How to Attract New Talent

Aug 26, 2021

The grocery industry is facing a labor issue of epic proportions, and employers are pulling out all the stops to attract workers: signing bonuses, increased base pay, and more paid time off are just some of the incentives. But according to a recent study conducted by the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, it's not just money and hours that the currently unemployed are looking for in a new job. 

Better jobs, family-friendly employers, and safety are top of mind for the job seekers in our survey—people with a household income of $75,000 or less, ages 18-60, in all 50 states, who are unemployed due to COVID. And with less than 10 percent of those surveyed saying they're electing to stay unemployed due to government subsidies, most people are actively seeking employment.

"We need to be honest with ourselves about the issue here. Getting people to work in grocery retail was a big problem long before COVID," IGA CEO John Ross says. "There's no question COVID has exaggerated the issue—and that makes it easy to sit back and say it will go away when government subsidies are gone—but our own findings tell us those subsidies aren't the main cause of this shortage. The real truth is the way we were hiring before isn't good enough. If we intend to fix this existential hiring crisis in our industry, we have to make our stores and jobs cooler and more exciting than ever before. And we need to take care of the employees that we have. If we do these two things, it will be a gift that gives forever.”


So how can independent retailers use this knowledge to attract new talent while addressing hesitancies and concerns? Keep reading for tips and best practices from grocers across the country.

Step 1: Prepare Your Toolkit

Before launching a campaign to hire new employees, make sure you have done your homework to prepare for each position you need to fill. Perform research on your competitors, examine your benefits, and determine a plan for finding potential candidates.

Determine Concrete, Tangible Benefits

While it's important to ensure your wages are in an appropriate range for your community, pay isn't always the most important reason someone chooses one job over the other.

"No prospective employee is going to be thinking that the grocery business has the highest starting wage, but with the number of executives, business leaders, and CEOs who started off as cashiers or stockers, it may be one of the best stepping stones," Ross says. "The key is to make sure prospective employees know you offer skills training and the opportunity for quick leadership advancement. Compared to a lot of other industries, entry level workers have a real opportunity to advance into management quickly with or without a college degree. Plus we can offer a range of other benefits."

Besides your hourly rate or salary, think through what other meaningful benefits can you offer employees, ranging from sick pay and paid vacation time to one of the most important benefits: flexible hours.

People with young children in daycare and/or workers looking for second jobs are great resources, but they need far more flexible hours than many jobs offer. "While we can't build a custom schedule for every employee, we can create ways for two-income families to manage work and family needs; we can work around the needs of people like emergency services workers who want and need a second income; and we can grab up seasonal employees like teachers and landscapers when their work has died down. Don't underplay this advantage," Ross advises.

Incentivize Referrals

When it comes to finding dependable candidates, many retailers have found success relying on their current employees for referrals. Not only is it an effective method for recruiting, but it’s proven to be the fastest, most efficient way to hire.

  • 88 percent of employers said referrals are the best source for above-average applicants. (Dr. John Sullivan Research)
  • 82 percent of employers rated employee referrals as generating the best ROI, above all other sources. (CareerBuilder)
  • Referred candidates are 55 percent faster to hire, compared with employees sourced through career sites. (HR Technologist)

Incentivize your current employees by offering a referral bonus, which guarantees the referring employee a monetary reward with any successful hire.

Tap Into Non-Traditional Labor Pools

Unlike the grocery industry where we have been hiring all through the pandemic, the restaurant industry laid off millions of Americans. Targeting former restaurant workers who don't want to go back into an industry that couldn't support them during the worst days of the pandemic may open up a huge labor pool of people with experience in customer service-oriented and food industry jobs.

Wright’s Market IGA Store Owner Jimmy Wright has found hiring success by tailoring the hiring message to local seniors. “Many of our older community members are living on Social Security, which leaves them with very little if any extra spending money," Wright explains. "We offer flexible hours so they can work a couple days to stay active, while providing them with some additional income. Ultimately, it’s about finding the right fit for their lifestyle.”

Taking it a step further, Wright has also been finding new employees by looking for candidates in non-traditional labor pools. “We have been working with a local rehab facility, with residents who have completed a substance abuse program and are looking to get back on their feet,” says Wright.

Step 2: Reposition Your Business Through Marketing & Storytelling

Once you know what you'll offer and where you're seeking employees, it's time to reposition your business as the place to work. How you talk about your store and the opportunities within can make all the difference. 

Tell Your Story & Share Your Company Values

"If you pull up help wanted ads for grocery stores, they are often miserable," says Ross. "They look like they were written in the 1980s. They make the job sound scary and frightening and they don't talk about why the grocery industry is exciting." 

When you post a job on social media, your store's website, or on a local job posting website, Ross suggests a softer approach that highlights what makes your job unique and rewarding. "Imagine a message that makes people envision a job they love," Ross advises. "'Want to make a difference in your community?' 'Want to work for a company that gives back and feeds the hungry and helps charities?' Just like we market to shoppers, we're going to market to potential workers."

Ross' example taps into a key element that is striking a chord with the workforce today: working for a company that makes a difference. As a locally owned business, you no doubt have supported your community in a number of ways. Telling that story—whether it’s your support for the local food bank, schools, and community causes, your commitment to sustainability, or your dedication to local, family farmers—shows that your business is a better place to work.

Want to tout the benefits of working in your store with in-store signage? We've created a new hiring sign kit using key findings from our survey. Throughout the signs you won’t see the words “job” or “hiring.” Instead, we’ve focused on what it means to work at a local IGA—a better place to work. 

"Meat your future" and "Our bakery is a sweet spot to work"

Order signage

Want to share your story over the radio? Ask your favorite voice actor or an enthusiastic employee to record the script below for a local radio spot, or play it every hour over your store's PA.

Think for a second about the job you really want, and the company you really want to work for…

A job that’s meaningful, with a company that shows support for the community by supporting the local businesses and causes that matter to you.

A job with flexible hours, with a company that understands life can’t be all work and no play, and you need to be there for your family when they need you. 

A job with opportunity, with a company focused on helping you develop the skills you need to excel where you are, and prepare for the future you want.

That’s the job waiting for you today at your local IGA. Give us a call to learn how you can join our team for a better place to work.

Want a unique post for social media or local job boards?  Choose a few lines from the script or the messaging below and pair it with a short job description to make a job post that will stand out from the slew of other job opportunities. Click the image below to download several sample social media graphics with this messaging. Need some sample job descriptions for the key positions in your store? Contact the IGA Coca-Cola Institute's Jason King

  • Friends, neighbors, and family working together: IGA grocery stores are family owned and operated, and we care about our family of employees.
  • Flexibility: We provide the flexibility you need to balance your work and family life. 
  • Worker safety: We take worker safety seriously and we will always work to protect you and your family.
  • Fun, meaningful work: We're a local business dedicated to giving back and supporting other local businesses, farmers, the community, and local causes.
  • Opportunities for advancement: The grocery and food industries are stable, reliable, and growing, with opportunities to gain experience in multiple departments, from bakery, meat, or produce to vendor management or customer service.


Step 3: Prepare to Interview & Be Ready to Hire

Once you share your open positions and market your store as a desirable place to work, applications will start coming in, and you will need to continue sharing the benefits of employment while determining which candidates are right for your work environment during the interview process.

Manage Expectations in the Interview 

Sometimes a little clarity can go a long way. Gary and Leo’s IGA store owner Laura Malisani found that being specific and upfront about job requirements, advancement opportunities, and employee benefits can help attract employees and also ensure they stick around for a while.

“Be sure that you’re letting potential employees know exactly what you’re looking for," she says. "Let them know the scheduling process, perks of the job like vacation days, and clarify expectations. We’ve had more people walk off the job because of minor issues—like being asked to put away their phone while they’re working. Ensure employees know upfront what’s expected of them so there are no surprises later.”

Invite Candid Conversations With Peers

Just like with any other decision, peer reviews play an increasingly important role in the decision-making process. Sites like Glassdoor have attracted millions of job seekers looking for a place of employment that not only pays well, but also treats their employees well. When you’re talking with a job candidate, invite them to have a candid conversation with a current employee. This will show them that you have a great relationship with your team, and allow them the opportunity to ask any questions they might be hesitant to ask you.

Act Quickly

When talking with members of our National Retailer Advisory Board (NRAB), this best practice came up multiple times. Historically, the hiring process can take weeks. But today, employers must be prepared to hire quickly--even during the interview itself. 


“Make sure whoever is conducting the interview has the authority to hire on the spot. If you find someone you like, don’t risk losing them to someone else,” advises NRAB Chairman and Geissler's Supermarkets CEO Bob Rybick. 

While just about every industry is struggling to find labor, the good news for us in grocery is that all the elements are already there to meet the needs of today’s worker. From job stability to supporting causes that matter and offering competitive pay with endless opportunities for growth, our task now is to get that message out to those looking for better, more meaningful jobs. These tools and best practices should help, both now in today's tight labor market and once things have begun to normalize. 

Next week, we will conclude this series by sharing how to retain the employees you already have. 

Do you have tips or strategies that have worked well for hiring and/or retaining employees? Share your best practices with us!

Watch the webinar where IGA CEO John Ross details the study findings.

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