Reaching Through, Beyond, Over and Under the Internet to Find Talent

By Frank Speranza President, Hospitality Talent Scouts Executive Search | January 19, 2014

When I attend industry conferences such as The American Lodging Investment Summit, The New York Investment Conference, or The Lodging Conference, I am always amused at how much meticulous thought, planning, and analysis goes into the purchasing of hospitality assets and then how little thought often goes into the selection of the talent that will actually operate and market these assets on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, I was rejected by ALIS when I requested a booth at their conference a few years ago. I figured it could be a one-stop shop: You buy a hotel, pick up a flag/franchise at one of the franchise booths, and then you come to my booth to staff it. The operators of ALIS did not quite see it that way, I guess. Instead, luckily for me, the HR Conference in Las Vegas accepted me that year!

Well, that scenario is not too far from the truth for many operating companies that think they can always find the best talent on their own. I personally think today that thought is crazy. It's kind of like trying to do bypass surgery on a family member yourself to save the cost of the heart surgeon. Well, maybe that's an extreme example, but I think you might get where I'm going with this. If you're reading this and saying, Frank, you're just promoting yourself, I would ask why, just last week, did one of the best names in hospitality, a major brand, pay me a very handsome fee to find a General Manager at one of their branded hotels in the middle of one of America's largest cities? I would also ask, for that matter, why are our services in such demand if this were not the case. I cite this one example to try to point out the magnitude of this shortage of talent that exists. If a huge machine like the brand I'm refereeing to has to go to the outside to find talent for one of their major boxes in a major U.S. city, what is this saying for the smaller operator's chances of getting talent on their own?

Today, I'm writing my fourth article for Hotel Business Review in the past 1½ years, and if you haven't been following them, you might not get all the value from this article, as the past three have been leading up to it. If you missed them, I suggest you go back and read them first, as the lesson today is like algebra. If you miss some key lessons/facts that build on each other, you're going to have a hard time truly understanding where I'm coming from when you read this one.

Let's go back and talk about the old days for a few moments. Yes, I'm going to date myself, back in the early 80s, when I got out of college and started my hospitality career. When I was an operator and needed talent, I did what most did if they did not have any home-grown talent of their own sitting on the bench. I put an ad in the newspaper, and sooner or later I found a candidate that I would probably hire. Things got a little tougher in the 90s, and more and more recruiters/head hunters started to appear. I too utilized their services, as traditional newspapers were not quite providing everything I needed. By the late 90s, we were well into the era, and we graduated from newspapers and head hunters to job boards. This was another vehicle to help us get to the talent, and it helped for a while. All of this brings us to 2013, when we clearly have more demand for talent than there is talent available. As I've said in the past, the number one question I get from employers is, "Frank, why is it so hard to find good people?" I keep giving the same answer that no one wants to hear or accept, but it's the truth. It is a simple equation of supply and demand. There are more positions available than there is qualified talent. I also add that I don't see it getting much better any time soon. How we got to this point is another story, and why I suggest you reading my first article for Hotel Business Review titled "Talent Demand vs. Available Talent, the Dwindling Hospitality Talent Pool."

So what is a hospitality operator to do? Well, I don't think there is any one answer, but here are some suggestions.

The first one is to be a world-class employer. Based on the thousands of searches we have conducted for talent, there is no other single piece of advice I can give that is better than that, and I would refer you back to my article titled "The ability to attract Talent – What's Your Reputation on the Street?" The title says it all. If you want the best people, you have to be an attractive employer, a magnet for talent.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.