Teamwork gets KLM recruitment airborne

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 12:00am

INTERVIEWING 120 people for 39 positions in just five days might seem like an impossible task but, thanks to excellent communication, great backup and, above all, teamwork, nothing is impossible.

Because of the growing number of Putonghua-speaking passengers on its Hong Kong-Amsterdam-Hong Kong route, Dutch airline KLM needed to bump up the number of its cabin crew with Chinese-language abilities.

Tremendous interest in such roles, coupled with the carrier's tight time-frame and stringent requirements, meant the recruitment process was difficult.

While KLM maintains a presence in Hong Kong, it does not have the capability on the ground to recruit cabin crew. It uses an Amsterdam-based recruitment team that crosses the globe in search of the best players through local recruitment agencies - in Hong Kong's case, Manpower.

From start to finish, the recruitment project took about eight weeks.

However, 'our [main] brief was between October 20 and 25, to interview 120 people with the view to hiring 39 cabin crew', said Trevor Sunderland, permanent and executive selection services manager at Manpower's Hong Kong office.

Initially, what made this recruitment project stand out was the large-scale volume of recruitment it entailed, which 'logistically possessed some challenges and some problems', according to Mr Sunderland.

In addition, it was unusual to have an airline as a client. 'It's not every day you have airlines coming to you. Most recruit internally, particularly for locally based [roles],' he said.

While this breed of project was not entirely new for Mr Sunderland and his team, it was distinguished by its strict time-frames, strict numbers and conversion rates and the goal of building a five-day recruitment package with a rapid-reaction time.

As the project planning unfolded, squeezing the entire programme into a tight schedule and marshalling the numbers became the overriding challenge.

The initial advertisement drew about 500 responses, of which 250 looked good on paper and had to be processed on a one-on-one basis by Manpower.

Due to the level of professionalism required for the position, close scrutiny was given to each applicant in the form of a comprehensive pre-screening interview on the telephone, incorporating several fixed questions.

'Most people didn't tell us [on the application form] about their height or if they could swim, so we got this out of the way quickly. If they didn't meet the criteria, they couldn't proceed to the next level of interviews.'

That done, those still fitting the bill were invited for an interview when the KLM team was in town. '[We then had to] deal with 120 people, whose schedules didn't always meet with our own,' Mr Sunderland said.

Manpower handled this by using four teams of recruiters, with one Manpower person and one individual from KLM in each, and each team held six interviews a day, resulting in up to 24 interviews per day.

This proved to be a tight squeeze. Interviews had to be scheduled closely and each one-hour slot included preparation time before the candidate's arrival and assessment after their departure. The interview itself took 40 minutes. Mr Sunderland described the experience as like trying to land 120 planes in a day.

However, not all applicants landed on time. While some were caught in traffic, others had personal issues or even muddled the interview location.

'We had to be very flexible with time frames. And KLM was very good and added one or two interviews later.'

Ploughing through this large number of interviewees took some planning. Although no new staff were hired for the project, Mr Sunderland's home team included 10 consultants, with a project leader to liaise with Manpower staff and assign duties.

Above all, the work had to be centralised and well orchestrated.

For example, one individual was dedicated to contacting the 120 short-listed candidates.

Collecting documents was another must. 'You need to keep on at candidates and remind them these are necessary within a certain period of time and that, if they don't provide them, they won't move to the next step,' Mr Sunderland said.

Other issues included budgeting for consultants' time, arranging interview rooms and sifting through candidates' documentation, because of issues raised by working under Hong Kong and Dutch employment jurisdictions.

'People had to qualify to work in Hong Kong and have valid work permits, so we had to confirm all of that quite quickly,' he said.

KLM made stringent demands regarding candidates' educational backgrounds, so their qualifications also had to be confirmed quickly.

In addition to establishing an educational benchmark, KLM and Manpower worked to determine questions for individuals.

'KLM looked at the competencies needed for the position as well as how people behave in certain situations,' Mr Sunderland said.

'Competencies addressed the skills required to do the job, while the situational questions were to find out what [candidates] would do in a [certain] situation and any experience they had.'

Other challenges included the conversion rate - how many candidates KLM needed to see before it could realistically expect to hire. With a ballpark figure of 3:1 this meant that, from every three applicants interviewed, the client expected to make one hire.

Another KLM benchmark was to score candidates according to a four-point system: (++, +, +- and -).

'KLM expected a certain number of double plusses in each of the five days to be comfortable that they would achieve what they wanted,' Mr Sunderland said.

While the airline's parameters were acceptable, he said the main difficulty in meeting the challenges came down to different personalities, schedules and expectations on the candidates' side, especially with tight deadlines in place.

'Within a fixed time line, those issues play a more important role than if you have an open-ended schedule,' he said.