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Social media campaign to recruit retail chief executive reaches audience of half a million

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Halfway through a social media campaign to fill a top retail job, headhunters say their different approach to recruitment has reached more than half a million people.

Beringer Tame was set the task of finding the next chief executive of clothing retailer Lyle & Scott by its owner, Sue Watson. She believed that understanding social media was a prerequisite for the next incumbent of the £250,000 job.

The company kicked off its first social media campaign to find a chief executive on August 29, and is now past the halfway point – applications close on October 4, with the successful candidate likely to be appointed in early November.

Hashtagged, #NextGreatLeader, the campaign opened with a 140-character blast: Wanted: #CEO for our iconic British brand. £250k basic salary. Corporate Journeymen need not apply, with a link to the details.

The social media approach to headhunting in the retail sector was one, said Patrick Tame, of Beringer Tame, that the company was not immediately taken by. “It seemed like a bit of a gimmick at first,” said Tame. “There’s a lot of background noise in the social media space and we were worried that we would miss our target market and either be ignored or get swamped by unqualified applications.

“However, after a bit of thought, we bought into Sue’s vision. Sue wants a modern tech aware retail CEO who is social media literate. By conducting the search using social media, we automatically select out the dinosaurs.”

The job is being promoted on twitter and LinkedIn, and asking candidates to complete tasks on Vimeo, Pinterest and Instagram. Explaining the thinking, Tame said that while face-to-face interviews were one way of judging an applicant’s potential to do the job, social media is another very relevant approach. “With tools like pinterest, vimeo and twitter you can ask candidates to demonstrate their ability in the terms set by social media. Can the applicant sum up the company’s brand in 140 characters? Can they produce a witty video? Does their sense of taste chime with the brand values of the company? Can they keep a golfing brand sexy?”

So, two weeks in, how is the campaign progressing?

Beringer Tame marketing executive Ashley Tirri says the campaign to date has gone “better than we expected.” She added: “At the start we were realistic and understood it would be very difficult to get the campaign off the ground. But as the process has gone along we’ve been surprised at the quality of applicants that we’ve had and at how much of a buzz it’s created. We have managed to spread the word about it through twitter to over half a million people.”

And while the traditional headhunting approach would have relied heavily on the company’s existing networks, this venture has thrown up an interesting range of candidates.

“We’ve had people from all different industries apply,” said Tirri. “We wanted to find someone who was social media savvy, and we’ve had people from fashion, we’ve had people from more industrial backgrounds, from pharmaceuticals, FMCG, manufacturing. We’re open to anybody really.”

“We were expecting a lot of applicants and not as many good ones, but the ratios are of a very good quality. About a third of all the applicants we’ve had are good quality people that we’d consider, which we didn’t expect.”

“We’ve got a lot of people to meet, our diary’s packed out for the next two weeks with interviews, and we have an extensive assessment approach that will also take time.”

Our view: There’s no doubt that social media is already playing an important part in retail, and that its role is growing fast. Understanding this and knowing how to operate in the socially-connected world in which many customers are now deeply immersed is going to be a key attribute for a forward-thinking retail CEO. We’ll be interested to see if this campaign ultimately leads to a different type of appointment – will that applicants from manufacturing get the job? Or will the need to know about retail win out over the social media expertise? We’ll watch with interest to see.

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