Planning Ahead. The retail industry knew that a digital evolution was coming — we see that reflected in how they’ve hired more technical roles over the past several years. The pandemic isn’t what’s causing folks to shop online — it’s only accelerated this behavior out of sheer necessity. Retail businesses planned ahead and already had many of the right people in seat during the onset of the pandemic.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhea Moss.
Rhea is the Director of Data Insights and Customer Intelligence at iCIMS, the talent cloud company that empowers organizations to attract, engage, hire, and advance the right talent that builds a diverse, winning workforce. iCIMS’ software processes billions of data points per year. Rhea oversees iCIMS’ Insights program, where the organization aggregates and anonymizes this information into a powerful asset of Insights that can be used to help drive business and hiring strategies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely! First, I’ll say that I’ve always had a passion for data and think it’s incredibly powerful in today’s environment. Marketing collateral and news stories are riddled with opinions and perspective — which is important and has its rightful place– however, data is unique in that it’s neutral. And today, business leaders need facts to help guide them through this new era of work.
My career has taken me into many industries — from finance to tech, to real estate and now HR — and the commonality that threads all of my experiences together is data. In all my roles, from product management to leading a team of data scientists, the goal was always to build solutions for smarter, data-driven decisions.
I joined iCIMS several years ago to build our data science and analytics program. When the pandemic came to the U.S., we saw an opportunity to leverage our hiring data to provide global business leaders with insights to adapt their business and talent processes — and just like that, iCIMS’ Insights program was born!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think one of the most pivotal moments in my career is when we decided to launch Insights. I took the plunge to go beyond pulling, reviewing, and using data to actually speak about it. I tested the waters with a few speaking engagements — mainly panel discussions where I joined other thought leaders to discuss important topics such as gender equality and the evolution of the workplace.
Candidly, I was hesitant to make this leap because it was far outside of my comfort zone. After all, I was the one who always gravitated toward numbers, not words. To my surprise, I quickly learned that there is a demand for trusted data across all businesses and industries. And when you break data down in a way that is both digestible and applicable, you help others make an impact within their own organization — and that’s really what iCIMS is all about. We believe that employees are a company’s most valued asset because it’s your talent that powers transformation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I certainly can! I’ll never forget that one job interview where the hiring manager invited me to lunch and I took it upon myself to order a very delicious, but very sloppy cheeseburger. I spent the entire hour trying to delicately eat this cheeseburger, all-the-while attempting to maintain my professionalism and poise. Spoiler alert — I got the job, and after starting, I learned that my hiring manager had indeed noticed my struggle with that infamous cheeseburger and was impressed with my tenacity and determination.
It was just a cheeseburger, but it taught me that in the world of business and hiring, first impressions are real. Yes, job candidates and employers really do have to put their best foot forward from the get-go, but beyond that, we all need to exercise a bit more empathy in the workplace.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I’ll share more about iCIMS’ Insights program here because what we’ve done with it to-date is just the beginning. For those that aren’t familiar with iCIMS’ Talent Cloud, I’ll note that our platform processes interactions from more than 332 million users (including candidates), and through our network of 4,000+ customers, we reach 30 million workers across the globe. Because of how broad our dataset is, we have a unique viewpoint to offer — we see digital transformation happen in real-time across all industries, business sizes, and geographic locations. After hearing directly from our community that our insights were helpful in navigating today’s environment, we committed to making the data more widely available.
Since June 2020, we’ve published monthly Insights reports and videos, focusing on key trends and areas of public interest. It’s a quick and easy way for leaders to absorb the latest updates within the labor market from both the perspective of employers and job candidates. The program will continue to evolve to address widespread hiring concerns and questions. Our team also works closely with customers to help them leverage our data to enhance their hiring strategies.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think this is important for any professional, regardless of which industry they work in. Many of us work remote. And if we aren’t remote, we’re almost certainly working under unique circumstances. I know that I’ve spent the last three months working with a three-year-old, 18-month-old, and one large labradoodle — not the colleagues I’m accustomed to. The line between our personal and professional lives have further blurred, if they even exist anymore. We work longer hours, juggle more responsibilities, and try to help our clients acclimate to a changing world. It can feel overwhelming, even on our best days. It’s important to maintain perspective and prioritize, and understand that work will still be there in the morning.
For those who also work with data, remind yourself that data represents a certain point in time. Things will inevitably shift, and that’s okay. If you look at your work through this lens, you’ll feel empowered to dig deep and draw parallels and stories you may have previously overlooked. We have found that some of the most interesting data points are the exact opposite of what we’re looking for. Sometimes the failed hypothesis can translate into your best work yet. Take for example — we were looking to tell a story that aligned with media coverage about women staying home, not going back to work, but what we found was the exact opposite was true- women actually make up a large portion of the hires today than they did historically.
Finally (and probably most importantly), create healthy boundaries for yourself. You can still be great at your job and take a real lunch break. As a mom of small children, I know that my morning and nights belong to the kids. I make it a point to take a full lunch break plus smaller breaks throughout the day to exercise and create much-needed balance for myself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This may sound cliché, but the answer for me is my team. It truly does take a village. I wouldn’t be someone you wanted to interview in the first place if it weren’t for the people I work with daily. I have a tremendous group of professionals behind me that work with the data and translate it into stories that people care about. I am so appreciative of their hard work and support — and all of the laughs that we have along the way.
My gratefulness extends to my team at home, too. My husband is incredibly supportive of me in my career. I regularly bounce ideas off him, practice my presentations with him. He’s also a true partner in all things that need to get done to keep our household running.
I am a firm believer that you’re only as strong as your team, and iCIMS’ Insights program is proof of that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Being a female in a predominantly male-dominated industry — and at a tech company, no less — has allowed me to address the topic of inclusivity in a unique way.
I’m proud to lead Women at iCIMS, an employee resource group that consists of a mentorship program, networking events, and a space for open dialogue for all participants. We also run a Girls Who Code initiative to help bring computer science to young girls in the community. We want to maintain a welcoming work environment and grow awareness about gender equality in the workplace — a mission we share with iCIMS leadership and our customer community.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
- Lean into change, adopt a consumer’s mindset. Retailers now cater to a largely digital world– and, they’re not alone in that. We see a wide range of industries adjust their business models to accommodate this shift. But retailers have led the charge here. Companies like Walmart, Amazon, Target, and large supermarket chains were among some of the first to adjust how they operate and how to prioritize consumers’ health and preferences.
- Value precision hiring. Throughout the month of September, we saw an uptick in retail job opening activity. However, year to date, the number of retail job openings is still approximately 9% lower than it was in 2019. This suggests that while retailers are actively hiring, they’re being strategic in their efforts as they focus on the quality of hires versus the quantity.
- Embrace flexible work arrangements. During the height of the pandemic in April and May, only 28% of retail hiring activity was for full-time roles. In August, we observed an increase in the demand for full-time employees, making up 34% of all hires — still 10 percentage points away from pre-pandemic levels. This behavior shows us that retailers are open to sourcing part-time or contract workers based on their evolving needs/demands. This creates a certain agility that is critical in surviving and thriving in today’s environment.
- Accessing Alternate Talent Pools. We’ve observed an uptick in the proportion of out-of-state job applicants, and we see that more female and underrepresented groups are being hired as compared to the early months of the pandemic This indicates that retailers are casting a wider net and are rightfully open to a larger range of job candidates to build a diverse and winning workforce.
- Planning Ahead. The retail industry knew that a digital evolution was coming — we see that reflected in how they’ve hired more technical roles over the past several years. The pandemic isn’t what’s causing folks to shop online — it’s only accelerated this behavior out of sheer necessity. Retail businesses planned ahead and already had many of the right people in seat during the onset of the pandemic.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
Right now, digital retail experiences are key and will continue to dominate, particularly as we head into this year’s holiday season. That said, I do believe that physical stores will continue to exist. When we overcome this pandemic, there will be an adjustment period as folks re-acclimate to increased social interaction. Just as there will be a desire for some to return to a physical office location, there will likely be consumers that crave an in-person shopping experience.
Not to mention, younger generations are constantly seeking opportunities for instant gratification and experiences — sometimes, consumers don’t want to wait two days for an Amazon box to arrive, or they need to try on a dress before they purchase it. People always want options, and I don’t foresee that changing.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Those few brands you mention are all very different from one another. They provide distinct products/goods and cater to specific audiences. The one thing that they have in common is that they’ve done a knockout job in forming their brand identity. They have a clear and concise image in market, and because of that, they have inspired a true sense of loyalty amongst their customers.
I also touched on this earlier, but we’re seeing that an organization’s ability to quickly pivot is critical to their success. Popular retailers like those you’ve mentioned typically do a great job of adapting their business model to better support consumers, and today, people value convenience and their safety more than ever before. Showcasing your commitment to these things will resonate with the public.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
I’d urge business leaders to pause and re-evaluate their business strategy. Once they’ve redefined their goals and most importantly, identified their main differentiator — which is necessary, given how much things have changed over the past several months — they should review how their hiring process supports them.
Once you’ve defined what differentiates you from your competition, ask yourself these questions: “Do I have the right people in seat to help us keep up with accelerated digital transformation? Do I have existing employees I can train to fill certain gaps within the business? Do I have the right technology in place to help HR quickly and efficiently staff up and/or advance talent?” If this pandemic has proven anything, it’s that your people are what will drive your ability to remain competitive — you can’t lose sight of that.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Before working at iCIMS, my only experience with HR was as a job candidate. Now, I truly grasp just how many stars have to align to get the right person in the right seat at the right time. I also know how powerful it can be to have a well-rounded and capable team in place.
With millions of people currently unemployed within the U.S., our Insights are helping employers re-visit their hiring plans and bring new talent and advance existing talent within their organizations. My goal is simple — to continue using our platform and data to improve the job search and hiring process for job seekers and employers.
How can our readers further follow your work?
There are a few ways — your readers can visit us at www.icims.com/insights for all of our reports and videos. They can also follow iCIMS’ LinkedIn account and my LinkedIn account for regular updates on our latest hiring data.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.