How do you plan and execute a recruitment campaign for a high-profile new hotel business? Directors of people development at the Principal Hotel London, Sean Wheeler MIH and Melanie Price, talk us through building up to 400 new employees from scratch
The former Russell Hotel, an iconic property in London’s Bloomsbury, re-opened on 16 April after almost two years of closure for refurbishment. (Following a deal with IHG, the hotel is due to change its name again later this year).
What happened to the Hotel Russell employees?
Melanie: The old hotel closed in July 2016, so obviously because of the period of time we were going to be closed, we had to put everyone into redundancy and they all left. We have one lady who still works for us and one individual who came back, but apart from that the rest of the team are new.
At what stage is the new opening?
Sean: We’re probably 25% there. We’ve opened 100 bedrooms but we still have 230 to open; we’ve opened the bar and coffee shop, but there is still the restaurant, the palm court afternoon tea venue, ballroom and meeting and events space to open. There’s still quite a bit to do!
How far in advance did you plan your recruitment?
Melanie: We had a plan on paper and a plan in our minds but the project was unfortunately delayed a couple of times, which is quite normal. We probably didn’t start our mass recruitment until mid to late February. We recruited our 50-strong team of senior people a good year ago. So far we have recruited 150 people in total.
What channels do you use?
Melanie: We use the Caterer and various other sources, friends, contacts, colleagues. The initial 50 senior people were recommended to us which is important. A lot of people want to do an opening. They’ve read the publicity about the investment and the refurbishment. Our culture and the type of person we recruit is important to us.
For our front-line staff, we did a social media campaign which we found very useful. We’re proud that we probably only recruited half a dozen through agencies.
Sean: We only started the social media campaign in January. In three months we reached 420,000 people and managed to get 14,000 click-throughs to the vacancy page. We targeted the different groups of people we were trying to reach: people working in restaurants, bars, coffee shops, hotels, also some independent restaurants. We work with a company that helps us target certain youth groups.
What kind of people have you recruited?
Melanie: We’ve got a real mixture. In our coffee shop you’re going to get a much more casual look in there, quite quirky people. They’ve got tattoos, different hairstyles, their uniform is a denim shirt. But then in the Palm Court we have a much more formal look. We’re really proud that we’ve got a real mixture, very diverse. We made sure we recruited for each outlet and that that the people are right for the outlet.
Sean: One of our values is ‘local at heart’ so one of the key things for us is connecting with the local community. In Bloomsbury, that is a very mixed group, so we have the coffee shop, the cocktail bar and the afternoon tea venue. We are trying to attract different types of guests at different times of the day and match the employees to the different types of clientele.
Melanie: Another of our values is warmth and we are particularly keen to make sure the team are warm and welcoming. We have looked outside the box. Some people we have given an opportunity to. They may not necessarily have all the right experience, but they’ve got the personality and warmth. We have some real characters working for us with some interesting backgrounds.
Was exhibiting at the Passion4Hospitality Careers Fair useful to you?
Melanie: We got one or two concrete leads. Obviously a lot of it is about getting our name out there, so events like that are important. This is our only hotel in London. We have been mainly northern-based so we really have to go out there and establish ourselves and also remind people that we are changing from what the hotel was before.
Is it just people already working you recruit? How about school leavers or graduates?
We have good relationships with schools, colleges and universities. We’re very much open to people with different skills. For them to further develop their careers, it’s more about their culture and personality.
What happens now?
Melanie: We will have 400 staff once completely open. That shouldn’t be reached until September 2019. We are very hopeful that all our revenues are going to be absolutely fantastic and we’re very positive about that. We will take on another 100 staff before the end of May. It is something we need to do gradually because we are only getting our rooms back gradually. We have another five floors to come back. Having 400 staff walk through the door all at the same time would be very difficult to manage. We make sure everyone goes through their two-day induction, they get re-training, and that training continues on their journey with us.
Sean: We’ve had a lot of great comments on trip advisor about our people. Our values are generous, intuitive, warm, distinctive, and local at heart. The team are actively recruiting for these values. Melanie has done a great job to find so many people who have these values, and she has done it in a very short space of time.
Do you do face-to-face interviews or something more rapid?
Melanie: In the early days with the senior team, we did one-to-one interviews. We’ve had a lot of open days since. Everyone will always see a member of the people development team and the head of their department. We’ve done that with every person that we have offered positions to. It’s making sure we’re comfortable. It’s about the future candidate meeting more than one person. We think that’s a useful benefit for them.
Interview by Ben Walker AIH