We sat down with Katie Owlett, Head of Talent Acquisition at De Vere, to learn about her journey from the vibrant world of hospitality, her insights into overcoming recruitment challenges, and the importance of candidate experience, all while navigating the impacts of supply shocks, Brexit, and the global pandemic on the hospitality industry.
I first got into the world of hospitality during my college placement at the Strand Palace Hotel. Hospitality is such a vibrant and dynamic industry, and while we’re all familiar with front of house, what goes on behind the scenes - that’s another story. The diverse teams working in hotels really captured my interest.
From there, I worked for a number of iconic brands like Le Meridien Waldorf in London and the Forte head office, before joining the Hand Picked Hotels Group. I even dipped my toes in Retail and Travel at one point, but I’ve always been drawn back to hotels. And within this world, I fell in love with talent acquisition. Having studied HR at university, it made sense that I followed the HR route, but I’ve always loved the recruitment part of the process. So when Hand Picked Hotels introduced a group resourcing manager role - I jumped at the opportunity.
As of January this year, I’ve joined De Vere Hotels heading up their Talent Acquisition.
There are a few that stand out! First of all, really making sure that recruitment is prioritised within the business and that people are dedicating time daily to the process. Whether that’s looking at CVs, contacting people or interviewing, candidates move so fast so we need to make sure we are investing time up front.
Another challenge is people looking for ‘unicorns’ - the perfect candidate and the perfect CV to them. Encouraging people to be a little more flexible, sometimes they will need to compromise what they are looking for if the offering isn’t as competitive as others.
And lastly, encouraging people to be open-minded, to look past the CV. Some people get really fixated on what a CV looks like and how it’s laid out, but in our industry it’s a lot more important to focus on behavioural aspects and potential.
Like many in the Hospitality sector, we faced reduced candidate availability causing us to shift our focus more towards UK candidates. When Brexit happened, Covid almost helped initially. Suddenly a lot of people were looking for work but a lot of that has steddied out now. It’s forced us to rethink how we advertise and attract talent. I think it’s actually made us all a lot better at what we do as we’ve had to become more creative in our recruitment strategies - you can’t just wait for a candidate to come in anymore!
The quality of job adverts is really important. Something I’ve been focused on a lot at De Vere is making sure that we’re communicating what’s in it for the candidates clearly, quite early on in our talent acquisition. Promoting the industry as a whole is even more important, making sure we are engaging local schools and colleges, and working with charities.
Absolutely. De Vere is quite an events focused business, and events is a very popular search term and career for people so in that respect we’re lucky. But certain roles, such as chefs and spa therapists, are particularly challenging to fill. Spa therapists are even harder to find than chefs. It’s a real funnel problem: college courses often aren’t running because they don’t have the demand, which in turn means the pool of candidates will be even less. And it’s so competitive.
The candidate experience reflects not only on our employer brand but also our overall brand reputation. These are our potential guests of the future. People remember the treatment they receive, and negative experiences can lead to avoiding the brand entirely. Similarly, positive interactions can create lasting impressions. For hospitality especially, the experience a candidate receives can contribute to the brand’s overall perception.
When I joined De Vere they didn’t have data and reports in place. So I’ve implemented quarterly reports - tracking data on application sources, and looking at time to hire and cost to hire - and using this data to identify areas where we need to provide additional support and tailor training. Another big one for me was analysing which sources drove our longest-serving employees and using that to work out where to invest our time. For us, it’s refer a friend and previous employees, so it’s helped me to identify existing talent pools and then re-engage them.
One exciting opportunity is the potential expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme with various countries. This could bring in more talent, especially from Europe, where we've experienced a loss due to Brexit.
And the other has to be ChatGPT and openAI, using tools to refine job ads, generate interview questions, and even propose activities and ideas to make training more engaging.
Build or be part of a hiring managers or recruitment managers network group. We’re often small teams, and sometimes you might even be on your own, so being able to speak to other people in the same world as you to share information and experiences, gather advice and collaborate on solutions means you get valuable insights which help you navigate the challenges of talent acquisition.