Staffing a hotel can be hard work
Staffing a hotel can be hard work
15 MAY 2019 7:34 AM

It’s important that every hiring manager have their own “rule of thumb” when it comes to vetting potential job applicants—even in this challenging employment market.

Around this time last year, I hosted a table at a local job fair for all industries in hopes of connecting with a few well-rounded candidates for open positions at my hotel. While the event generated an abundance of applicants, not one turned out to be a good fit.

I was astounded.

I’ve been staffing hotels for years, and it’s never been this challenging to recruit—and retain—the right people. Turns out I’m not alone: With the national unemployment rate at its lowest since 1969, general managers everywhere are hard pressed to find qualified candidates to fill the roles that ensure their hotels operate soundly.

After that job fair, I soldiered on to find candidates from an array of other sources. Turns out my best hires have come from referrals by my current employees. In addition to a desire to work, these new employees are motivated by a positive sense of obligation to the colleagues who recommended them. So whenever a position comes open, be sure to ask your staff if they have good friends who would make great co-workers.

Other good advice abounds. I recently read an article by Jessica Liebman, executive managing editor of Business Insider, titled “I’ve been hiring people for 10 years, and I still swear by a simple rule: If someone doesn’t send a thank-you email, don’t hire them.” This article generated some flak in social media circles. While not all hospitality job applicants can or will send a thank-you email, I believe there is truth to using this simple gesture as a gauge to determine how much a candidate wants the job. There is something to be said for follow-up.

Whether you agree or disagree about the need for a thank-you email, it’s important that every hiring manager has his or her own “rule of thumb” when it comes to vetting potential job applicants—even in this challenging employment market. Here are a handful of my own, as I look for candidates who:

  • dress neat and tidy;
  • speak positively about former employers and co-workers;
  • express flexibility—even in roles with traditional office hours or set schedules, there are occasions such as special events (or Saturday morning site inspections); and
  • use open, friendly body language, such as sitting up straight, making eye contact and smiling.

In addition, I believe hiring for service takes precedence in hospitality. You can always teach new hires how to use the computer software; it’s a whole lot harder to teach someone to be inherently kind, pleasant and calm under pressure. During the interview process, I work hard to determine “who” a person is rather than look merely at “what” they can do. Resumes are a great tool, but you read them only at face value. Someone might have a plethora of sales experience, but can they talk a bride down from her family not being placed in adjacent rooms?

I connected with a few industry folks and HR mavens to see what they look for in job candidates, including Jerry Leonard, VP of Human Resources for 1-800-Flowers (motto: “We’re obsessed with providing a terrific experience. If not, we’ll make it right—guaranteed”). Leonard says his pet peeves are interviewees who:

  • speak negatively about a prior employer/manager;
  • avoid answering posed questions; and
  • show up unprepared.

That last point is crucial in the service industry. If employees are not prepared, then the company can lose business, whether it be flower sales or large corporate bookings. What does Leonard look for? He likes job applicants who ask pertinent questions about the company and come armed with information.

My colleague Richard Pennyman, GM of Homewood Suites in Glastonbury, Connecticut, looks hard for personality traits such as:

  • grit—i.e. determination, perseverance and relentlessness;
  • leadership; and
  • humility.

“Humble leaders take in all information,” Pennyman said. “They learn from everyone, and use every situation as an opportunity to grow.”

Staffing a hotel can be hard work. General managers must put in as much effort as the job applicants—maybe more—to ensure an effective interview process. Spend time upfront recruiting the right applicants and you’ll have more time later on to focus on retaining the employees you already have. Assembling an experienced, well-trained and appreciated operations team is critical to your property’s ongoing success.

Celeste Johnson has more than 10 years of hospitality experience, working in many different roles within major brands including Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt. Career highlights include opening Hampton Inn & Suites in Bellevue WA – the brand’s 2000th property. Celeste is currently the General Manager of Hyatt Place Garden City; she is specifically focused on blending operations, sales and revenue management with a passion in employee relations.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

1 Comment

  • Tyler July 15, 2019 3:22 AM Reply

    I will never in my life send a thank you letter for someone letting me take a low paying job. Also in no way should an applicant to a low paying job be expected to heavily research the hotel they are applying to. Besides, if you’re applying for a hotel I’m pretty sure you understand the purpose of the company. Lastly, hotels get what they pay for, if you pay the best wage you get the best applicants.

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