marketing at talent assessment specialist SHL, who explains it has been caused by rising unemployment and technology that makes it easier for candidates to apply for a number of jobs at once.

Although some believe such challenges extend only to the HR department being overstretched, the reality is a far wider potential impact on the business. Prospective employees are often customers or fans of the brand, so handling them poorly through the recruitment process has to be a no-no.

And yet a recent survey by SHL shows that this is exactly what some retailers are doing. The survey, carried out earlier this year, questioned those in charge of recruitment at 255 retail organisations as well as speaking to 1,611 adults in the UK.

According to its findings, 19% of retailers don’t communicate with unsuccessful candidates after the initial recruitment stage compared with an average of 16% across other industries. Some 20% acknowledge receipt of the application but don’t let candidates know if they have been successful or not.

And yet this is candidates’ biggest concern. Almost half the respondents - 46% - said their biggest annoyance was in not being told whether their application had been successful or not. Retailers may be overstretched but in a business where the customer is king, this is no excuse.

“The customer versus candidate experience is very important to us and we do want the candidate experience to be a good one so they continue to, or start shopping with us,” says Sue Gilbert, manager, recruitment, manpower planning and career development at John Lewis.

“It’s about how do you give a good experience,” says Howard. That may be through easier application processes, tools such as realistic job previews, which help customers understand what the role will comprise, and even sending out vouchers or something to give something back to the potential employee/ customer that can link in well with retailers’ marketing efforts.

The survey highlighted the danger of a bad experience being escalated, either through word of mouth or through social media and sites such as, which has a ‘what it’s like to apply to’ section.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development spokesperson Angela Baron says: “We are definitely seeing more discomfort with the recruitment process and more people are reporting they are having a negative experience.”

The survey also showed that more than three quarters of respondents would be put off being a customer of a company that a friend or family member had a bad recruitment experience with. So treating the candidate as a customer really is vital.

Recruitment Tips

What should retailers be doing to ensure a good candidate/customer experience?

  • Tell candidates whether they have been successful or not
  • Give feedback on applications
  • Acknowledge receipt of applications
  • Give feedback after interviews