In a recent survey conducted by Planning Pod, one of the biggest challenges facing event professionals and venues today is finding and retaining qualified staff members. This includes hiring event planning staff for full-time positions as well as hiring event staff who work part-time. And if the economy is going strong and unemployment numbers shrink, it gets tougher and tougher to find qualified staff.
There are dozens of great articles that provide recruiting tips like here and here and here and here, but we wanted to offer up a handful of proven best practices used by successful event planners and venue managers. Here they are…
For finding qualified candidates…
#1 – Craft your job requirements and desired behavioral traits
The first thing you need to do is determine your company’s needs and what responsibilities the new staff member will perform. From this you can identify the skills sets and temperament that the individual needs to possess, and finally you are ready to distill this down to job requirements as well as desired behavioral traits.
Note that putting desired behaviors in the job description is just as vital as required experience and skills/abilities, because it conveys to job seekers the culture and drive of your business. So instead of just saying something like “At least 3 years of event management experience required”, elaborate a bit more with something like: “Idea candidate will have 3 years of experience in a high-energy workplace managing event details and interacting daily with clients, prospects and vendors.”
#2 – Consult your network
Your network is not only a great source of leads and prospects; you can also employ it to find great candidates. However, there are a few best practices when doing this.
Start by consulting professionals or businesses in your network who know your business and understand your brand and your goals. You want people referring candidates that fit your culture, so instead of blasting an email to all your contacts, hand pick the ones who know you best and will take the time to think about ideal candidates.
You can also leverage any relationships you have with your local event/convention facilities as well as local chapters of professional industry associations (like Meeting Professionals International or International Special Events Society) to see if chapter leaders have any people they can refer your way.
#3 – Use online tools like LinkedIn Groups
Sure, you could try posting job listings for event planners or event staff on Indeed.com or SimplyHired.com, but it will cost you money and you will get thousands of resumes, many of which may not come close to your requirements.
A better bet is to join LinkedIn Groups that are related to the events industry and post job listings in those groups. There is no cost and you can hone in on your target audience very quickly and efficiently. You can also seek out local job boards as well as industry specific job boards (About.com has a great summary of events industry job boards ).
Want to make it easier to onboard event planning staff and monitor their progress and work? Planning Pod lets you systematize many functions for your organization as well as track tasks and assignments for all your employees and event staff members.
#4 – Consult local schools or specialty trade schools
If it’s a fresh, young face and a hungry attitude that you require for an entry-level position, a great place to find candidates would be a local trade school, community college or university that offers event planning or hospitality courses. I have found that it’s always best to first speak with the career services department of the school and see if you can get permission to consult their instructors so you can get references for their best students.
However, you can also contact one of the many online schools that offer event planning and/or hospitality training courses. Lovegevity Wedding Planning Institute and The Wedding and Event Institute are two examples, but there are many more you can consult, and the schools would be happy to refer local candidates to you as you pursue hiring event planners or event staff.
For screening candidates…
#5 – Ask candidates to describe specific examples of their skills
It’s one thing to list a set of generic skills and traits on a resume, but it’s a completely different thing to have to explain those skills in action during an interview.
By having a candidate provide real-life examples of when and where they put their skills to the task, you can gain a better understanding of their mastery of said skills and see if they truly do have the experience required to fill the position. This tactic really does separate the pretenders from the contenders, and the only question you need to ask is “Give me a real-life example of when you put your [INSERT SKILL HERE] to work in managing an event?”
#6 – Find out their motivations and values
Your company has a culture and a set of values that set you apart from your competitors and have a huge influence on how you treat customers and run your events. In order for an employee to fit into that culture, they need to share most if not all of these core values.
So during the interview, you should be asking questions like:
• What makes you want to work in the events industry?
• What would you say to a prospect who isn’t sure of the value of hiring an event planner?
• Give me an example of great customer service.
• How would you address a customer or attendee who is upset that something was not delivered as promised?
Questions like these will reveal how the candidate interacts with other people – a vital skill for working in the events industry – and their level of passion and commitment to their profession.
#7 – Attend more to body language and tone and less to looks
Social psychological studies have proven that attractive people are more likely to get interviewed for jobs, hired for jobs and given more perks than those of us more ordinary looking folk – even if they are less qualified for the job .
So don’t let yourself get swayed by the candidate’s looks and focus more on body language and tone when hiring event staff or planners, because these will be a much better indicator of their demeanor in the workplace. Does the person have good eye contact? Do they listen well and ask good questions? Does their voice put you to sleep or is it vibrant and inviting? Is their posture relaxed and comfortable or tight and defensive? Do they frown a lot or furrow their brow? Keep notes on your observations, as the new hire will be representing your company and interacting with prospects and clients.
For retaining candidates…
#8 – Offer competitive pay (and pay your interns)
The fastest way to lose a great employee is to not pay them enough. Fair or not, most employees mainly feel valued based on their salary, and if it isn’t as much as their peers at other companies are getting paid, they will feel as if you don’t really appreciate their efforts and start looking.
To determine what a fair salary is for the position, you can consult sources like PayScale.com and Salary.com; you can even consult your professional network and professional organizations and see what they think a fair salary would be for the position you are listing.
What if you can’t afford to pay industry-standard wages? Then think like a non-profit and get creative by offering other incentives like more vacation time or the ability to telecommute more.
In addition, if you are hiring an event planner or event staff as an intern, you will get better performance from the person you select if you pay them at least minimum wage if not a bit more. The person will not only be learning from you but will be assisting you with your events, and they will be more motivated to learn and help if they are also receiving some sort of compensation.
Also, the Department of Labor stipulates that an unpaid internship must be similar to the training provided in an educational environment and must not benefit the company in any way. Since most internships benefit the company (because the intern is doing work that helps the business advance its interests), by law they should be paid.
#9 – Create a rewards/incentives system
Another way to provide additional compensation for standout employees and keep them in your fold is to give them rewards for outstanding performance. For example, your event planning staff members may frequent many other events where they may encounter prospective leads, so offer them some sort of commission reward for bringing in and landing new clients for your business.
Or you could make your rewards simpler, like giving employees gift certificates to a nice restaurant for going over-and-above on a particular event or for a particular client. Regardless of the reward, make it very public and show how much you appreciate the employee by encouraging and praising them.
#10 – Give both guidance and responsibility
Your goal is to be a mentor who helps your employee grow and learn so that they can take on more responsibility. This begins with providing them with lots of guidance and goals on how to perform certain tasks and your expectations of the results. The key here is not to be exhaustive, as you want your employee to learn on their own and be motivated to learn more, so letting them struggle a little is good because they need to learn how to problem-solve without you always providing the answers.
Once you can rely on an employee to pick up new skills and apply them, you can start to give them more and more responsibilities, which makes them feel valued and like they are an essential part of your team.
Oh, and here’s one thing to avoid…
#11 – Don’t hire friends, family or hobbyists
You may have a great, close relationship with a friend or loved one and have intimate knowledge of their skills and abilities, but hiring them comes with lots of other baggage and emotions, and these will almost certainly get in the way of your business relationship with them (and, god forbid, what if you have to lay them off).
Your current relationship with them will also make it difficult for you to be their boss. What if you have to discipline them for not following through on a project? Or give them constructive criticism when they have done something incorrectly? Would you have to change your approach because they are a family member or friend? And how will they take it?
It is possible to have a harmonious working relationship with a loved one, but you are better off looking for someone else and avoiding any potential drama (and possibly damaging your relationship).
And hobbyists are people who simply think working in the events industry would be fun but don’t really have the skill set or dedication to follow through, and you will soon find yourself doing their work as well as yours.
Any other ideas you want to offer on hiring event staff or hiring event planners? Leave them in the comments below.