For a company, reaching its 10th anniversary is a benchmark for vitality and success. The case with Astrea Human Resources, however, is even more astonishing. The Bulgarian recruitment company was founded in 2007 by a 23-year-old lady, and in its 10 years of existence, it has become a leader on the local market.
The list of Astrea’s clients is extensive and impressive, featuring both international and local names. The company works with both applicants and employers in its aim to identify the right people for the right jobs. It also offers services like BPO, accountancy and control, auditing, ITO, project management and BA, engineering, FMCG, HRO.
Founder and CEO of Astrea, D. Psych. Sc. Maya Zdravkova, gives insight into the difficulties of creating a leading company and the specifics of the local labour market.
How did you, at such a young age, manage to create a company that became a leader in its field? What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
It was very hard. I had only had a year of experience in HR, in another city and another market. I had no idea what I was about to start. I was guided only by my dream of doing what I love and by the business model I had in mind.
There were plenty of hardships, financial and others as well. I was ignorant about what it really means to run your own business and was unaware of the challenges I would have to deal with. Until their 5th year, all businesses are start-ups and very unstable due to the dynamics which the company has to struggle with.
I started during a period of a global economic crisis, and then I experienced a second one in 2011 but this was not the biggest issue. Back in 2007 there were several larger international brands in the field of consultancy recruiting which were dominant on the market and were the absolute leaders in this type of services. The clients which I wanted to establish relations with didn't even consider an introductory meeting with me, as Astrea was a small Bulgarian start-up at that point. A lot of time passed before I could reach the moment when these very same companies started proactively seeking out contact with me, following the recommendations of previous clients of mine. In business, as in life, success is the result of a lot of persistence, hard work, dedication, flexibility, and love for what you do – all the answers lie therein.
How do you see yourself and Astrea in 10 years’ time?
It’s hard to tell. Of course, I have planned much and wish to see many of my ideas and dreams come true. But life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans – it is dynamic and unpredictable. This, however, is what makes it interesting and helps keep the suspense at all times. You never have all the answers and solutions and you need to be very flexible. The only thing I am certain of is that even 10 years from now I will still love my work just the same. I can see myself as being wiser and more experienced.
What is the profile of Astrea's client?
At the moment Astrea has more than 200 active clients in a number of fields and we have different departments dealing with recruitment in specific categories such as HORECA, BPO, IT and others.
What are the current trends on the Bulgarian labour market? How does Astrea meet them?
The trends are quite alarming. We are experiencing a large supply of job positions, however, there is also a lack of employees to fill them. This tendency is present all over the country.
Astrea aims to satisfy the needs of its clients in several ways. We always consult our customers regarding the correlation between the skills they seek in an employee and the wage they offer and whether these are adequate on the current market. The many international companies offering high wages create an artificial market environment – they pay a high price for staff they have yet to train to become proper specialists. After these newly-qualified specialists leave the company they have started with, they have an unrealistic understanding of the labour market. They expect their next employer to double their wage. Consequently, many employers are forced to drastically increase the wages in their companies in order to find staff.
As a mediator, I agree that conditions should improve for a company’s employess – both the wages and the social benefits. But I also believe that this has to happen gradually and as a result of the employees consistently demonstrating that they are performing well in their job. Auctioning the wages on the labour market makes employees inconsistent in their motivation to develop in a given company. They are aware that even if they don't get what they want from employer Х after 3 or 6 months, they will get it from employer Y or Z. If during the period 2007-2009 people had to stand in a queue and wait for a job, now the roles are reversed and it is the employers that are in this position.
Yes, employers should invest in development of professionals, but this should happen in adequate labour market conditions.
How does Astrea guarantee the quality of the employees which it recruits?
We guarantee it with the added value of our service – a warranty that the employer receives in exchange for paid brokerage. We have a special approach towards every applicant. For us it is important to answer all of their needs and ensure their long-term engagement with a given employer.
How do you guarantee to applicants that you will find the best employer for them? What is the secret of connecting the right people with the right company?
First of all, before meeting a client and signing a contract, we always check the company’s background, its reputation on the labour market and we thoroughly familiarise ourselves with the reasons behind its difficulties in finding employees. After the recruitment, we always insist on receiving feedback from both the hired employee and the employer. It is very important for us to have the necessary information, in order to sell the position to the applicant. We make sure that the candidate is truly motivated before we transfer his or her application to the employer. We give our applicants the opportunity to make an informed choice before going to a job interview or accepting a work offer. We always provide consultancy to the candidates on the labour market’s current state and where they stand in regards to their experience and knowledge.
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