Finding the Perfect Hotel Employee

By Zoe Connolly Co-Founder & Managing Director, Hospitality Spotlight | January 06, 2019

Making the wrong hire can have ghastly repercussions for a hotel property or travel tech company. Between the costs associated with paying for poor performance, the drain on employee morale, time spent in training and onboarding, time needed to find another new employee, recruiter fees and the opportunity cost of not selecting the right person, getting it right the first time is critical. The US Department of Labor estimates that the cost of a bad hire is 30% of that person's income; for a startup in travel tech or an established property, this is a massive investment in… nothing.

However, nearly no company can succeed without bringing in outside talent. Whether it's replacing an employee who's moved into a new department (or new company), roles shifted because of technology, or even basics like retirement, companies in the travel space are required to make hires. Following are tips that help to ensure that a new hire is the right hire.

Know Your Team

The first step in the process of finding the right employee is to evaluate your existing team. It's important to have a realistic grasp on who they are, how they operate, where they are exceeding expectations and where they are lacking or need improvement. With this information, it is possible to shift the focus of the job description, allowing hiring managers to more easily find great candidates and also empowering the property or company to use the hiring window as an opportunity for growth, as opposed to lateral movement. In addition, there are corporate culture elements that should be considered when thinking about an existing team, after all, this is the group that will be handling a majority of training.

Having working knowledge of the team in place also makes it it possible for recruiters and hiring managers to offer a realistic view of the team to candidates. Not every property is willing to put potential hires through group interviews, or hire by committee. This places the onus on recruiters and HR folks to know exactly what an employee is getting into by accepting the role. After all, if potential employers paint a pretty picture and the candidate/new employee makes a potentially life altering decision to join a new company, the last thing they want to find out is that they were deceived. That is the quickest way to ruin your reputation as an employer and have people quit.

Develop a Referral Pipeline

One of the best, least costly ways to get the hiring process correct the first time is to build a pipeline of referrals from current employees. Hotel leadership can begin this by simply asking if their team has former colleagues or friends that may have a similar work ethic and relevant experience.

Referral programs are great for a number of reasons. For potential candidates, receiving a first-hand endorsement of a company can help to create excitement about taking an interview or role. Additionally, assuming it comes to an offer, having a friendly face/colleague when joining an organization always helps new employees feel more comfortable and tied to the organization.

For current employees, there will be an appreciation about being included in the hiring process, and having their voice heard.

Perhaps less obvious, employees who are referred to a role, or those who make a referral that leads to a hire, are more likely to stay with a company longer. There seems to be a psychological thing happening, where individuals who have gotten their friends hired (or gotten hired because of their friend's recommendation), are less likely to change roles in the short to mid term.

With referral programs, there are a couple of landmines that hiring managers and HR folks need to navigate. First, it is possible to create a policy that says "any referral receives an interview, even if we're not hiring" (a great policy that pays off in the long run). But doing so means that there needs to be some level of transparency. If a property or company doesn't have immediate needs, they must be transparent with the candidate, as well as with the referring employee. We often forget that candidates have to take a number of steps for an interview, some of which might include lying to an employer about a "doctor's appointment" or "sick child."

Candidates have an opportunity cost too, and compassionate hiring managers should understand that. For current employees, if they've recommended a couple friends/former colleagues and things haven't worked out, it's possible they can feel dejected and start to consider new roles. This is especially true if there is a bounty program or referral fee for current employees. The worst thing an employee referral program can do is alienate current employees. Hiring managers and leaders must be transparent throughout the entire referral process in order to generate the value these programs can offer.

Assess the Competition

Hiring managers and recruiters should look at hotels, management companies and/or travel tech companies that are at an aspirational level to where they want to be in order to attract the talent they desire. Instead of focusing on a direct competitor, it's better to look at properties and companies that might be a step ahead.

Using online reviews, it's possible to identify local competitors that are outperforming a property on certain categories (customer service, lunch, etc). In combination with the first step (knowing your team), it's possible to use competitive intelligence as a way to recraft a job description and hire the perfect compliment to a team. Think of this as a MoneyBall approach to hotel management; it's possible to improve the quality of a team while also combating a competitor's biggest weakness. All that's required is some time on Google.

In cases where there might be excess budget, it's possible to be more overt about going after a competitor. Through recruiters and sites like LinkedIn, it is possible to poach employees from competition. However, if the target doesn't fit in with the desired/established team dynamic, this expensive hire can turn out to be nothing more than a very pricey bad hire.

A TravelTech Digression

In the TravelTech space, it's also possible to look at companies that are up and coming to find undervalued talent. For instance, identifying sales team members that have a robust set of relationships across the travel industry but who, perhaps haven't been super successful due to the newness of the products, can be a great way to grow.

In Traveltech, it is also important to look at other organizations that provide to the same industry, but don't provide the same service. This means restaurants or other travel tech companies that have same vibe, but a different product.

For example, a company that provides messaging software might look at the marketing team behind PMS solution or even a CRM software company. Since the end user is largely the same, it's possible to find well-connected individuals from complimentary product offerings.

Hire Junior

There is an obvious financial benefit to hiring candidates that are less experienced. Moving beyond that, however, junior candidates end up being some of the most valuable employees over their time spent in a company.

Oftentimes, it is junior employees who do the "real work," and when they find a way to be more efficient, it is something that can be shared across a hotel network. Millennials and Generation Z have been brought up with an understanding of how technology can augment an employee's role, improve guest experiences, and garner untold efficiencies. Going back to the first point, it's important to understand how a junior candidate might integrate with current staff, but also critical to understanding how they might make things better across an entire organization.

However, hiring junior people is not without its limitations. It is critical for organizations to understand the cost savings they may enjoy on lower salaries are best used to train their new hires.

With junior employees, it's also important to draw a line of sight into career paths. This means discussing how long a candidate will need to be in a specific role, where they can go from there (what positions) and where it will not lead them. Candidates need to have a clear understanding of their career path because the last thing a hiring manager wants is to find an amazing candidate and lose them after six months because the path was unclear (this goes back to the bad-hire introduction). This may be easier when working with a large organization or branded hotel. Usually those paths are pretty set. With a startup organization, there is a more wiggle room but still cover potential paths.

Close the Deal

Recruiter will tell you that hiring managers and HR folks will find a great candidate, but will put them aside because there is a volume of applicants they want to interview for that particular role or they feel like it's too early in the process to hire someone. Regardless of how and when you come across a candidate, if they are great for your organization, they have the enthusiasm, they come along with the grit that is required to be successful in today's world of Hospitality & Travel tech, speed up the process.

This isn't to say that an offer should come from a screening phone call (quite the contrary). Instead, it's meant to say that if a candidate checks most of the boxes and has an "it" factor, it's OK for a hiring manager to trust his or her gut.

Hiring today is tough. There's a tremendous volume of educated, qualified-on-paper set of candidates on the market looking for roles. By incorporating feedback (from internal and external sources), build a robust pipeline of referrals, and being willing to train effectively, hotel leaders can mitigate their risk of picking the wrong candidate.

Ms. Connolly Zoe Connolly is the co-founder and managing director for Hospitality Spotlight, a full service executive search firm for the hospitality and travel industries. For more than a decade, she's pioneered innovative and proactive recruiting efforts, connecting the best talent with the best companies, across all levels of organizations. Currently, through working with clients like Starwood, Viceroy and Pacifica Hotels, Hospitality Spotlight has emerged as one of the go-to firms for senior level talent in the hotel and travel technology space. A refreshing combination of an expansive network and brutal honesty continues to push Ms. Connolly and her clients, both companies and candidates into a bright spotlight. Zoe Connolly can be contacted at 858-230-8501 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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