Marvin Booker: Lessons Learned from My Former Life in Luxury Hotels

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Apr 7, 2022
This article is part of a series called SourceCon Digital Conference.

Have you ever experienced white-glove service at a fine hotel? Sourcers should adapt that to creating a great candidate experience (CX), which should result in both candidates and TA colleagues perceiving them very differently. A self-described “recovering restaurant manager”, Marvin covered that and more in his keynote address at the last SourceCon Digital, “Lessons Learned from my Former Life in Luxury Hotels”.

He knew he had to get out after seeing how his manager-level colleagues had to require their families to live at the hotel in order to see their working parents, which didn’t work for him. Fortunately, with the initial help of a hotel guest/executive search firm recruiter who he impressed, he’s been recruiting — and happily not working on holidays — for 12 years. After living in a few states, Marvin is now a technical sourcer for a large company, based in Aurora, Illinois.

In the hotel restaurant industry, employees are ingrained with the fact that guests are the most important part of your job. Just as a bellhop or greeter helps to set the stage for a guest’s experience, he explained, sourcers set the tone for CX, starting with the first impression on the candidate’s journey created in the first message and/or call.

Mise en Place

This French culinary phrase means “to put in place” or “to gather together”. Just as a chef wants all ingredients laid out in front of her to avoid time-wasting scrambling before the meal rush, sourcers should have a place for everything in advance. Marvin called out a few examples he uses religiously:

  • Make Microsoft OneNote your best friend. While he’s not a big fan of MS products overall, this is his place to store templates, search strings, resource sites, personal metrics, and more. While he acknowledges competitors like Google Docs and Evernote are good, he finds OneNote very easy. If someone has questions about remote work, career progression, or whatever, he doesn’t waste time waiting for things to load: just click the corresponding color tab to get to the data. You can store files, it allows search, OCR capture to extract text in images, etc., that he calls his “Trapper Keeper.”
  • Text Expander saves time: this Chrome extension saves any macro shortcuts as “snippets” which prevent needing to type repeated template notes, search strings, etc. (Others in the concurrent online chat suggested free alternatives like the Magical chrome extension as being more flexible than Microsoft Outlook’s QuickParts and (for Macs) go under System Preferences.) Marvin pays for a Text Expander personal account at about $5/month.
  • Personal World Clock: Because he works across six time zones now, this helps keep Marvin organized. It lets you customize the clocks not only by location but to have warm call period clocks, etc.

Show Me You Know Me

In the hotel world, Marvin explained “we’d get a short dossier on priority guests” to know their preferences on room temperature, snacks, fabrics, allergies, etc. This concept is also used in sales and marketing. Sourcers should keep similar notes in their CRM or ATS, such as keeping track of referrals/referrers, recording pain points and motivators, outlining what would get them to a Yes, researching about their current company, including recent news that may affect them, and incorporating some likely common points of interest to make the subsequent interaction with the candidate more human. This also helps prioritize identification and reachout to candidates who’d realistically be interested in your role.

He recommended you document the phonetics of names and preferred pronouns before a candidate call. Acknowledge if someone has interviewed or applied in the past; don’t act like they’ve never dealt with your company before. Respect their timezone for communications so you can sync your emails, and calls with when they’re likely to be present and more receptive etc. Another concurrent chat tip was to use a messaging tool that will send emails on your behalf at the right times by prospect location.

Create the Wow Factor

Three hotel guest concepts apply here: Get it right (apply the hotel’s minimum high standards across all guests), Get me right (personalize those to the individual guest), and Wow me if you can (going above and beyond the service level agreement). For example, if a guest groups multiple pillows and leaves one behind, the housekeeper is empowered to note that in the system for future stays and will be customized accordingly for future check-ins by that guest. Marvin recalled noting a couple’s favorite wine to make sure it was served and went to Best Buy to get the CD of their favorite artist (Sade) so it was in their room when they next checked in.

Other examples Marvin does that other sourcers can incorporate:

  • Follow up when you say you will: non-prompt communication kills your reputation.
  • Underpromise and overdeliver: Set expectations on the process timeline. Push things if you can where a tight deadline is doable, but not if you can’t expedite sufficiently to meet the candidate’s timeframe.
  • Take the time to check-in and set a reminder to send a note at the appropriate time, even if it’s six months in the future.
  • Provide feedback on different interview rounds so the candidate can confirm where they did well or not. Marvin gives them encouragement and resources to prepare for the next interview – or even the next time, if a rejection ends the current loop.
  • Go the extra mile to connect them to another recruiter, even someone outside your org, if appropriate (e.g., introduce them via LinkedIn).
  • Introduce the candidate to the team as soon as appropriate in the interview process. Send her background bios on the interviewers, set up time to meet 1:1 with an internal peer who they’d likely work with or is adjacent to the position. Clarify it’s not an interview, but a chance to ask questions freely and learn about the team and company.

Other lessons learned

FIFO vs. BIFO: Particularly to junior recruiters, finding candidates seems like Pokemon: “try to catch ’em all.” Many hiring managers tell recruiters to find a couple more candidates before they can make a decision. However, that usually isn’t in their or company’s best interest, particularly if they’re holding out on finding someone with nice-to-haves that are rarer in the market.

Your firm can train someone who otherwise meets the core requirements and will be up to speed on the extras by the time (or even if) you find someone — and your known candidate will likely be more affordable and see the extras as a welcome stretch opportunity, while retention of vets who’ve “been there, done that” will be lower.

Marvin credits learning FIFO (first-in, first out) vs. BIFO (best in-first out) to long-time sourcing presenter, Glen Cathey. In short, don’t submit the first 2-3 candidates you find or speak with, because they’re probably not the best. Screen a few more to compare and you’ll make more confident recommendations. And don’t buy the mantra that the best talent are passive: some gems are likely already in your ATS.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease: After establishing 2-way communications on LinkedIn, you can go back to your inbox and message them again in that thread (even if a rejection after a long time), and it doesn’t count as another new inmail. If they’ve accepted your connection request, even better: their preferred email is usually revealed under their profile’s “Contact Info” section.

Evaluate messaging platform: Marvin learned from colleagues like Steve Levy, Katrina Collier and Mike “Batman” Cohen to mix up things and be persistent in the right way. Use a video message, pick up the phone, email, text, and networking via another network that the prospect likes to use.

Build a team around you: Realize we’re all in this together. As the African proverb says, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a network to build a career. Brian Fink taught him that interactions are not transactional, but transformational, in nature – with growth in mind. Marvin listed a number of people among hundreds in the community who readily share that he’s learned and benefitted from. Some of his favorite Facebook groups for this are SourceCon (including, SourcingIRL (by Greg Hawkes), Talent Sourcers, Boolean Strings, Secret Sourcing Group, and BARS (Bad-Ass Recruiters and Sourcers),

Take care of yourself

Marvin reminded us, “you are totally replaceable at work, but not at home. Home is your real life. Anything that costs you your mental health is too expensive.”

He cited the February 2021 blog article from TLNT, SourceCon’s sister publication about the five causes of burnout: working beyond your capacity, lack of company support, not enough rest, lack of role clarity, and low psychological safety, which also advises how to diagnose these.

He then explained some ways we can we prioritize work in our lives:

  • Eat the frog: American author Mark Twain said if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you can go through the rest of your day knowing the worst is behind you. Applying this to sourcing, Marvin recommended you do the hardest task with steepest impact in your day first (SourceCon editor Tangie Pettis echoed this practice is key for her, also.)
  • Eisenhower Matrix: Classify and action every task only one of four ways: Do (urgent & important tasks), Schedule (important but not urgent), Delegate (unimportant but urgent), or Ignore (unimportant and not urgent)
  • Scheduling during COVID: there’s no award for having the most unused paid time off (PTO) each year, and you have more control over your schedule during COVID with more virtual meetings and less travel, so leverage those.
  • Squash “imposter syndrome”: realize you have valuable skills — you wouldn’t have gotten to where you are otherwise — and you’re *not* only as good as your last hire.
  • Have meaningful communications: As Punk Rock HR’s Laurie Ruettimann told him: “Your work is not your worth”. Who you are is more important than your job, so you should ask others about who they are outside their work.
  • Rely on others and on yourself: Just as airlines recommend you put on your oxygen mask first during a drop in cabin pressure before helping others, learn how to take care of yourself while caring for others. And realize you can rely on our community to help, but as said above, make those interactions meaningful so that others feel heard and the communications become more authentic.
This article is part of a series called SourceCon Digital Conference.
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