The DNA that makes up a front-desk associate
The DNA that makes up a front-desk associate
20 SEPTEMBER 2018 8:14 AM

Hoteliers give insight into the traits they look for when hiring front-desk associates, including effective communication skills, a warm smile and more.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—It takes a special kind of associate to run a hotel’s front desk, starting with the right attitude, according to sources.

Jerry Rice Jr., opening GM of the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown Center City, said the kind of service and friendliness he looks for in a front-desk associate can’t be taught, but should come across in interviews with candidates.

Jerry Rice Jr., Choice
Hotels International

“We hire for personality, and we train for skill,” he said.

Personality traits to look for
Front-desk associates often are the first person a guest sees upon check-in and the last to say goodbye at check-out, said Brad Harvey, GM of the DoubleTree Charleston – Historic District, part of Charlestowne Hotels, via email. The arrival experience is important, he said, because it will set the tone for the rest of a guest’s stay. Robert Stanfield, managing director of the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, said the first thing he looks for in a front-desk associate is use of non-verbal body language, like a warm smile.

Along with that, a calm demeanor is a must, Rice said. The front desk is the communication hub of the hotel, and the associate will need to be able to handle a multitude of questions, while maintaining high energy and an upbeat mood, he said.

He added that hotel staff won’t know what kind of day the arriving guest is having—“they could be a road warrior; it could be 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. (when they arrive) … (they) could have gotten up at 3 a.m.”

Brad Harvey, *Charlestowne Hotels

It’s important for the front-desk associate to be empathetic to each guests’ unique situation, Harvey said.

“Guests will have complaints, and some will become angry,” he said “Even so, a great front-desk associate doesn’t falter, but rather puts himself in the guest’s shoes and goes into recovery mode. Simply put, the stellar associate takes the ‘HEART model’—hear, empathize, apologize, resolve, thank—to heart.”

Stanfield said his property attracts guests from all over the country and abroad, and front-desk staff must be able to communicate clearly with each guest.

Robert Stanfield, Omni
Hotels & Resorts

That includes being able to “follow through beyond the normal salutations and ask follow-up questions, which allow the guest to share concerns that might not have been voiced otherwise,” Harvey said. “The follow-through shows the guest how the front-desk associate cares and is willing to remedy any issues or complaints, setting a mental anchor that all concerns can and will be addressed.”

Front-desk associates also should be knowledgeable about the local area, sources said.

“The front-desk team should be well-versed in what their city has to offer, from new restaurants and gallery openings to the best tours in the area,” Harvey said. “This knowledge will allow for natural recommendations and organic conversations when guests are looking for a specific restaurant, experience or museum to enjoy while visiting the city.”

Rice agreed that with or without a concierge, the front desk will always be the go-to for guests seeking recommendations.

A front-desk agent can be taught the systems of accounting and other “nuts and bolts of the position, but you can’t train them to have desire to care deeply for others,” Harvey said.

Challenges when hiring
One challenge Harvey said he’s encountered is “sorting through the seekers” and differentiating between the candidates simply looking for a job and those who are preparing for a hospitality-focused career path.

Inquiring during an interview about the candidate’s ideal job in five or 10 years could save a potential setback later on, he said.

“Is the candidate focused on a career where a front-desk position sets him or her up for success?” he asked. “Or do their interests lie outside of the hospitality industry entirely?”

Rice said he would rather wait for the right candidate with the right attitude than hire a “warm body” who wouldn’t be beneficial to the hotel.

He added that no candidate at his hotel is hired until he speaks with them and sees the traits and characteristics shine through.

“There’s no fool-proof method,” he said. “I make a lot of mistakes, but some people interview great.”

Some qualities aren’t always visible during an interview and might not show until the associate is on the job, Harvey said. But the interview is an opportunity to glean insight into the candidate’s inner character, he said.

“You can learn a lot by asking behavioral questions, such as, ‘Tell me about the time you took care of someone who needed a helping hand.’ Listen carefully to the response. Does he talk about a time he helped a family member or does he talk about a stranger? … Those with a hospitality-oriented mindset will naturally speak to times when they served others or gave back to the larger community in some way,” Harvey said.

Stanfield said the focus at his resort—which has 900 associates—is less about finding talent and more about retaining staff. One way to do that is to celebrate accomplishments of the front-desk team and others, “whether it’s a great shift, a great week, a great month, a great quarter, somebody’s birthday—we spend a lot of time recognizing them,” he said.

*Correction, 26 September 2018: This story has been updated to correct a photo cutline. 

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