At Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel, even job interviews are pleasurable

At Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel, even job interviews are pleasurable

Colombo, May 7 (NIA) – Shangri-La hotel Colombo, which aims to revolutionize concepts of pleasure and hospitality in the Sri Lankan capital when it opens its doors later this year, has devised a unique recruitment process to ensure that its staff are not only competent, alert and willing to take the initiative, but are hospitable, cheerful and even entertaining.

Testing for these qualities is not done in straight-jacketed interviews, where a set of interviewers grill nervous candidates, but by putting the hopefuls through fun-filled group activities.

While these activities are conducted by cheerful and energetic young men and women staffers dressed informally in t-shirts, hawk-eyed experts watch unobtrusively (sometimes hidden as participants) to spot talent.

The chirpy welcoming group put the nervous candidates at ease

What they watch out for are: presence of mind, an ability to participate in group activities without being withdrawn or abrasive, and an ability to take the initiative or provide leadership spontaneously.

Joie de vivre with a dash of humor is a basic requirement in the hospitality industry. Shangri-La Colombo is therefore no place for the morose. This was evident at the interview venue – the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo on Saturday.

Young staff members, both male and female, greeted the candidates with a chirpy  hello as they entered the venue gingerly and looking a bit lost. But the smiling hosts and hostesses, put them at ease quickly. Soon, the boys and girls were invited to participate in what looked like party games. At the waiting hall, some staff started juggling with two or more balls. The candidates were at first perplexed and were hesitant to join in, but soon, some loosened up to participate enthusiastically.

A relaxed and fun filled ambiance is what Shangri-La Colombo wants to give to its clientele in Colombo and for this its staff have to be fun-loving by nature.

A young staffer gently guides an applicant to his group

Timothy Wright, Vice President and General Manager of Shangri-La Colombo, remembered what a bar manager of a hotel told him twenty  five years ago about recruiting bar tenders. The first question that the manager would ask was: Can you crack a joke? If the answer was ‘no’, he would pop the next question: Can you show me a trick?. If the candidate said no to that too, he would be considered quite unfit to be a bar tender. The bar tender has to keep the clients engaged with good humored chitter-chatter, Wright said.

After the games and group activities there is the English language test. Being an international hotel, catering to a high-end clientele, Shangri-La Colombo expects candidates to be adept at spoken and written English. The test has been devised by an expert service provider.

“Of course, not every job requires the same degree of English language proficiency. The tests are therefore different for different jobs,” Human Resources Director Thivanka Costa said.

Before they go for individual interviews, the candidates are given a break with refreshments, so that they feel rejuvenated and relaxed. Instead of being conducted by the same set of persons with candidates appearing one by one before the panel, these interviews are one on one conducted simultaneously in a hall.

As a candidate is called to a table, the interviewer taps the keys of his computer to access the candidate’s CV. Then the conversation begins. It is by no means an inquisition.

In fact, the individual interview is not a one-time event but a process beginning at the time a candidate checks in. The staffer at the welcome desk asks the candidates some questions informally while accepting their documents and the way the questions are answered is evaluated, again unobtrusively, says Thivanka Costa.

An expatriate staffer turns juggler to encourage the candidates to loosen up

The whole exercise, from the advertising for the posts to the filing of applications and to evaluation at the end, is digital and paperless. For an estimated 700 vacancies there had been about 5000 applications, and about 2000 were called and interviewed over three days between  3 pm and 9 pm each day.

“The candidate could come at any time between 3 pm and 9 pm on a day communicated to them. This was for the convenience of the candidates. We chose the date and they chose the time,” Costa said.

“The feedback we get from interviewees about our procedure is very positive,” he said.
General Manager Timothy Wright said that the chosen candidates will be trained both in Sri Lanka and in Shangri-La hotels overseas.

“We don’t expect to get a finished product when we recruit. At the time of recruitment, we are basically looking for attitude and aptitude and not experience. In fact, inexperience is better as we can mould them to our requirements,” he  said.

Asked if he is confident that those in whom the hotel invests so much will stick to it and not go somewhere else for a few more rupees, Wright said that he feels that the bulk of the recruits will be loyal. He clarified that the company does not believe in making the recruits sign a bond. He believes that the company’s brand name, the training and opportunities it offers will be an incentive to stay on rather than quit.

Wright believes that no hotel can realize its potential fully on its own unconnected with others in the trade and with the Sri Lankan government.

“Government will have to provide the right incentives such as suitable tax concessions. It also has to promote investments and provide the infrastructure for tourists to want to come over here and the hotels to thrive,” he said.

Candidates take the English test

In this context he welcomed the revival of the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo City Project being executed by the Chinese. The sprawling Port City will be a residential and commercial area. The government, which wants to make Colombo a financial center like Singapore and Dubai, has named it as the Colombo Financial City.

“Right now Colombo gets business travelers who tend to stay just one night. Many others arrive in Colombo and immediately go off to beach resorts. The city hotels should try to get people to stay at least three nights. For this, Colombo city should offer more, say in terms of entertainment,” Wright said.

“We as an individual hotel are doing our best to promote Colombo and Sri Lanka , but advertizing and promotion have  to be done on a much larger scale by the government,” he added.

Timothy Wright ,Vice President and General Manager Shangri-La Colombo

Colombo could well be promoted for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) as the corporate world is continuously looking for newer and newer places to hold their conferences. The rich are also looking for newer places to hold their weddings. But for MICE tourism to succeed, cooperation between hotels in a city is necessary.

The newly opened Shangri-La hotel at Hambantota, which is world class, is a roaring success though it is in the back of the beyond next to a harbor and an airport which are rarely used.

Human Resources Director Thivanka Costa

The reason for its success is that it offers its clientele what no other hotel in the island offers. It has an amazing variety of facilities, international cuisine and entertainment for all age groups especially kids.  Its golf course is charming. A wealthy Indian family from East Africa is going to have a wedding in Hambantota Shangri-La with a guest list of 200. During Easter, the occupancy was 100%.

If the desolate Hambantota area begins to hum with activity with the coming up of Chinese-funded projects, the hotel will stand to gain tremendously.

Wright emphasizes the need to provide special entertainment for kids in hotels as kids’ satisfaction determines parents’ choice.

“The success of a hotel is seen when kids press their parents to stay longer.”

(The featured picture at the top shows Timothy Wright posing with an artist’s vision of his hotel)