By Susan Ladika


As employers scramble to fill job openings, some organizations are looking to hire new talent from among those who support them most—their customers.

PetSmart has sent two e-mail blasts to its current customers in recent months announcing that the pet store chain was hiring, and has hosted two in-store national hiring days, according to Mike Schultheis, senior vice president of retail operations, west.

The Phoenix-based retailer has more than 1,600 locations and operates more than 200 in-store pet boarding facilities.

«We are not immune to the challenges that have hit the retail industry, but we have had a strong year and hiring has remained steady,» Schultheis said. «We’ve implemented strategies to ensure we have a consistent flow of interested applicants.»

The company, which has more than 55,000 employees, hired more than 2,000 associates at its October national hiring day, Schultheis said. It also has set up a hiring table in stores that are most in need of new talent.

Its most recent recruiting e-mail, sent to customers in February, had the subject line: «Now Hiring: Pet parents like you!»

«Our customers and associates share the same passion—pets,» Schultheis said. «Being able to work where you shop, help other pet parents and provide care for pets are all things that customers and ideal candidates have in common.»

The e-mails, which have links to PetSmart’s careers site and to information on the benefits the company offers, brought in an almost 200 percent increase in applicant traffic, he said.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation, many organizations are finding it challenging to fill job vacancies. There were over 11 million unfilled jobs in the United States at the end of January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lendmark Financial Services, which offers personal loans to consumers, also is going directly to customers in its search for good employees.

The Lawrenceville, Ga.-based company added a QR code on mailings to customers that links to career opportunities on its website. «It’s been a terrific source [of employees] for us,» said Kelley Daviss, executive vice president of human resources for Lendmark.

Good customer service can also be an important way to find new employees, Daviss said. Macy Pfingsten, who first visited a Lendmark office when she was applying for a motorcycle loan in Colorado, was so impressed with her experience there that when she moved to Texas she applied for a job with the lender and got hired as a loan consultant for Lendmark in 2018.

Pfingsten has since moved up in the organization and now is a branch manager in Colorado, Daviss says.

«It’s a good example of how a good customer experience can benefit HR and talent acquisition down the line,» Daviss said.

On the other hand, if a customer has a bad experience dealing with a business, they are unlikely to apply for a job there, Daviss added. A job seeker is likely to think: «If they don’t care about the customer, they surely aren’t going to care about their employees,» she said.

Kane Carpenter, practice lead for employer branding and growth strategies for the Chicago consultancy Daggerfinn, offered some caution for organizations looking to contact their customers as a source of talent.

Carpenter said he has seen an increase in the number of companies sending recruiting e-mail blasts to consumers since the pandemic began.

«It’s something that companies need to do carefully. … Customers handing over their e-mail addresses are expecting a certain level of discretion when it comes to the marketing messaging they receive,» Carpenter said.

He urges organizations to focus on recruiting for no more than one-third of each e-mail. «Instead, focus on deals or coupons, and have the hiring message be an add-on later in the message,» he recommended. «Provide a referral bonus, provide some value before asking customers for help on the hiring front.»

Other organizations have had luck hiring customers by virtue of the good relationships they have.

The virtual coaching platform meQuilibrium, which focuses on helping individuals build resilience, late last year hired a former customer for the newly created role of senior vice president of solutions consulting.

Jonathan Gelfand worked as global well-being and health promotion manager for IBM. When Gelfand told executives at Boston-based meQuilibrium he was leaving IBM, «we couldn’t let him go anywhere else but here,» said Tom Higgins, chief revenue officer at meQuilibrium.

By hiring an executive from one of its customers, meQuilibrium gained an employee who «understands the value we bring to help [clients] be more successful,» Higgins said, and «believed in the message of building resilience.»

Because Gelfand had already decided to leave IBM, Higgins said he felt it was ethically acceptable to hire him at meQuilibrium.

«The very, very last thing I would ever do is recruit somebody» away from a current client, Higgins said.

«We have a very clear ethical line. You never want to convey that your customer base is a hunting ground for talent.»

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

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