September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Help (very much) wanted

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Winning that battle for talent requires Newegg's talent acquisition team to spend time developing relationships with potential employees, Cheng says. The e-retailer's recruiters tap into groups on the LinkedIn social network, such as "Search Marketing Salon," to identify individuals with the skills the retailer is looking for. Then, once they figure out a shortlist of who might fit, they refine those efforts and reach out.

"We tell them about Newegg and the position, if we have a position available," he says. "Or, if we don't have an available position we tell them we're interested in keeping the dialogue open. A lot of times, even if people aren't interested they might have a referral for someone else who is good."

Staples is also investing heavily in recruitment, says Erica Rockenback, the retail chain's director of talent acquisition. Rockenback's recruiters search for talent both face to face and online via LinkedIn and user groups. The retailer also plans to launch the Staples Talent Community in the next few months. The community, which will be housed on, will enable prospective employees to express their curiosity about possible jobs at Staples without actually applying for a job, instead of just providing some contact information.

"It will provide a way to say, 'I'm curious about the company, ping me if you have something,'" she says. The community hopes to attract a broader range of talent than just those frustrated employees eager to leave their current positions, she says.

Meanwhile, to ensure Staples continues to draw new entry-level employees, the office supplies retailer is increasing its focus on on-campus recruiting. As part of that move it will increase its number of interns.

One advantage that merchants like Staples and Newegg have in common is that their businesses are fairly well-known. That isn't the case with smaller companies like BrickHouse Security LLC, says Todd Morris, CEO of the retailer of security and surveillance products. "People want to go to a place they know," he says. "That makes it tough for a lesser-known company."

What helps, he says, is establishing credibility by noting that the company—which has 53 employees and is looking to add four more—is listed in publications like the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and the Inc. 5000. Getting on industry lists helps reassure potential candidates that BrickHouse is well established. The retailer generated $16.7 million in web sales in 2010, he says.

BrickHouse also encourages its employees to recruit their friends. The retailer pays between $250 and $500 per successful referral, depending on the seniority of the position. Morris says he considers candidates recommended by employees to be known quantities, at least when compared with someone who responds to an online job posting.

Moreover, an employee who is referring a friend or former colleague can offer a perspective about a position different from what a job posting—or even a search firm—can convey, Morris says. "They know about, and can talk about, our 100% no-boredom guarantee," he says. That guarantee is a core value at BrickHouse—employees are promised that they will never have a boring day while working at the organization.

The retailer considers the employee perspective so important that every potential hire meets with at least three of the people they will work with—not including managers—during the interview process. That enables the applicant to hear what it's like to work at BrickHouse.

Going outside

Not every employee at BrickHouse stumbles upon the company through an ad or contact. For some of the more senior positions the retailer turns to search firms, which Morris says he has found to be particularly good at finding a proper fit for a company and its culture.

In fact, search firms such as Herbert Mines, Executive Search International and say they are fielding an increasing number of searches. "We've never been busier," says Harry Joiner, founder of This year he expects to place 150 people in new positions, up 36% from 110 a year ago. Joiner, who works on a contingency basis, charges 20% of an employee's first-year base salary. Other recruiters, who work on a retainer basis, charge between 30% and 35% of an employee's first-year earnings, including salary, bonus and other cash compensation.

A search firm can be especially helpful at a time like this when experienced e-commerce professionals can afford to be choosy, says Les Gore, managing partner at recruiting firm Executive Search International. "They won't just go anywhere," he says. "They can be picky." With demand outstripping supply, retailers have to make their positions attractive in terms of salaries and benefits, as well as workplace culture, Gore says.

That means that a retailer like Staples that wants to attract top talent must invest the time and energy to make sure it offers the kind of workplace environment and growth opportunities that will appeal to current and potential staff. "The only way to keep attracting great people," Tilzer says, "is to give them opportunities to grow."

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