Even with more applicants, hiring process can be daunting

You didn’t have to tell anyone looking for a job in 2011 that once employment opportunities hit the radar, mass application rituals usually followed. The forecast for 2012, as predicted by the usual suspects of statistical pundits, appears to be the same.

The media, especially television, routinely flashed on evening broadcasts long lines of people patiently waiting their turns to fill out applications for whatever few jobs were available.

But the flipside of this scenario that was rarely reported is what goes on behind the scenes with employers during the screening process. While it’s true employers have much more to choose from when looking to fill positions, the selection process can be daunting.

Tom Guth, general manager of the Tuscany hotel-casino, said its interview process begins with a prescreening of potential applicants by the human resources department before likely candidates are forwarded to department heads for further consideration. Background checks and drug testing also are done on all applicants before being given a green light.

"The best employees are the ones who want to move up to greater roles," Guth said of the attitude he looks for in employees. "I’m looking for people who will do the best job they can by working hard and go home to their families at night. That’s a wonderful thing to have (in an employee), and you know you have a keeper."

Guth pointed out that the Tuscany is a small hotel with only 716 rooms and a little more than 700 employees. But he said the advantage of having a small establishment is that he knows everyone by name and all his managers are able to retain an open-door policy.

Training is extremely important at the Tuscany, Guth explained. New fine-dining employees are prepped with special grooming that includes two weeks of meal-preparation education, augmented with a history of wines, so they are knowledgeable in recommending entrees and beverages to guests.

Those hired for the front desk spend a week in reservations before being placed on a live desk. And then new hires are shadowed by longtime front-desk employees to further hone their customer-service skills. Casino dealers must pass auditions before being considered for employment, and regular café applicants are drilled on their food-and- beverage knowledge and serving skills.

"With upper management, it’s much more interview focused," Guth said. "We spent two weeks recently interviewing for a director of hotel operations."

Once employees are hired, Guth said training is ongoing in the form of keeping workers abreast of computer software updates, especially those who work in the Players Club arena.

"We do 90-day reviews and then yearly reviews," Guth said, adding that he is able to keep good employees by treating them fairly, providing very good health insurance and a 401(k)-retirement plan.

Wyndham Vacation Ownership operates four resorts in Las Vegas employing approximately 1,500 employees and 13,000 worldwide. Linda Pavia, area vice president of human resources, said the company relies on job fairs and job boards to recruit new personnel.

"We have a solid reputation, so a lot of people are referred to us, too," Pavia said "We don’t have a probation period for employees. Training is ongoing with a trainer, and within the first 90 days, we’ll know if a person is working out."

Wyndham continually recruits associates for sales, marketing, resort hospitality, finance administration and for its call centers. All new employees go through what the company calls "Count On Me" indoctrination that encompasses its mission philosophy of being "responsive, being respectful and delivering great customer service."

Sales associates are given from one to two weeks of product training before meeting the public. People with sales experience are encouraged to apply, but Pavia said those who don’t have sales under their belt are also being sought.

"We are looking for someone who can show enthusiasm and has the right attitude with what they are trying to present to the public," Pavia explained. "With marketing, it’s more on-the-job training and people who are willing to learn."

Pavia said Wyndham has weathered the recession well and has been able to retain employees by continuing to match contributions to employees’ 401(k) plans and encouraging personnel to become involved in their communities through the "Count On Me Council."

Lindsay Graham, manager of communications for Wyndham, said each employee is given a "wish day" to go out in his or her community to help make a difference. Wish days have focused on such community events as raising money for schoolbooks to sponsoring breast cancer walks.

"We were voted in 2010 as the ‘Best Place to Work’ by the Southern Nevada Human Resources Association," Pavia proudly said. "We have a very active Count On Me Program. Our employees really take to that and take a lot of pride in what they do."

Sitel, a third-party calling center, boasts having more than 135 domestic, near-shore and offshore centers in 26 countries that include North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific. Its Las Vegas center, located at 420 Pilot Road, has grown by 200 agents in Southern Nevada in the past year, because of a company philosophy of providing "good career paths" for advancement from agent to supervisor to manager, according to Jim Johnson, senior human resources manager.

"The way you keep people from jumping ship is listening to your employees and constantly talking to your employees," Johnson said. "We’ve been in Las Vegas for 15 years."

Johnson said Sitel recruits staff through employee referrals and advertising in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. After being hired, there are no probation periods but performance reviews are done on each employee at three months, six months and on an annual basis.

"We know on a daily and weekly basis based on metrics how an employee is performing," Johnson said. Sitel provides two to three weeks of classroom training per employee, which is followed by three weeks of on-the-job supervision called "Operation Check Point."

Sitel associates take inbound customer service calls that may include billing inquires, product inquiries, product or service orders, installation scheduling or technical product troubleshooting. Some of the company’s clients include such corporate giants as Sony, DirectTV and PlayStation.

"We are looking for people who are personable and interested in the customer and the products we support," Johnson said. "We look for people with six months to a year of customer service experience or six months of technical experience, good computer skills, clear and precise speaking skills and good work ethics."

In return, Johnson said, Sitel provides its employees with what it calls "up training," or continued product education and chances for advancement.

Diamond Resorts, a vacation ownership company that operates Polo Towers Suites on the Strip and Desert Paradise Resort on South Decatur Boulevard, recruits its sales and marketing associates through career nights, newspaper advertisements and website job banks such as CareerBuilder and Craigslist.

"We started attending job fairs for armed-service soldiers returning home," said Marilyn Thompson, regional recruiter in Southern Nevada. "We also try to reach out to Realtors to show them how we can work together."

Thompson said she looks for employees who possess excellent communication skills and a love for travel. Sales experience is highly desired, as is the ability to build trust in the clients being serviced by explaining to them what it takes to own a timeshare.

Potential employees are prescreened over the phone, she said, with the ones showing potential given scheduled interviews at the resorts with a sales manager, project manager and sometimes a trainer.

"This is a team effort, and that’s the reason for our success," Thompson said.

Thompson said it takes about three months before an associate will know if selling time shares is what he or she wants to do. At six months, they will have gone through a couple seasons and will know if the industry is a good fit for them.

Training is ongoing, Thompson explained, with employees receiving an hourly wage with no commission for the first two to three months. After that it’s straight commission. Very experienced associates can earn salaries in the high six figures, Thompson said.

Diamond Resorts utilizes trainers who are constantly available to associates for coaching. The trainers are continuously watching the numbers and sales, Thompson said.

With new employees, Thompson said there is a 20 to 30 percent turnover. There are sales goals they need to meet. At first employees are given a low goal to meet, but as they gain experience their VPG (volume per guest) is set higher.

Performance evaluations are done yearly, Thompson said, adding that in order to help employees meet their goals, weekend boot camps can be called at any time by a manager or requested by the employee.

To help sales associates, Thompson said the marketing department arranges for tours of prequalified individuals to come to the resorts. These are people who may already own time shares or have shown interest in purchasing one.

"We try to have every sales person get one tour a day and maybe two tours," Thompson said. "We have a very good product that is very well priced. And we try to treat our employees the best."

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