The “Know Your Audience” series on the HBS Recruiting Blog highlights trends in recruiting for various industries. Learn more about student interest, effective recruiting strategies, and best practices from HBS staff dedicated to your industry.

Meet the Team

Laurie Matthews – Corporate Relations Director and Career Coach

Renee Pappastratis – Recruiting Relations Manager

Together, Laurie and Renee manage relationships with retailers interested in recruiting HBS students to join their teams. Their combined expertise in the student experience, recruiting best practices, and the retail sector makes them important partners for retail companies seeking to attract and retain talent.

What Students Want

HBS student interest in retail has remained steady over the past five years with approximately 3% of the class joining the industry full time after graduation. This small but very dedicated group of students has a passion for the dynamic retail space across different segments including luxury, specialty, and mass market brands.

Retail Tech in particular has had a major impact on the industry and students’ focus. “Digital shopping platforms have really changed consumer shopping habits and retailers’ business models” said Laurie. “While it is a challenging time for the retail industry in some ways, retail tech is definitely moving the industry and students are seeking out these early stage companies.”

Who are the students seeking out retail roles? In a word, “switchers”, or students coming from outside the industry before business school. Career switchers make up a significant portion of the HBS class overall and they bring highly transferrable skills and diverse experience into new industries each year. When companies are open to hearing students make the pitch of how their skill sets align with what a company needs, everyone wins.

A Custom Fit

As the retail industry evolves, so do recruiting best practices. “More companies are turning away from a standard recruiting presentation and are being more agile and customized,” said Laurie. Renee added that some retailers have opted for short presentations followed by 1:1 company conversations or panel format events. Whichever event format you choose, Laurie always reminds companies, “if you try to do all sizzle and no steak, that’s not going to work. Also, make sure you go beyond information on your company website and have a meaty discussion of what the role would really look like day to day.”

Renee also noted that company site visits are a recruiting strategy used more commonly by retailers than other industries. While the student academic schedules limit travel during the school year, job search days and school breaks allow for opportunities for students to visit retail companies in person and see what makes the company unique first-hand. Students are passionate about the brands they are considering for potential employment and love the opportunity to see behind the scenes.

Keep in mind that customized recruiting does not always have to include an in person or on campus element. Renee has found that many of the companies she works with prefer to post a position instead of holding events and then they speak with students individually. The resume database offers an ideal tool for this strategy. Laurie offers that “companies can get a resume database for free, filter for the types of experience and skills they are interested in, and target specific students for outreach.”

Staying on Trend

An emerging trend in retail hiring is the development of Leadership Development Programs. While not a common practice at this point, Laurie and Renee are beginning to see retail tech companies who have experienced significant growth and established themselves as major industry players seek to grow their leadership pipeline with LDP programs.

In addition, Laurie notes that “a compelling story does not always have to be a success story. If your company is doing a turnaround and you want to hire smart MBAs to help right the ship, that will draw students in.” HBS students are eager to make an impact and to join leaders with a genuine purpose. Honestly discussing your challenges opens the door for productive conversation, and to finding students with highly transferrable skills ready to tackle the problems at hand.

Another trend across all industries is the use of educational events as important parts of companies’ recruiting strategies. In recent years, companies have found success by sharing their stance on specific topics or trends in their industries and offering students valuable insight into how senior leaders make decisions. Recruiting content is valuable as students do want to understand the specifics of the roles, however thought leadership and industry education can set companies apart from their competition.

Establishing Your Brand

Retailers know the importance of branding and making a last impression. When attracting MBA students for employment, you are establishing your brand at HBS and as Laurie noted, given the 20 month student journey on campus “you only get a chance to launch yourself at HBS once every two years.” Being intentional about how you position yourself as an employer of choice makes a big difference over the long term.

We suggest that the best first step to establish your brand at HBS is to consider your audience, and showcase what makes your company unique and appeal to MBA students. Tailor your presentation to MBA level students and focus on how opportunities at your company build on the MBA level learnings and skillsets.

We also encourage recruiting retailers work to get to know the Retail & Luxury Goods Club. The “RLGC” is a highly engaged group of students who are passionate about the industry personally and professionally. Renee recommends connecting with the club to get involved in their conference and engage with them on small format events that will attract your ideal audience and build positive buzz on campus.

Connect with Laurie and Renee

As you consider your next steps, contact Laurie and Renee to build a customized recruiting vision. They enjoy helping all kinds of retail firms set their recruiting strategy at HBS and they look forward to working with you.