What Companies Look For When Hiring During A Pandemic with Marcy Hamrick & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Publix Human Resources Hiring Strategies

No matter how hard you strive to be the best employer, there are always ways you can do better and serve your employees and customers even better.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Marcy Hamrick.

Marcy Hamrick is the manager of talent acquisition for Publix, a supermarket chain headquartered in Lakeland, FL with more than 1,200 stores across the southeast. Marcy joined the company in 2012 and provides leadership to the recruiting team, which helps staff the more than 200,000 positions.

Great to speak with you again! The world has changed a lot since the last time we talked so let’s dive right into that. What is the current state of the job market in America as you see it and where do you expect there to be more opportunities for those in need of work in the near feature?

While the current environment has unexpectedly left many without a job, at Publix, we are focused on finding excellent talent and providing career opportunities. We started to see an uptick in applications in March as people who might have been laid off from a restaurant that had to close, for example, began looking for jobs at essential businesses. We were also increasing our outreach efforts at the end of March to meet the unprecedented demand caused by the pandemic.

So far, we have hired more than 34,000 new associates since late March in retail alone. In distribution, we’ve extended offers to more than 3,200. And, we continue to prioritize hiring. The opportunities are certainly available across departments and areas of expertise, and we will continue to onboard more and serve as an employment provider during these difficult times.

With fluctuations in applications and hiring since March 2020 for many companies, what is Publix doing to help those laid off due to COVID?

When this unprecedented loss of jobs began to emerge, we began ideating creative new ways to share that we are hiring. For example, we communicated this through our marketing billboards, which were typically used to promote Publix products. We also featured this message in our weekly in-store flyer, which is primarily used for products. And for the first time, we deployed a “now hiring” commercial.

We also focused on areas we knew had been heavily impacted by job cuts, such as the hospitality industry. We monitored which businesses were closing and reached out to contacts within those organizations to spread the word that we are hiring. Some employers posted these positions internally as a resource for furloughed employees.

In expanding our workforce so rapidly, we do face the possibility of turnover once things return to normal. However, even when people can return to their usual workplaces and industries, our goal is to ensure they know they can build a long-lasting career at Publix. We are not viewing this increased hiring as a quick fix, but rather a long-term solution. In our 90-year history, we have never had a layoff. Knowing a position with Publix has that stability can be incredibly empowering, especially to someone who has personally experienced a layoff. We want our associates to pursue a long-term career here, and we provide them with the training, resources, and support to create that path for their future. At Publix, it’s very common for associates to spend 20 or more years with us as they work their way up.

Has the pandemic also changed the training process over there? If so, what does that look like for essential workers right now?

As the pandemic created an increased need for even more frequent cleaning of high-touch points and sanitation, we recognized that our traditional hiring process needed more efficiencies. We needed to get more associates in the stores to begin serving customers as quickly as possible. We have expedited our process so that associates can go from application to starting work in a very short window of time. We’ve realized we can reduce the amount of time between application and start date, and we are analyzing this process to identify what we can continue with after things return to normal.

What skillsets are new associates bringing over from previous careers that maybe weren’t as common when you were hiring in the past?

We’ve seen a variety of new skillsets brought over from previous careers, from hotels to amusement parks. Another example is people who worked in restaurants and can bring their fresh expertise in cooking, baking, and other food-related skills to a position in our bakery, deli, or seafood department. They’re using similar skills but in a new way.

Are there any changes that were implemented due to COVID that you expect to keep after everything opens up again?

We will continue to recruit and onboard associates more efficiently. Near the beginning of the pandemic, we conducted an analysis on which tasks are most essential when training new associates. With a heightened focus on those areas, we’ve been able to provide a much faster orientation. We’re making sure to educate associates on other parts of their position after the initial onboard. One way we’ve done this is by pairing new associates with more tenured ones.

Is there any other advice you could share with other HR professionals that have helped you the most this year?

Look for where you can improve. No matter how hard you strive to be the best employer, there are always ways you can do better and serve your employees and customers even better.

What 3 tips or strategies would you give someone trying to find a job right now?

  1. Have a few versions of your resume at-the-ready. When you’re applying for a job, select the resume that best matches the industry and position. Hiring managers and recruiters are receiving many submissions. To stand out, make it easy for them to see how your experience matches the job.
  2. Submit a cover letter. This is an additional step that many people leave out of their submissions these days and shows hiring managers and recruiters that you’re willing to take that extra step. Make sure the letter is specific to the position and highlights your soft skills to demonstrate why you’re a great candidate.
  3. Practice patience. Hiring managers and recruiters want to be responsive to your submission and are balancing their increased job expectations and number of submissions. While you’re awaiting a response, do your company research and brainstorm interview questions you’d likely field and practice your responses.

What have you learned from 2020 and all of its challenges?

We’ve learned, even more, to rely on the strength of our culture. We have a thorough process already in place that enables us to act quickly during natural disasters and other times of urgent need. Store managers understand the importance of that process in our service to communities, and this perspective over the years has enabled us to withstand the current stressful times. We follow a blueprint that prioritizes compassion and concern for our associates, customers, and communities. That empathy has helped strengthen our culture for new associates joining us during the pandemic who have already endured so much. We invest for the long-term to ensure they are cared for and provide an encouraging, family-like environment.

Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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