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!
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.