12 Questions to Ask When Your Online Recruiting Efforts Stall
Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT
Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training, Ivar’s & Kidd Valley Restaurants
CHART Past President
During the Great Recession of 2008-2010, almost any time a hospitality recruiter posted an open position online, it was like Niagara Falls as a torrent of applications and resumés from very qualified candidates flooded their inbox. Lots of people were looking for work, and our industry was always hiring. Responses from online ads slowed a little as the economy improved over the next few years; it wasn’t quite Niagara Falls anymore, but more like a steadily flowing river that still brought recruiters all the folks they needed for their hotels and restaurants.
By early 2020, however, that steady river of candidates had dried up a bit, and we were lucky if online ads generated a flow like a kitchen faucet…still there, still producing, but not always running. And then came new opportunities for workers in the gig economy, the challenges of the pandemic, and the Great Resignation…and for many hospitality recruiters in 2023, that faucet is now completely dry. It’s gone from Niagara Falls to the Sahara Desert.
If this scenario is where you find your online recruiting efforts these days, and your ads are performing below expectations (or not performing at all), here are 12 questions to ask yourself that will hopefully get you back on track.
1. Are there issues preventing the hiring manager from receiving applications?
If your hiring managers receive candidate applications via email, for example, was their correct email address included in the ad? Is it possible the emails ended up in their junk folder or have gotten stuck in a spam filter? Was it even mentioned how to apply in the ad? If you are using recruiting software, do the hiring managers know how to use it properly to access candidate information? Before spending a lot of time and effort to make major changes to your recruiting process, take a few minutes to ensure that the problem isn’t simply a technical one or an oversight.
2. Is your job posting visible and legible?
After making sure there are no errors on your end, check if your ads appear correctly on the job boards on which they are posted. Sometimes they might not show up due to a billing issue, and sometimes they do show up but have been distorted due to a formatting error (I once had a job board remove all the punctuation and spaces from my text, so the first line appeared as “IvarsthepremierseafoodrestaurantcompanyinthePacificNorthwestisnowhiringafulltimesouschef.” Go to the site as if you were a jobseeker, search for the public version of your ad, and see if it looks the way you intended. If it doesn’t, work to resolve the problem or try re-posting.
3. Is it easy for candidates to apply?
Once you have found your ad and verified it appears correctly to jobseekers, go through the application process yourself. Does it work the way it should, or did you encounter any bugs? Is the process easy, or are there so many steps that you found yourself wanting to give up rather than slog through? If the answer to either question is yes, contact the job board or the company that handles your recruiting software and see what can be done to rectify the issue or simplify the application process.
Go through the application process yourself. Does it work the way it should, or did you encounter any bugs? Is the process easy, or are there so many steps that you found yourself wanting to give up rather than slog through?
4. Are your workplaces set up to receive candidates?
Just like you should be conducting an audit of online job boards as if you were a jobseeker, you should visit your hotels or restaurants as if you were a potential employee. Some folks still like to apply in person, and they may visit one of your locations to fill out a paper application or drop off a resumé, so it can be helpful to experience what they will experience. Does the building look safe and inviting (clean parking lot, well-lit, easy to find the entrance, etc.)? If you ask a cashier or front desk clerk for an application, can they easily find one? If you ask questions about the job or the workplace, do you receive positive responses? Is a manager alerted to your presence before you leave the building? If the answers to any of these questions is no, sit down with the location management and review what can be done to make this process more welcoming for the jobseekers.
5. Does your job post have the three most important pieces of information?
Every recruiting ad should include the following: 1) A clear job title. Advertising for specific positions such as cashier or front desk clerk not only help with search engine optimization, but also instantly allow candidates to picture themselves in the role and understand if it might be right for them. It’s much harder to see themselves working at a position if it is vaguely titled something like a “customer brand ambassador.” 2) A specific location/address. Jobseekers need to know if they can walk, drive, or take public transportation to the work site, so make sure you are very clear where it will be by listing the address and/or nearby familiar landmarks. 3) A pay rate or range. Again, jobseekers will want to know if they can keep (or improve) their current lifestyle based on what the position pays, so spell it out for them; additionally, this final piece of information helps to convey your company’s commitment to transparency.
6. Is your job competitive for the area?
One reason that you might not be getting candidates to apply at your hotel or restaurant is that your overall offer is not as attractive as others nearby. Look at local ads for similar positions and evaluate what the competition is giving to its new bussers, hosts, housekeepers, or valets. What is their pay rate? What are their benefits? Is there a hiring bonus? Determine if you can adjust the overall compensation package so your location will be able to offer the same, or better yet, more than its neighbors.
7. Does your ad need a makeover?
While looking through other ads, think about how the composition of your postings compare to those of your competition. Is yours basically a cut-and-paste of a stale job description with a thousand different duties listed? Have you highlighted in the ad what makes the position special or unique? Does your workplace sound like a fun place to go every day? Did you include links to your brand’s websites or social media feeds so candidates can learn more about the company? If your ads feel unexciting or old-fashioned, partner with the folks in your marketing department to see if they can help jazz up the text and photos and make your postings more attention-grabbing to readers. Remember: just like when launching a new product or service, a job posting is a form of advertisement that should make people believe you have an opportunity they cannot miss out on; it shouldn’t be just a boring wall of words that feels like a challenging reading assignment.
8. What do your team members think about your ads?
It would be ideal if you could convene a focus group of active jobseekers to get their feedback on your recruiting ads, but since this exercise would fall somewhere between ridiculously expensive and practically impossible, move on to the next best thing: ask your recently hired staffers for their opinions. What do they think of the ads, or what made them want to apply? Are there any benefits that you are forgetting to list? Are there certain words or phrases that should be included that would help the ads to better connect with jobseekers? These folks represent your ads’ target audience, and they may be able to provide suggestions to make your posts more relatable, relevant, and inclusive to others who are looking for the same types of positions.
9. Are there other websites you should be trying?
Maybe it isn’t your ad quality, but rather that the job boards you’ve been using have declined in popularity and are no longer getting the same amount of traffic (my example is Craigslist, which used to be our #1 site a few years ago, but which barely gets us any responses these days). Ask your trusted colleagues in the industry what sites have proven effective for them, or again, ask your new team members what avenues they are their friends are using to find jobs.
10. Have you promoted jobs on your social media feeds?
If you aren’t doing this already, reach out to your marketing department and ask about highlighting open positions to brand fans via your different social media platforms. You could post specific jobs, feature long-time employees who have moved up the career ladder, or discuss the various benefits of working at your hotel or restaurant and funnel responses to your recruiting site or directly to the appropriate ads. You might also ask the marketing team if they ever send out email blasts to guest names in a marketing database (perhaps collected from a loyalty program) and see if you can include job information as a part of that rotation of emails.
11. Are there similarities between the locations not getting candidates?
It’s important to determine if the decline in applicants from your online ads is happening at all your hotels or restaurants, or if it is just occurring at certain ones. If it’s the latter and only a percentage of your businesses is experiencing this issue, work with your operations team to see if there are any common denominators at these properties. Do they have shared characteristics such as limited access via public transit? Do they require employees to work shifts late into the night? Do they not offer employee parking? If you discover there are similar qualities to these locations that may be preventing candidates from applying, brainstorm with your team and see if you can develop strategies to overcome those challenges.
12. Is it worthwhile to continue online recruiting?
If you have tried all the steps above and are still not getting quality applicants, perhaps it’s time to reallocate your energy and resources to other methods. Try attending job fairs, focus on recruiting with your guests, offer a referral bonus to your current staff, or connect with various social service organizations that help place jobseekers into open positions. Just because online recruiting is the most common method of finding new employees in our industry does not mean it is always going to be the best way for everyone; taking a break from it might lead you to some more effective solutions.
I have one final question you should be asking when it comes to recruiting, although this one applies to every method in which people apply – Are your managers responding quickly? Time is of the essence these days when it comes to contacting candidates (before another company reels them in), so you should know how long it generally takes from the submission of an application or resumé and the initial contact by the hiring manager. If you are not able to track this period using your recruiting software, ask managers to fill out a log showing when they reached out for interviews and compare those dates to when the candidates applied. Is it usually the same day? The next day? Within a week? Knowing this information will be helpful because then you can work on establishing standards (such as “candidates must be contacted within 24 hours of when they apply”) and hold the managers accountable for maintaining them.
If you have developed some questions of your own while reading this blog post, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. Please reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can continue this conversation on recruiting and work to find answers for you and your organization.