Interview with Bill O’Malley, Connector Team Recruiting
Some thought it would be easier to find and hire satisfactory team members
post COVID. Instead, retailers are facing challenges. Here are ways to
It’s no surprise to just about any Furniture World subscriber that furniture
retailers are having a tough time recruiting management and line-level
employees, especially for the warehouse and office.
That’s why we once again engaged Bill O’Malley, the president and founder of
Connector Team Recruiting, a specialized search firm that works with
furniture, mattress and electronics companies to suggest solutions in this
challenging hiring and retention environment.
Harder Than Ever Before
“Recruiting has gotten harder than it’s ever been before,” observed
O’Malley. “There are lots of people in the market, but their skill sets and
location aren’t always aligned with open positions. Retailers who’ve lost an
inventory control manager, a controller or general manager are struggling to
find skilled people to fill those positions.
“The difference between the current supply and the demand for skilled
workers has dictated a new level of wages. What should a sales manager be
earning right now? In the recent past, I might say $50,000 to $65,000.
People available today often require higher pay and a lot more training than
they used to.
First Line of Defense
“According to a Society for HR Management (SHRM) study, the cost of
replacing an average employee in 2022 is $4,700. And, it can be a lot higher
when an outside recruiter is required for management positions.
“That’s why retailers need to do everything they can to hang on to those
good people they have in addition to sharpening their hiring processes.
“For retailers, it’s not much fun overwhelmed by100 applications from Indeed
and not knowing where to begin.”
“As I mentioned in our interview last year on re-recruiting, it’s still
urgently important to have frequent personal check-ins with current
employees, even best performers. Ask about their work-life balance, family,
and personal challenges. You don’t want them to quit because they’ve hit a
wall. A lot happened during COVID and many people still feel burned out.
“Retailers are often better served by offering a stressed employee seven to
10 paid personal days off to sort things out versus losing a really great
person and being left with a huge void. During the recent pandemic just
about every organization lost people that they would either like to have
back, or at least wish that hadn’t left. Many lost those people because
managers were busy putting out other fires and not paying close enough
attention to what was going on in their employees’ lives. I know this
because our firm was asked to replace those people.”
“Right now, when people leave or retire, filling those positions is
complicated by a mismatch between what applicants are looking for and the
realities of everyday retail. In addition, the application process for new
hires is less personal and in many ways, more challenging.
“Retailers,” O’Malley said, “are using popular platforms such as LinkedIn,
Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Instagram and Facebook. Most retail executives outside
of HR can’t spare the time necessary to attend to these platforms every day.
The situation has been made worse because it’s almost too easy for
candidates to submit applications online with hardly any effort at all.”
O’Malley noted this can result in applicants submitting large numbers of
applications that have to be vetted—a big waste of time. “Many ‘job seekers’
who have heard about the highly competitive job market are just kicking the
tires to see what’s available. They are not all that serious about their job
search. It’s not much fun getting overwhelmed by100 applications from Indeed
and not knowing where to begin. That’s why many retailers enter challenge
questions that must be answered before submission. Asking questions like ‘Do
you have the required minimum requirements? Can you commute to this
location?’ serve to narrow down the selection pool.”
“Normally, interviewing should be a two, maybe a three-step process. But in
this tight labor market, putting people through a third or a fourth step can
cause them to believe that a company isn’t serious, or is unsure about them.
That is why it’s important to tighten the interview process and coordinate
hiring teams to capture the best talent, whether they have been found by an
outside recruiter, an internal recruiter, online application or referral.
Make sure you put every candidate through the same process. Especially those
who came via a trusted referral.
“During the interview, it’s important to be prepared to discuss career
pathing and explain what your company does to improve and serve its local
community. Those two things will help you hire and keep the best candidates.
Give interviewees examples of people who have grown with your company and
ideally have them interview with at least one of those people who can
explain from their own experience how well they’ve been treated by your
company and why your store is a great place to work.
“Don’t have just one person make a hiring decision. Get multiple opinions
but make sure the process doesn’t drag. Put everything in writing. Let
candidates know that you are serious about hiring them. From their
perspective if the process resembles a hamster wheel or you interview in a
way that seems ‘next, next, next,’ it’s not a good thing. Hiring a
front-line employee after asking two or three questions, then telling them
when to show up for work, can project disrespect. That, in turn, may result
in them mirroring what they perceive as poor employer attitude. There’s a
good chance they will think, ‘They don’t much care about me, and since I
found another job, I’m not even gonna tell them.’
“Find solid candidates who have a foundational reason to move back to an
area. Did they grow up, attend a university or have relatives there?“
“Adding to the list of annoying things that may happen during the interview
process is ghosting. Retailers report that lots of job candidates aren’t
showing up for scheduled interviews. On the flip side, job seekers often
blame companies’ internal and outside recruiters for doing the same thing to
“One final difficulty,” O’Malley described, “is that many applicants think
that every job should be remote. Imagine that you own a retail store in a
small Midwest market that has an opening for a warehouse manager. There is
talent out there, but hardly any in your community. People will apply
online, thinking that they can run a warehouse remotely. It is mind-boggling
to see the extent to which people think retail jobs can be done remotely or
with an occasional onsite visit.
“And here’s something I wouldn’t have mentioned just six months ago. Going
forward, retailers need to be careful of resumes puffed up with content
created by AI platforms like Chat GPT. That will probably make screening
calls more important as a way to see how well people communicate. I recently
interviewed a great executive-level candidate on Zoom. Her answers were spot
on. But in the future, how will I know that those answers weren’t generated
by a chatbot?”
“Hiring a front-line employee after asking two or three questions, then
telling them when to show up for work, can project disrespect. That, in
turn, may result in them mirroring what they perceive as poor employer
Many retailers in smaller markets should be doing a better job of marketing
themselves. They need to create stories about why their company is a great
place to work and why the communities they serve are attractive places to
“People are being very careful right now before they change jobs,” O’Malley
pointed out. They are resistant to taking a new job that requires moving to
a different location unless they have a good reason to do so. That reason is
not always salary.
“Clients often ask me how I manage to find people that they have been unable
to find. I do research to find solid candidates who have a foundational
reason to move back to an area. Did they grow up, attend high school, a
university or have relatives there?
“Many people can be lured by quality-of-life issues such as attractive
housing prices. For smaller profile companies, being able to position your
company as a great place to work and explain what direction a candidate’s
career path might take is necessary. It’s also a good idea to build a case
for the stability of working for a strong regional furniture retailer versus
a huge, big-box company.”
Many people want to find jobs with companies that provide a more
accommodating and pleasant work environment. O’Malley said that he recently
spoke to a candidate who was anxious to escape a toxic big box culture. “Her
goal was to join a company that actually cares,” he said. “Bigger isn’t
always better. People don’t want to be treated like a number, feel pressured
or abused or taken for granted. That’s the quickest way to lose people in
“More companies,” he continued, “are offering sign-on bonuses, recognizing
the potential to hire people away from other employers. Offering sign-on
bonuses is a popular and solid practice, but be careful not to distribute
the promised amount on day one. Give them a reward after six months with a
clawback provision if they don’t make it to the target date. When new hires
reach a one-year milestone, there’s a good chance of keeping them for three
to five years if you do everything else right.”
It’s important for retailers to adjust their interviewing process to make
sure they are asking the right questions.
“I’m often amazed,” he said, “about how little thought companies give to
formalizing their interview process. There are some common mistakes made
when interviewing. The first is not letting the candidate do the majority of
the talking. Often, people I send to interviews with retail clients report
back that during their first interview, store owners hardly ask them any
questions. One of the best questions is to request a CliffsNotes version of
their work history. Say, ‘Take me back to high school and bring me forward
in your career with a two-to-three-minute version.’ That gives them a chance
to tell their story. If they can’t, you will know they haven’t prepared for
the interview. Also, ask them what they know about your company and the job
they are interviewing for. If they can’t do that, you know they haven’t done
their research, which is a major faux pas and a signal that they may not be
a good fit. Today, any adequate candidate will take at least a few minutes
to check out a company’s ‘about us’ page.
“I’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of how candidates
respond when asked, ‘What resonated about this position when I first spoke
to you? What did you find about our company while preparing for this
interview?’ Some over-analyze it and others don’t know what to say.”
“Consider recruiting people from outside the furniture industry. For example, someone who is doing a great job as a buyer at a department store, chain store or off-price store.”
As a side note, O’Malley spoke about issues retailers report having that are
associated with drug screening. It’s a topic he said often comes up when
speaking with them about their background policies.
“Today,” he noted, “40 states and the District of Columbia have legalized
the medical use of cannabis. In 23, it’s been approved for recreational or
adult use. A result is that retailers are having trouble finding delivery
drivers, warehouse and office staff who can pass drug screening tests.
“If you have a robust testing policy, consider what your policy says if
presented with a medical marijuana card. Companies need policies that serve
as guides for candidates who take medication or cannabis for anxiety, pain
or depression and may fail the test. It’s complicated at best, and at worst,
a legal rabbit hole.
“I wish there was some good solution to this situation, but it will continue
to be a problem nationwide. Although companies have the right to continue to
do drug testing, I believe it’s better to focus on background checks,
verification and reference checking. I’m not suggesting that eliminating all
drug testing is best for every company, but these are better indicators of
who a person is.
“Background checks are a good way to get information about candidates who
have histories of fraud and violence. Using this information for hiring is
still legal in most states. It’s important to keep up to date on individual
state laws regarding what information can and can’t be collected and used.
So-called ‘ban-the-box’ laws have been adopted in about 30 percent of states
and some municipalities. There are also various rules about cannabis testing
and how companies can use this information to make employment decisions.
“Bottom line, it’s a best practice to have guardrails and standards set up
to ensure consistency in your hiring decisions.”
Onboarding is more important than ever. O’Malley’s experience is that how
new hires experience their first two weeks of work is critical to employee
longevity. “It used to be,” he recalled, “that when people were hired, they
quickly signed paperwork and were paired with an employee to shadow. That
employee might have been the only person available, sometimes with a
difficult personality or an employee who is disgruntled. Today, doing it
that way is a sure-fire way to lose new talent. Today’s new generation of
talent wants to have adequate training. If they find out they have joined a
company that does not have good onboarding they may head for the exit
When asked to discuss succession, O’Malley opted not to review the popular
HBO series. Instead, he noted that “Many furniture store owners either don’t
have family members who want to come into their businesses or haven’t
groomed new talent to take responsibility should a couple of key people
relocate or retire. There is so much training and experience that goes into
making a great furniture merchandising person that those people are hard to
replace. Worse yet, most of the candidates who might be available are
scattered all over the country, mostly in densely populated areas. For many
retailers the result is a finite talent pool to tap into.
“This situation has been made much worse by the fact that ten thousand baby
boomers in the US are retiring every day. Many are leaving highly skilled
positions in the furniture industry and nobody planned for their succession.
It’s something we will be dealing with for the next 10 years. The good news
is there are some fantastic young people just coming up in the industry who
have leadership capability, business gravitas and the seriousness needed to
be next-generation leaders.
“It’s up to business owners to work harder to engage with these potential
employees. Consider recruiting from outside the furniture industry. For
example, someone who is doing a great job as a buyer at a department store,
chain store or off-price store. Many have applicable skill sets and have
received training that most furniture retailers can’t match. The level of
training at Walmart, Target, Macy’s or TJX can be impressive.
“On the financial side, a controller that’s running a successful B2B
business can easily handle a five-store furniture operation. Let’s say your
goal is to find someone that checks every box in a ten-box list and the last
two of those boxes are related to industry experience. Failing to interview
a person who doesn’t have that experience can be a big mistake.
“One of the best things that furniture retailers should do if they’re
struggling with hiring,” O’Malley suggested, “is make sure that hiring is
mentioned at every team meeting. Emphasize the importance of bringing in new
talent. That will do more to avoid a hiring ‘fire drill’ situation than
“There’s a reason why so many poor hiring decisions are made in our
industry. For a long time, we did not have a problem attracting talent. Now
it’s a big issue. My experience is that improving recruiting, hiring and
retention is like learning to ride a bike. At first, you’re wobbly. Over
time and with practice it gets better.
“The trick is to develop a holistic approach to how your company is
presented to potential employees on your website, social media and in your
stores. Work to increase employee awareness and engagement to support that
effort. As a recruiter, I find that it’s much easier to find interested
candidates for companies that have worked to create a positive sense that
the company is a model corporate citizen and a good place to work.”
Questions about this article and related recruiting, retention and hiring
topics can be directed to Bill O’Malley at