Putting on my Recruiter Hat

Tawn’s first shop opened nearly a month ago. His first personal assistant quit two days after the opening, unable to cope with the job’s demands. After watching Tawn struggle with the volume of work for two weeks, I stepped in, appointed myself HR Director for Tawn C Designs, and started sourcing candidates for the PA role. What an experience!

helpwanted While I’m experienced in matters of recruiting, training, and Human Resources (that is my professional background), recruiting here in Thailand is different in several ways from what I’ve experienced in the US.

The first step was to locate applicants. Similar to in the US, online recruiting is that standard, so I turned to JobsDB.com. This required setting up a company account and paying several hundred dollars for a 30-day ad.

Next, I had to post the job description. This took more time than you might imagine, because if you are going to get qualified applicants you need to know what qualities you are seeking, right? I settled on the following:

Operations Assistant / Personal Assistant

Seeking a qualified person to assist at a fashion design company specializing in up-market women’s clothing. The role’s responsibilities, listed in the order of how you will spend your time, include:

    • Represent the designer to business partners and vendors. This includes visiting vendors, placing orders, sourcing materials, conducting deliveries and pick-ups, inspecting product quality, coordinating payment, and negotiating deadlines.
    • Establish and maintain operational procedures. This includes creating spreadsheets and forms, basic bookkeeping and reporting, and doing other administrative tasks.
    • Inspect retail locations to check inventory, liaise with employees, and ensure procedures are followed. Includes pre- and post-sales activities for custom-made outfits.
    • Assist the designer during daily business. This includes accompanying him to meetings, taking notes, and following up on action items. It may also include driving him to meetings or errands.
    • Manage tasks and projects in the designer’s personal and home life. This includes identifying, negotiating with, and supervising vendors for repairs and home-improvement projects.

Within minutes of posting the ad two Friday nights ago, resumes (or, “CVs” as they are often called here) started to arrive. In a week, we received more than three dozen applicants.

The first interesting thing is the amount of information a Thai CV contains that would be unacceptable in the US: age, height, weight, religion, and a picture, for starters. These are factors that, as US Human Resources training will tell you, are generally irrelevant to job performance and so cannot be requested or used in evaluating applicants. Here in Thailand, that information is usually included on the CV.

Being conscientious, I emailed all applicants to confirm we had received their CV. I invited qualified applicants to schedule a telephone interview. Interestingly, of a dozen qualified applicants to whom I offered telephone interviews, six never responded to the request. Not a “thanks for your interest, but I’ve decided to accept another offer,” or something like that. Nothing at all. Tawn told me that such a lack of response is common here, although it confuses me. Twenty-four hours ago, you were eager to work at my company. Now you won’t acknowledge my email?

By week’s end, I conducted six telephone interviews. The candidates were a mixed bunch, ranging from two to a dozen years of experience. Candidates included men and women, a Christian, a Muslim, and four Buddhists, and ranged in age from 24 to 36. During the interviews, I asked questions about their work experience, focusing on a technique called “behavioral interviewing”. Sample questions include:

  • Tell me about an important project you managed or were responsible for. What was the scope of the project? What did you have to do to manage it? What challenges did you encounter and how did you respond? How did the project turn out in the end?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make an important decision because your manager (or the normal decision maker) was not there. What was the situation? What decision did you make and how did you make it? What were the results of the decision? What lessons did you learn?
  • Tell me about a time when your manager wanted to do things one way, but you thought there was a better approach. What was the situation? Why did you think your approach was better? How did you go about trying to convince your manager to try things your way? What were the results of that attempt?

The theory behind behavioral interviewing is that candidates will generally answer these types of questions honestly (it is difficult to concoct an elaborate answer that withstands follow-up questions on the fly) and the answers will give you more insight into how they respond to real-life situations.

The interviews went well and I felt that all six candidates were people who preferred a higher level of independence than the average office job provides. They seemed self-motivated and interested in taking on new tasks and challenges. I also learned that three of the six were very interested in fashion, including one person who already designs and makes her own clothes. (Red flag: this could mean she wants the job in order to obtain contacts and connections rather that for the job itself!)

Interestingly, of the six candidates, only two – the men – sent any sort of follow-up communication to thank me for my time. Another example of what seems to be basic courtesy being absent. Since Tawn mentioned that it isn’t unusual here in Thailand, I didn’t let the lack of thanks influence my evaluation of the candidates.

Reviewing the candidates with Tawn, we have selected four finalists for in-person interviews, which we will hold Monday and Tuesday evenings. With any luck, one of these four will be a clear-cut winner and we can offer her or him a job by week’s end.

Given the history of supposedly interested job applicants suddenly vanishing incommunicado, we will not send any rejections until we have a signed employment contract, though.

0 thoughts on “Putting on my Recruiter Hat

  1. It is a long process. I was part of an HR staff for a time. I basically followed you steps. I did a phone interview and then invited several for personal interview. That took time but the boss said he wanted that so it was done. I would have applied for the position with Tawn.

  2. @blueflowe – I think there’s something to be said about appearance being important (to some extent) for some jobs. In this case, we’re hiring for a personal assitant role, not a sales person, so looks aren’t important. And even with the sales person role, Tawn initially hired two people based more on their looks than their skill. Neither worked out very well. The third person he hired isn’t as attractive but has a lot of sales experience. She’s working out famously. 

  3. @Grannys_Place – @murisopsis – @awoolham – @girl_smileyy – @AzrihaEatsWorld – @CurryPuffy – @beowulf222 – Thanks, everyone. First two “second” interviews went well. Two more on Tuesday. I’m confident one of them will be the right person.@slmret – Thanks, the first month has gone pretty well, considering that it is the tourist low season and a lot fewer shoppers than normal. @BumbleBoTuna – I’d imagine that if I had to do this recruiting on a regular basis, my mindset would have to undergo a huge shift…@stevew918 – I like my “invent my title” approach…@Fatcat723 – Oh, you don’t want to work with him… trust me! =D

  4. Poor Tawn, he must have been so disappointed in that employee of his. I know it is a headache to to go through all the various applications and hone down to one person. I wish you both lots of luck and peace. I hope the candidate is perfect and will stay with Tawn’s firm for many years and will be an asset to his company.So good of you to pitch in like that Chris.

  5. Another aspect of life with Tawn. Also interesting is the contrast culture of Thailand and the United States.Basically you are doing only minimal screening and everyone applying will get a shot. Enthusiasm probably is the top requirement for an assistant.The potential to learn is a hard virtue to assess. Such is the mention of the worker who is going fabulously. You just never know and maybe the position should be two people instead of one.

  6. @ZSA_MD – Yeah, he was frustrated that she quite and at her timing, too But truth be told, he was already saying that she probably wouldn’t survive her probation period, so it was better that neither party wasted any more time.@Wangium – There are many things I do to help, but day-to-date interactions with dress makers, etc. aren’t my forte. My Thai, while better than it was six years ago, still isn’t as good as it needs to be. Plus, I do have my own full-time job! =D@PPhilip – Well, not quite everyone will make it through. 36 applicants, 6 telephone screens, 4 final interviews. But I’m trying to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. You’re right, potential is tough to assess. Even if we ask all the right questions, there’s still the unique environment of this particular job. Someone who thrives in another job might wither in this one. We shall see… 

  7. It was great to see how things work on the other side of the recruiting process. I hope Tawn gets a good, solid employee at the end of this. Strangely, I felt stressed reading this – the whole interview process can feel grueling at times and I’m thinking of changing jobs soon, too.

  8. I have to say Chris, that I am really impressed with the soundness of your hiring process. As someone who worked in HR for a while and knows a bit about the interviewing and hiring process, you’ve really hit it on the mark. And props to you for notifying candidates that you’ve received their application. I always think it’s terribly rude when companies don’t do that.Also, I think it’s fascinating that they put their body dimensions on their CV in Thailand. Do they also consider things like pregnancy viable information over there? Cause obviously that is a huge no-no here in the states.

  9. The role you’re setting up will require strong communication skills. The assistant will need to adapt to Tawn’s working style, communication style and mgm’t style. I have a manager who will tell me specifically what he wants. When I give that information to him, he’ll turn around and say – I know that’s what I asked for but it’s not what I need. And hats off to you for stepping in to help. There’s a lot of work to do here and I’m sure Tawn appreciates the support you’re providing.

  10. @ElusiveWords – You’ve hit the nail on the head, Matt. Tawn stressed in the second interviews that communication is critical. If the PA doesn’t understand something or know what needs to be done, he or she must speak up immediately, not wait until the last minute. Of course, plenty of people say they want such-and-such and end up changing their mind, so the PA must be psychic, too.@bengozen – Needless to say, HR standards aren’t quite the same here in Thailand. While it may not be legally permissable, questions about starting a family, etc. are often asked and assumptions are made about who is suitable based on qualities which we (“people in the west”) would consider out-of-bounds. I’m convinced that you’ll find the best person for a job if you focus on their skills and abilities.@stepaside_loser – My advice (not that you asked for it!) is that job seekers should be prepared to walk into a job interview able to provide concrete examples of how the skills they have would be applicable to the job. If I can say something like, “It seems to me that someone in this job needs to have strong organizational skills, right? Let me share a few examples of how I’ve demonstrated just those skills in my previous jobs…” then I should be able to wow the interviewer.

  11. @christao408 –  there’s a cultural aspect to this too. Certain cultures don’t like to raise a fuss, avoid bad news, avoid asking questions etc… I had one PM tell me in one global project he ran, one country always showed their progress charts as green. But in reality it should have been red. He called it watermelon green; green on the outside and red on the inside.

  12. yeah, i faced similar issues here when it comes to HR related matters. all of those rules of HR i learned back in college in usa i had to throw out the door. it’s a completely different ball game here in SEA. many who apply are not qualified for the position they are applying for, but still do so cause there is always a chance they might be hired based on their look/conversing quality/religion/ethnic background. n yeah, it’s the job of the hiring company to chase them cause it is the hiring company who needs a new staff. all the candidates have to do is to send out resume, get a response for an interview, and get an ok/a no for the position after the interview. that’s it. being on the management team, i often find it frustrating when it comes time to finding a new staff.

  13. @rudyhou – And one you find them, you have to work hard to keep them, too!@ElusiveWords – True, although I find that there are usually people who buck their cultural norms, too. That is, even within a culture that emphasizes not being “the nail that sticks out” (and is thus hammered), there are some people who are more assertive than the norm. In any case, we made an offer to one of the candidates and he has accepted. Tawn and I agreed that he stood out from the other candidates, so I hope he’ll work out well.

  14. Grrr why didn’t I see the ad? :S And we haven’t met until now. P’Tawn must be very busy.Congratulations to P’Tawn! I’ve been seeing more updates on Tawn C. FB page lately. Love the designs! ❤

  15. I know that this is an aside, but one comment in particular stood out: you mentioned the lack of courtesy thank-you communications after the interviews and how it didn’t affect your decision because that is the standard practice in Thailand as opposed to your usual American-based practices. It may seem small to you, but it’s a great example of the sort of consistency that I hope to develop over time here in Korea.

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