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How to Hire in the Hospitality Industry

In Hiring Strategy — by Dave Anderson


The hospitality industry is currently experiencing a boom. The economy is healthy and many people are choosing to spend their extra income on leisure.

That means hotels, restaurants, event centers, casinos and other travel and hospitality businesses have to expand their workforce to keep up with the demand. However, hiring the right employees for customer service jobs can be challenging. While it’s important hospitality professionals know how to elegantly open a wine bottle or operate property management software, soft skills are really what matters most.

It can also be difficult for hospitality businesses to recover from a bad hire. If a customer experiences bad service from an employee, they’ll likely never come back. And if you have to replace an employee who wasn’t a fit, you may end up short staffed when customers need attention.

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In this blog post, we’ll highlight the soft skills to look for when hiring in the hospitality industry and provide tips for conducting successful interviews.

The skills of a successful hospitality employee

The term soft skills refers to a candidate’s intangible personality qualities. In other industries and professions, hiring managers need to focus on hard skills, experience and education but that’s not the case for hospitality jobs. If you’re involved in hiring for a hospitality business, here’s what specific skills you should be on the lookout for:

A friendly and outgoing personality

The right personality is a must for service industry employees. Anyone you hire not only has to treat guests kindly but also has to have an authentic, outgoing demeanor. Try to find candidates who smile, make eye contact and have an all-around warm personality.

A sense of what a customer needs or wants

Anticipating what a guest needs without being asked is a trait of a great hospitality professional. It’s difficult to do but requires reading body language or using the available information to make judgment calls. For example, a restaurant server should be able to tell that a customer looking in their direction needs attention. And a front desk agent at a hotel or resort should assume that a guest checking in late may have had a difficult travel experience and would appreciate prompt, welcoming attention.

Must meet high expectations

In many cases, customers of hospitality business are celebrating birthdays, weddings, anniversaries or taking in a vacation. In all likelihood, they’ve been looking forward to the experience for a long time and your employees should do everything possible to live up to their expectations. In some jobs, an employee can get away with having an off day and phoning it in at times but that’s not the case in the hospitality industry.

Non-defensive and the ability to fix problems on the fly

The phrase “the customer is always right” rings true in the hospitality industry. Even if a guest is rude or unreasonable, service industry employees have to be thicked-skinned enough to accept the criticism and do whatever possible to correct the problem. In most cases, that means finding a solution quickly and creatively and turning a disappointed customer into a satisfied one.

Interviewing tips for hiring hospitality professionals

Resumes are a secondary concern when hiring in the hospitality industry. In most cases, you can train new hires on your process but you need to find people with a personality that shines through during interviews. Interviewing is especially important in the hospitality industry so use these tips when meeting candidates:

  • The conversation matters – Beyond their answers to typical interview questions, look for the candidate’s ability to carry on a conversation in a friendly manner. Do they make eye contact, smile and have a warm personality?
  • Take the candidate’s appearance into account – If your business has certain attire standards for the staff, you’ll get an idea of the candidate’s ability to follow them. If they can’t show up to the interview well groomed with an ironed shirt, there’s no way they’ll be able to show up to work every day with the right appearance.
  • Ask situational questions – If you want to learn how a potential employee will deal with specific challenges, ask situational interview questions. You can present them with a difficult situation they could encounter on the job and ask them to walk you through how they would solve it.
  • Consider giving promising candidates a trial run – After you find a candidate who seems like they might be a good fit, it’s not a bad idea to let them work a shift and see how they do. You might find that despite having the right personality, they struggle to multitask and following your process. A trial run is especially a good idea for candidates who don’t have experience in your specific industry.

Hire great hospitality employees

Great hospitality professionals are difficult to train so hiring the right people is especially important. Follow the tips outlined in this blog post and look for the traits that are important to your specific business and you’ll be able to build a staff of great hospitality professionals.

Photo courtesy of Matt Jones

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