Meet the 2020 Innovator: Kelsey White of HEI Hotels

iCIMS Staff
February 5, 2021
Candidate ExperienceChanging Tech

Over the coming months, iCIMS will be highlighting our 2020 Innovator Award winners to give you more insight into our winners’ thoughts on innovation in talent acquisition, upcoming trends, and best practices. 

In this edition we speak to Kelsey WhiteDirector of Talent Acquisition and compensation at HEI Hotels. We asked her about her talent experience, along with how the hospitality industry is weathering today’s hiring challenges. You can read our Q&A with Kelsey below. 

iCIMS: You were named a 2020 Talent Innovator. Tell us a bit about your journey in talent acquisition.

White: I think there are a lot of people who don’t know how they got into HR. I took a college course that piqued my interest. From there I started out as an HR generalist. I moved into the talent space covering a maternity leave, and I ended up staying on that team. We have had a lot of shifts in the way our organization handles talent, so our team tends to fluctuate.  

For example, my role is not just about recruitment. It’s a lot about succession planning, decreasing turnover, and making sure we have the right people in the right job. I’ve always enjoyed that focus and I am fortunate to work for a company with a CEO and EVP of HR who agree and value that. 

iCIMS: You mentioned your leadership. Some talent leaders have trouble conveying talent acquisition in such a way that executive leadership prioritizes it. How do you tackle that challenge?

White: Your C-suite are businesspeople. They know and understand your organization. They speak and talk in numbers. So if you’re able to come to the table with a clear picture of the impact an initiative will have, they can’t argue that, right? If you can leverage the metrics you have – and that’s why we focus so much on leveraging the data inside of iCIMS – it is a more compelling approach. It takes time to cultivate that data, but being consistent with that information is important. 

Also, utilizing the data you get from your HRIS system is key too. You want to show the entire talent lifecycle – from source reporting to retention issues – and analysis around those data points. You want to be able to tell a full story. 

iCMS: It seems like your passion lies in data-driven strategies. Is that fair to say?

White: I work in a people industry, so the numbers are important to make people decisions. We can’t forget about why we are here – our associates, our guests – but we can make better decisions when it comes to retention, attrition, and tackling challenges based on the data that I have.  

If you’re trying to make a business case for anything – you want to add in a new partner or change a process – the person you’re asking is going to ask why. You can’t just say “I like this applicant tracking software and it looks cool in the demo.” That won’t get you money to invest in acquiring new technology. You have to be able to show what ROI you expect, what impact your decision will have, and data helps that conversation tremendously. 

iCIMS: Are there other areas of talent acquisition you’re passionate about?

White: For sure the candidate experience. It’s something we are going to be focusing on more in the future. With over 600 openings at any given time before this year, our priorities have been focused on other initiatives. This year, because of the pandemic, we’ve been able to put a little more of a focus on the candidate experience – so exploring things like implementing a candidate engagement survey and how we can better leverage technology to streamline the hiring process and communications along the way.  

iCIMS: You mentioned the pandemic. We know the hospitality industry has been heavily impacted. Are you seeing an increase in the volume of candidates applying to your roles due to unemployment levels?

White: I think there’s a misconception  that because the unemployment rate is so high  there’s a plethora of candidates out there. While it’s somewhat true – we have seen an uptick in applications – a lot of people are still nervous to come into work because of the pandemic. The reality is the companies who have had to furlough or lay off employees have tried to keep their top talent as much as they can. The people that have been laid off or furloughed may not be looking in the industry anymore. 

So we’ve had to shift a lot to change our hiring pitches – to include things like the cleaning process and our safety procedures. 

iCIMS: You won an award for innovation. Why is it so important for you to be on the forefront of talent innovation?

White: For us, it’s all about finding the right people. We have to be up to speed on technology for our organization in general, but we also have to be mindful of what works for our population. We are an industry that has candidates who might be applying from low income areas, who might not have access to a desktop computer. The mobile phone they use might not have incredible internet access. So when we innovate and continue to advance our technology, we have to stay mindful of that. 

We are in 2020 – so has that gotten better over the years? Of course. We have generations moving in and out of the workforce, so that plays a part in it. But we have to stay in touch with what’s available, from text recruiting software to recruiting chatbots to AI. Finding out what works for the people who you are trying to attract is key. 

For more from Kelsey & the HEI Hotels team, read their full success story here. 

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