The companies hiring on potential, not polish – wherever it comes from

The Body Shop recently announced it would start using ‘open hiring’ – but it’s not the only company recruiting in a more inclusive way. Inspiration from social businesses in the US, New Zealand and the UK.

Last month, news that the Body Shop will adopt a radical new approach to recruiting sparked interest around the world.

The cosmetics firm’s US division will use ‘open hiring’ in an effort to be more inclusive, Fast Company reported: no interviews, no background checks and no drug tests, just a simple set of basic requirements. Whenever an opening comes up, almost everyone who meets those will be able to get a job on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Novel as it sounds, the concept is not new – the New York-based social enterprise, Greyston Bakery, has been using this form of hiring since the 1980s (read more below). 

But as a multinational brand – the Body Shop is headquartered in the UK but has stores in some 70 markets worldwide – the move could set a new bar among big businesses.

Piloting open hiring last year among 200+ seasonal staff in its North Carolina distribution centre, the Body Shop found that monthly staff turnover dropped by 60%. It’s now looking to replicate that success among customer consultants in its shops, with plans to grow the number of open hires “exponentially”.

However, while “very proud” of the initiative, a spokesperson told Pioneers Post the company is not currently planning to use open hiring across all retail roles, nor to introduce it outside the US. 

Here are a few other businesses that already have plenty of experience in unorthodox hiring approaches.


Greyston Bakery: The pioneer of open hiring

The direct inspiration for the Body Shop’s recent rethink was Greyston Bakery. Founded in 1982 by a Buddhist Zen master, in an area of New York that claimed to have the country’s highest rate of homelessness at the time, the business followed the Buddhist principle of non-judgement and hired any local resident who wanted a job, no questions asked.

It’s been successful, too. The company, a hybrid social enterprise that comprises the for-profit commercial bakery and non-profit community support programmes, now supplies Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods Market and Delta Airlines. In 2018, Greyston also set up a centre dedicated to open hiring, through which it sells training and consulting services to other companies wanting to learn about the approach. (The Body Shop is continuing to work with Greyston Bakery to roll out the next phase of open hiring among its stores.)

Sara Marcus, partnerships manager at the Greyston Center for Open Hiring, tells Pioneers Post that giving someone a job opportunity was just a first step: “We also think it’s important to support them once they’re your employee.”

'When someone’s life is in crisis, it is extremely difficult to show up to work on time every day and do the job well'

Greyston offers on-site help with challenges employees face outside of work that could affect their ability to be successful on the job, such as housing, transport or childcare. “When someone’s life is in crisis, it is extremely difficult to show up to work on time every day and do the job well. This is true whether or not you’re practicing Open Hiring, as these issues impact all of us,” says Marcus. “We have learned that in order to help our employees be successful (and ultimately make our business run better), we can play a role in helping our employees get the support they need.”

Greyston Bakery

Above: Greyston Bakery supplies major clients including Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods Market and Delta Airlines (credit: Greyston Foundation inc.).


Timpson: Everyone’s a colleague 

Family-run business Timpson, which specialises in key cutting and shoe repair, is the UK’s largest employer of ex-offenders; about 10% of the workforce have done time. The firm also has many staff on temporary release – serving prisoners authorised to leave prison each morning to go to work – and runs training academies inside prisons too. Timspson also practises ‘upside-down management’ – giving customer-facing staff the authority to change prices, among other things – and refers to its people as ‘colleagues’ rather than employees.

Unlike Greyston, the UK firm does interview candidates. But – once they’ve passed a detailed risk assessment – neither CVs nor interview answers are that important, says Darren Burns, the company’s national recruitment ambassador. Rather, Timpson is looking for “bright, bubbly confident people who are going to be able to deliver great customer service”. That gets tested during a trial shift (which is paid, with lunch and travel costs provided). 

Ex-offenders are “highly loyal and highly productive”

Burns says the vast majority of customers love the company ethos. It’s also good for retention, since ex-offenders are “highly loyal and highly productive”. 

Employers wanting to widen their recruitment pool can start by understanding that “prisoners haven’t got two heads”, says Burns. “Go to your local prison. Most of them have familiarisation days where local business leaders can go inside and have a chat with prisoners… Get as much info as you can when speaking to these people.”

Timpson employees

Above: Timspson practises ‘upside-down management’ – giving customer-facing staff the authority to change prices, among other things – and refers to its people as ‘colleagues’ rather than employees (credit: Timpson).


The Cookie Project: Kindness first

In New Zealand, The Cookie Project follows the no CV, no interview approach to hiring. Rather than targeting ex-offenders, though, it welcomes “all forms” of disability: 30+ of its bakers are disabled, all paid at least the minimum wage. It also offers volunteering opportunities, with most volunteers saying it’s the first time they’ve worked alongside a disabled person. Cookies are sold in the New World supermarket chain and online.

The Cookie Project was founded in 2018 by Eric Chuah and Graeme Haddon – inspired by Haddon’s experience, whose three adopted kids are disabled. Chuah tells Pioneers Post the pair have “learnt a lot” in 18 months. His top tip for hiring people with disabilities? “Kindness, which we define as believing in the best of others when they cannot see it in themselves.”

'We only ask candidates to have a self-driven attitude and burning passion for the job'

Everything at The Cookie Project is designed to be “human-centred” around the bakers, Chuah says, “balanced with commercial feasibility”. 

“It’s important that we think creatively and apply a difference lens when working with vulnerable communities like people with disabilities,” he continues. “Instead of measuring the usual performance metrics, we just ask our bakers to bring their best version to work – hence we only ask candidates to have a self-driven attitude and burning passion for the job.”

Cookie Project

Above: Cookie Project co-founders Graeme Haddon and Eric Chuah, pictured with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (credit: David Dunham Images / The Cookie Project).


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Header photo: Greyston Bakery employees (credit: Greyston Foundation inc.)