JOB HUNTERS queued around the block last Sunday to take part in a career expo run by the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel. A sizeable crowd of people had gathered outside the hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui by 7.45am, although the expo was not due to open until 9am. By the end of the day, 800 hopefuls had walked through the door. These numbers far exceeded the expectations of the hotel's human resources director, Winnie Chiu. The expo was an attempt by the hotel to approach recruitment in an innovative way. Despite its position as a well-known five-star hotel with reliable occupancy rates, it is under continued pressure to attract the right kind of employees. 'There is always a quest for talent,' said Ms Chiu. 'We have to have the right calibre of people looking after our customers.' With new hotels such as the Four Seasons and the two Disney hotels springing up across Hong Kong, the competition for quality employees is hotting up. Sheraton, which is part of the Starwood Group, has traditionally followed standard methods of recruitment. But recently they have felt the need to try something other than advertising and using the services of headhunters to set them apart from other employers in the industry. 'We held a job fair to cast a big net and try to catch some good fish,' said Ms Chiu. Two seminars given during the day aimed at helping job seekers. Ms Chiu shared tips on successful interviewing, how to conduct yourself during and after an interview, how to prepare and what you should do to impress your potential employer. The second talk was given by Mary Cheung, a former Miss Hong Kong and well-known image consultant. She spoke about grooming, professional imaging and table manners. There were about 35 jobs on offer at the expo, covering every aspect of the hotel's staffing needs. These included openings in the rooms department, food and beverage, human resources, and sales and marketing. The expo served as an initial screening process for prospective employees. Twenty-four of Sheraton's line managers and department heads conducted 10-minute interviews with each applicant, focusing on general attitude and proficiency in English. Applicants were also asked what had prompted them to apply for a post at the Sheraton and what they had achieved, and were screened for interpersonal skills and grooming standards. Mrs Chiu said she was pleased to see that 95 per cent of attendees were wearing business suits. The hotel is now going through the resumes and shortlisted candidates will be invited back for further assessment. Meanwhile, interested candidates are still welcome to apply. Unsuccessful applicants' resumes will be kept for future reference because the hotel is hoping to be able to employ them when positions become available. Successful applicants will receive a competitive remuneration package and additional incentives based on individual and company performance. They will also be offered special rates at other Starwood Hotels around the world. If staff are interested in working overseas, they can join the exchange programme that has just been launched jointly by Sheraton hotels in Hong Kong and Japan. Organisers of the programme are hoping that other Starwood hotels will join the initiative. As part of their training, Sheraton will focus on instilling a sense of pride in their work among new employees. One of the challenges for hotels in Asia is that the service industry has not traditionally been a respected profession and hotel workers are sometimes treated badly by guests. A traditionally held view was that it was OK to be rude to waiters because staff were 'beneath guests', Ms Chiu said. 'We want to make this a profession instead of just a job,' she said. 'I want people to understand that service is not servitude, that service is an equal job. You are not serving, you are providing an outstanding interaction with the customer.' The way to achieve this was to encourage staff to take pride in their work, to see themselves as equals and to have a positive self-image. It is hard to teach an employee to have self-confidence, which is why Ms Chiu pays so much attention to the issue in the recruitment process. 'We are looking for people with a very confident attitude, because attitude can never be taught. We want people with a positive mindset.' Quest for the best Hotels are competing for talent as new establishments open. About 800 hopefuls turned up at job fair run by the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel, but applications are still being accepted. The Sheraton is looking for staff who speak English well, have good interpersonal skills and are well-presented. The quality of applicants was said to be high. The hotel has 35 positions to fill now, but will recruit more staff later.