Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Landing talent: recruitment insight 16/10/2012
Kevin Sharkey reveals to Natalie Cooper his recruitment challenges, interview & onboarding processes and how the company has reduced staff turnover to just 5% in the past two years.
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- Background on Hotels.com
- What are your current responsibilities?
- How do you find the right candidates?
- What’s your interview & onboarding process?
- Why should future talent come and work for you?
- What’s the future of recruitment?
Background on Hotels.com
Hotels.com is part of Expedia, the world’s largest online travel company. With 85 websites in 34 languages, it lists almost 155,000 hotels in approximately 25,000 locations.
Expedia has approximately 9,480 full-time and part-time employees worldwide across its network of brands, and its turnover for the second quarter of 2012 was $8,956.9 million, up 30% on the second quarter of 2011. Adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter of 2012 was $222.9 million, up 18% on the same period in 2011.
What are your current responsibilities?
I’m the senior technical recruiter at Hotels.com, which means that I’m responsible for recruiting for all the technical positions across the company including quality assurance (QA) engineering, systems administration, applications development, data warehousing/analytics and user experience (UX)/design.
I cover all technical requirements within the business. For example, if the marketing team needs a new developer for email marketing, my job consists of finding the right person for the role. Technology recruitment is quite a specialist area and I was hired specifically to find the best technology talent for the business.
Since I started at Hotels.com a couple of years ago, my main challenge has been to meet the demand for growth. Finding the right people can be challenging, given the high calibre of specific talent that we look for.
Our technology department is always recruiting as we’re constantly growing. We’ve seen rapid development over the past few years and have produced a multitude of new roles to accommodate this growth. We create new roles when needed; we’re continuously hiring and have had close to 100% retention in the technology team over the past year.
How do you find the right candidates?
We look far and wide for talent; we’re a global business after all. Our teams are built up of individuals from a variety of nationalities and that’s what makes them so dynamic. While employees need to speak fluent English, we hold a very international view when it comes to recruitment. We’re prepared to move mountains to get the right person into the business. Our relocation policies are great and we work collaboratively with other countries to secure the best talent.
Finding the right people with the right skills in the technology sector is an inevitable challenge for us. Applications and CVs may look good on paper, but all too often this doesn’t follow through in genuine or practical experience. A CV needs to tell a story about true experience which will be examined at interview. We have a rigorous recruitment process and get candidates to work on real-time problems to test their technical acumen.
We tend to target the ‘passive’ market. Those candidates can come from a number of channels, but the best sources are staff referrals or industry intelligence, for example, if we hear a company is offshoring some of its workforce and releasing staff in the UK. Following up with these leads can often result in a great new hire.
I also spend a lot of time screening social media channels and attending networking events hoping to meet eligible candidates. I believe it’s important to actively seek out potential applicants using all possible methods, and find that good old-fashioned word of mouth is still one of the best recruitment methods out there.
Many of our competitors have very strict recruitment guidelines. For example, some companies will only look at a CV if the candidate has certain educational qualifications. We, on the other hand, are very open-minded when it comes to backgrounds. As long as our candidates are smart and knowledgeable about the technologies we use, then we’re happy to talk.
We’re even prepared to re-train people, as long as they have the right mind-set and can tackle technical problems. Problem-solving is key for any technology career, but communication skills are also essential. For example, we recently took on a developer who had been working on data feeds from the Large Hadron Collider from CERN in Switzerland – quite a change to selling hotels online.
What’s your interview & onboarding process?
The interview process at Hotels.com is a 3-tiered procedure consisting of an initial screening phase, followed by a coding skills test (which candidates are required to talk through to show the thought process behind their work). Finally, we hold a ‘team fit’ interview. Finding the right blend of personalities for the team is crucial, but we also like to see that candidates have common sense, creativity and personality as well as being technically minded.
We have regular induction sessions, which take place within the first 2-3 weeks of joining the company. We make sure all new starters are settling in and have their equipment set up (all the developers get Macs). Hotels.com also has a great staff benefits system which is explained to all staff during the induction process. In addition, developers are assigned a buddy until they get up to speed.
Our induction sessions are attended by representatives from across the organisation, which gives new joiners the opportunity to get to grips with different business areas, helping to keep them engaged throughout.
Our company-wide career development system is a fantastic opportunity for staff to map out their own career pathways. For example, our developers have the option to become more expert on the pure technology/architecture side of the business, or they can follow the managerial/project management path, depending on their individual preferences.
Why should future talent come and work for you?
We like to ensure our employees feel valued, and feel they’re adding value. For example, we maintain the culture of a ‘start-up,’ with a flat structure in place, meaning that good ideas get pushed to the top quite quickly. We want people to interact and challenge the status quo.
We encourage self-organising teams and urge employees to innovate and learn. As part of our ‘production playground’ initiative, we allocate a couple of days a month for developers and engineers to work on innovation projects. This often involves new or emerging technologies. Recognising and rewarding good work is also very important to us.
In addition, we have an amazing office which was partly designed by our staff. The open plan structure encourages the sharing of ideas and our roof terrace has 360 degree views across the skyline of London, so we regularly host social events there. We recently had a party/barbeque for the Olympics opening ceremony – we watched the Red Arrows soar past the building.
Alongside the usual benefits packages, which include pension and health insurance, we also offer excellent travel benefits for all our staff, including an allowance to spend on personal travel. We believe this really sets us apart. Employees can travel within Hotels.com and the wider global business, which is attractive to people looking to work abroad. We also host regular off-site meetings for the team. We are truly global.
We have a number of cool benefits like our bike2work scheme, which is fantastic for encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Employees who sign up are entitled to secure bike lock-ups, and we lay out fresh towels daily so people can shower and change when they arrive. We also offer a health allowance for gym memberships and other sporting activities. In addition, we encourage involvement in charity initiatives from all our staff.
We believe small things for our employees make a big difference to their working lives. Our retention is very high – under 5% of our staff leave and we believe this is because we know how to look after and nurture our talent by listening to requests, concerns and recommendations.
What’s the future of recruitment?
Direct sourcing. We’ve built up a very strong internal recruitment team, so we like to do most of our hiring directly, where possible. We are in the best position to deal with recruitment because we understand our clients, our strategies, and what’s best for our teams. That’s not to say we don’t work with some recruitment agencies when required. We prefer to work with boutique agencies who work in vertical markets.
In-house teams are the way forward in terms of adding value. I’m sure you can calculate the cost savings, but good recruitment is about good information, good control over the process and timely delivery to meet specific business needs.
For us the real value is in finding and developing motivated people, who we hope will drive innovation for the business. You can’t put a figure on that, but the results can be seen in terms of development and growth.
Kevin Sharkey, senior technical recruiter, Hotels.com
Kevin Sharkey works in the HR team at Hotels.com where he is a senior technical recruiter and uses his specialist skills to recruit people specifically into the Hotels.com technology team.