I drove down a stretch of a busy highway yesterday and counted 18 businesses in a row who had a "Help Wanted" sign somewhere on their property.
Some had big banners. Some had yard signs. Some just had hand-written posters.
Most of these businesses were restaurants and retail establishments. They probably keep their signs up indefinitely but 18 in a row was the most I've ever seen.
I spent a few years as a restaurant manager so I know how hard it can be to recruit shift workers. It was easy to hire at the beginning of the summer when students needed jobs and right before Christmas when everyone needed money for gifts. But every other time of year was just a trickle of low-quality applicants.
It was hard. Often times I had to cover shifts because we were short on staff. More often than not, I hired people who were not qualified because I was desperate. That never worked out in the long run but it got me through some hard times. Sometimes you just need a body.
When I see 18 businesses in a row fighting for talent it makes me think a lot about employment branding. If I were looking for work, which company would I choose? In a market like this, you have to stand out. You have to be different. But that doesn't mean that you have to spend a bunch of money for a big ad campaign or brand redesign. It could be much more simple than that.
At the most basic level, it's not about who has the biggest, flashiest "Now Hiring" sign. It's not about your shift differential or your meal discount program. At the local level, it can often be as simple as cleaning up your storefront.
Is your grass mowed? Is there trash in the parking lot? Are your workers slouched over their phones near the dumpster catching a smoke break?
Inside your establishment, is it well lit? Do the bathrooms smell nice?
Most importantly, do your current employees appear to be enjoying their work? Do they greet you with a smile? Are they clean? Are they competent?
If you're a restaurant or retail establishment and you're having trouble finding good people, you don't have to reinvent the branding wheel but you do need to take a hard look at yourself.
Do a driveby of your storefront as compared to your peers. Do a walk-through of your establishment with a critical eye. Take a look at your existing staff.
If you were starting over and looking for a job again, would you want to work there?