The Candidate Experience ~ And the Small Tokens of Follow Up.
By René J.M. Schillings
Thursday, 17th July 2014
Few of our clients may realize this but for most Executive Search & Recruitment firms the difficulty is not in finding clients who are in need of hiring talents;

In our case, we are not short of hotels in China and the rest of Asia which are challenged to fill certain key positions, and are making countless efforts to have a quick, efficient and lasting solution to cover the gaps of management positions that remain open or under-manned.

As a recruiter it is harder to connect to the right talents, and maintain a relationship with them that builds trust, gives good advices and guides a candidate through an interview process and even with a long-term career plan. And this relationship starts with the first point of contact, when a potential applicant sends in a resume, or enquires about a vacancy available.

Among hoteliers there is a growing frustration that thanks to platforms such as specialized Hotel Career websites that advertise jobs, the Careers pages most hotel groups would have, for both internal transfer & application from outsides as well as with social media such as Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook, a poor candidate experience can be broadcast across the very audience an employer is trying to reach, including often their very own employees, when an applicant is never replied to

As an Executive Search Firm in constant need for the right talents and needing to be in touch with the field, TOP Hoteliers does not rely on advertising positions on various websites, cold-call and mass-mailing a job opportunity or superfluous social media connections but rather builds and maintains the relationship with those hoteliers who, relevant to the needs of the market have already connected to us by sending in a resume in the past.

A response to a first resume sending is to be always responded to. This first reply, to be done within no more than 2 days would normally include not only an acknowledgement of receipt of the  resume, application or enquiry, but immediately followed by a few first questions and proper intake and screening of the candidate with a request usually to further details.

It can also mean that some candidates are informed that their resume will not be kept, as we do not foresee any realistic opportunities for the applicant with our firm, based on the general needs in our market. If, and when a suitable vacancy arises that suits the candidate's background, a clear job profile, expectation and job description as well as some basic details of the employer are to be clearly communicated to the potential candidate. This to first of all gain the interest of the candidate for the opportunity and to seek a clear go-ahead to proceed with presenting the candidates resume to our client, for the particular opportunity.

Then, the rest follows automatically as per the clients' response and follow up, whether a candidate is selected for interviews, or is not considered for the role. And when interviews are arranged, then after this, also closure is to be given to the candidate when the interview was not successful.

We feel that the the minimum gesture a company owes to the interviewed candidate who did not get the job, is closure of the interview, informing the candidates that he/she is not chosen to proceed with further interviews. It is smallest but most important token of valuing people and building positive relationships

While every company may have a different recruitment process, as the intermediary between an employer and potential employee, a recruiter makes sure such follow up, and closure, is taken care of. If an employer stated that after an interview that ‘they will be in touch', it's often a strong indication that the interview was not successful, as well as when a resume is presented but there has been no acknowledgement of receipt even, other than an automatic responder. How many of the applicants are kept wondering, when they never hear back from an application, or never been given a closure after having had a interview.

The Human Resources Officers need to be more responsible, but today it's vice versa. We see candidates following up with an HR manager to know about the outcome, or us as recruiter asking the client for a feedback. How can we forget that HR can bring a great transformation, and give that human touch. Such thoughtfulness can bring back human relations in work place.

An interview is the first meeting point of the candidates and the company, and the recruiter is the bridge between the two. This Human Resource Bridge needs to strengthen human relations. A timely closure after an interview will create a positive experience of the company.

This positive experience will stay with the candidate despite them not being selected for the job. This in turn will build the brand image of the company. While TOP Hoteliers as an Executive Search Firm is not the employer but only the intermediary, we often have to take up this role, and do so with personal attention, even when from the client side we are not experiencing the due follow up always. It does at least give the candidates closure and a feeling that their application has been taken serious.

Most hotel companies have already discovered that creating a positive brand image for potential future employees is something that requires dedicated effort. This effort comes of course not only in beautiful slogans and catchy job descriptions, or bold statements on how fast a company is growing and that a job today is the start of a long-term career etc. eventually shows a real face by the execution of these statements.

And we can conclude today that there is still a huge gap between strategy and execution when it comes to the care applied to leave a strong impression on external and even internal applicants to the vacancies hotel companies have.

This lack of follow up has in turn lead to an attitude by applicants also not to take the application too serious till a real job offer is made, and this in return leads to some applicants entering into several interviews, with a low expectation and just seeing which job offer comes through in the end.

As a recruiter we often face that a candidate withdraws during the hiring process or even after a job offer is made. To our client, an employer who is keen to have this particular applicant it's then often seen as the applicant being an opportunist, the search firm as intermediary not having screened the candidates interest and willingness enough, or as outright unprofessional behavior by the talents that at first seemed to be a very solid candidate and good potential to hire.

This has in the current market conditions where good candidates have the upper-hand and enough choices become a vicious circle or lack-luster and lukewarm attitudes between a potential employee and employer. Certainly the superfluous nature of social media contacts has contributed to everybody ‘flirting' but not really committing. It does render the whole hiring process into a lucky-game of putting some chips on the table and see on which number the ball falls.

And that is certainly not how it was meant to be. To turn around this development, it is at this moment the employers who are so in need of the best talents, who carry the responsibility to sharpen the effort, which starts with the effort to communicate clearly with those they are interested to hire now, as well as those they may hire in the future.

Going back to the statement that there is no shortage of vacancies in hotel management positions but a shortage of qualified and willing or available talents, it has become a method that shoots hotel companies in their own foot when they post opportunities on websites, describing that they not only seek to hire talents but also by a catchy story about how the company cares care for the individual and are a great company to join when such advertisements go unanswered to potential and hopeful applicants. It leaves a large gap between what's communicated and the reality of the follow up. It may cause some keen and ambitious hoteliers never to apply again, when an application is not responded to at all, or in an unprofessional way.

If any HR department can't handle the 1000's of applications sometimes to respond each applicant in person, including those not suitable at all, then perhaps such job adds shouldn't be placed at all.

While all companies work to portray a positive public image, spend money on PR & Marketing towards potential clients but also future employees, the simple fact of not replying to applicants, or no more follow up after a potential job has been discussed, an interview took place etc. but the candidate is no longer the one to offer the position to, renders the effort to work on Brand Marketing towards future employees to almost nil.

'No decision being made, the case is pending' is perhaps sometimes a reason for not yet communicating to an applicant but ‘being busy' is not. The rule should be to always reply to an enquiry, even if that reply is to say that there is no definite news / out come yet.

Rather than to keep the candidate guessing, or also move on with things, a short communication informing the candidate on the status, or give closure is time-consuming, but of more importance than just raking in more and more resumes, and advertising the same &  more opportunities in the continuous effort to bind the best talents to your company.

It is one reason why TOP Hoteliers refrains from posting jobs on various websites. When we do send out our newsletter, it does often result in more than usual applicants and we can all be challenged at times with an unusual workload for a period of time that challenges us to carry out our work in the usual way. But it does never free ourselves from not responding and replying at all to those who contact us.

The ultimate ability and quality of any employer, as well as the various Recruitment & Search Firms are not judged by the amount of vacancies they have, but by the personalized follow up, the handling of the applications and by that personal touch an applicant may feel when deciding to consider a move and portray interest to join another company.

The average HR Director may only have a short-term concern to fill a current senior management position and makes little effort to retain potential applicants for later, or even recognize potential applicants that may not suit the current vacancy but certainly would future be eligible on future ones, or those that exist within a larger hotel group in general.

Most Group- or Corporate HR Directors as well as recruitment teams such hotel groups may have, do have a longer and wider goal to recruit and screen for today's and tomorrows needs but would still be focused only on talents suitable to their companies desired profile of applicants.

A search firm has to take an even wider and longer-term approach to identify potentials for a wider range of jobs, a wider range of clients requiring different profiles and often also for a wider geographical region. This requires a long-term relationship with candidates that does not always revolve around the current vacancy, but the one that is there in near future, when the Search Firm can go back to a candidate, to check on availability and interest for a current opportunity.

Being recognized for this professional follow up, is perhaps the best token of the human relationship that is created when the candidates are needed to be open & willing for a next and future opportunity, and this all started with a simple timely reply, a personal follow up, and clear closure on opportunities a candidate came to the recruiter in the firsts place.

This is how a recruitment firm can eventually come up with the right candidates for a client and the right job for the candidate, by reconnecting back to the candidates they have built up this trust & relationship with by personal and professional follow up, always.

René J.M. Schillings, a Dutch National, is the Managing Director of TOP Hoteliers, the first specialized hospitality recruitment agency to open offices in the People's Republic of China (in 2004). Based in Hong Kong he devotes most of his time managing the 3 offices in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Beijing, where his team of consultants recruit hotel managers for all major international and some local hotel companies in China. His company was very early to recognize the need for local talent, Mandarin speaking expatriates and China experienced expatriates. His knowledge of the China Hotel Industry stems from his career as Hotelier in China that began in 1997. He has a BA in Hotel Management from Stenden University, a.k.a Hotel Management School Leeuwarden, The Netherlands and an MA in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Metropolitan University in London, England. He is a keen observer of industry trends and has published numerous articles on HR issues in hospitality in China & Asia. Working in China, Hong Kong & Korea since the late 1990's, René has lived in Hong Kong from 2005 to 2012 and resides since 2013 in Thailand with his wife and 2 children.

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