7 Personality Traits to Look for in Hospitality Applicants

Posted 2 years ago by
Personality Retail

Some people are born to work in hospitality. Friendliness and a never ending willingness to give guests a great time are like a second nature to them. Most of us however, aren’t born to work in hospitality. We certainly can be friendly at times and we want our clients to be happy, but we’re glad to have these restraints on weekdays only, from 9 to 5.

We’ve said it before, hospitality people are a special breed. They are the face of your hotel or restaurant, your living business card. Your staff is in continuous contact with your customers and as such they are the go-to-people when something isn’t exactly as your demanding guests expected.

And yet, while hospitality staff is crucial for the success of hotels and restaurants, turnover rates are sky high (70% is not unusual).  

Hospitality Turnover Rates Statistics

Annual turnover rates in Hospitality in the US, for example,
are high compared to the Private Sector

Part of this is due to the fact that a lot of young people – teenagers and students – tend to work in hospitality. In the US for example, the restaurant business is the largest employer of teenagers. Both students and teenagers typically don’t work on a full-year schedule.    

Another reason for this high turnover rate is linked to the hospitality industry’s cyclical business. Naturally, the demand for staff is (a lot) higher during the summer and christmas holiday period than during the rest of the year.

But apart from these industry specific factors, there are several other reasons why the hospitality sector finds itself struggling with unwanted turnover.

A wrong fit – both job and/or organization wise – often is the number one reason for staff to quit, together with an unrealistic management of their expectations about the job.

The lack of a well-structured onboarding process and regular feedback are two elements that also play an important role when it comes to the premature departure of hospitality workers.        

Related: How to Tackle 3 Major Hiring Issues in the Hospitality Sector

Needless to say, the ideal hospitality employee has an impressive skill set. We serve a lot of hospitality clients here at Harver and we’ve done extensive research into what makes a good candidate. Here are 7 competencies every hospitality applicant needs.

1. Listening

Someone once said ‘We’ve got two ears and only one mouth, which means we should listen twice as much as we speak.’ This is true for a lot of things, but even more so in the hospitality industry. Listening to your guests is vital, especially if they don’t speak the same language.

Good hospitality staff knows how to listen, not just with their ears, but with their entire body. Because it’s not only about what the guest tells them, it’s also about their non verbal communication; are they nervous, stressed, do they seem a little lost? And what does the guest tell them between the lines?

In short: it is crucial for a hospitality employee to be a terrific listener. There are different ways to assess an applicant’s ability to listen. A combination of a personality test and a couple of real life job scenarios (via a Situational Judgement Test) is the most efficient.

The personality measurement should provide you with information about the candidate’s character; some people are naturally good at listening, others aren’t. The Situational Judgement Test – SJT – shows you how the applicant deals with (challenging) job scenarios that happen on a regular basis.

2. Oral communication

After the listening comes the talking. This one is just as important as the previous one. In particular when your guests speak a different language, you want to make sure your staff is confident about their English or whatever other language they are required to speak.

And it’s not just about the way they talk.

Again, it’s about the employee’s general attitude; they need to look the guests in the eye, have a friendly face, speak clearly etc. Obviously, clear communication isn’t for everyone, nor is talking to (foreign) strangers. But it is a vital part of a hospitality employee’s job and therefore an essential skill for candidates to have.

Testing can be done in various ways and depends on your organization’s requirements. A personality measurement, again, is good to get some insights about the applicant’s character and by running an SJT you’ll see how he or she handles real-life job scenarios from a communication perspective.

As such, the SJT can give you information about how the candidate reacts to different types of customer behavior. If you need your staff to speak English, an English Language skill test comes in handy. Applicants will be asked to correct sentences for instance and this will help you to assess their level of English.

3. Customer Orientation

‘The customer is king’ is something that goes for all businesses. Even more so in hospitality though; your guests come to you to enjoy a well-deserved celebratory meal or holiday. Expectations are high and if not lived up to, disappointments are big.

Hospitality staff often needs to go out of its way to make their guests happy. The customer’s interest is always number one, no matter what day or time it is. As we mentioned earlier, this kind of demanding work asks for a special breed of people.

So your employees have to have a natural desire to make other people happy. They can forget about the fact that it’s late at night, or early on a Sunday morning. They should be able to find fulfillment in making sure their guests have everything they need. Hospitality staff needs to be able to put themselves in second place.

Again, this is not for everyone and something that can be assessed.

Hospitality Situational Judgement TestA situational judgment test as depicted above, is an effective way
to assess – among other things – customer orientation in applicants.

4. Stress Tolerance

Working with different people from all four corners of the world inevitably leads to stress. Whether this is caused by an unhappy guest shouting at a reception desk worker, or by a baby that doesn’t stop crying during the night thus waking up people in neighboring rooms doesn’t matter; your staff needs to be able to deal – very – well with all kinds of stressful situations.

First and foremost because if your employees freak out, your guests will get even more stressed. Secondly, in the hotel or restaurant business, some kind of stressful situation will occur at least once a day.

If your staff doesn’t deal well with a minimum of constant stress, it’s best for both you and them to go your separate ways. Because of this, it’s essential to assess a hospitality applicant’s ability to cope with stressful situations.

Stop guessing,
Start data-driven hiring.

Learn how you implement a modern candidate selection process, that is: streamlined, experience-driven and backed by data.


5. Quality Orientation

Now we’re not saying being quality minded isn’t important outside the hospitality sector. Of course it is. But when it comes to receiving people in your hotel, B&B or restaurant however, quality standards do go up a notch.

Think about fire exit regulation, pool safety rules and a first aid facility for example. Without mentioning the extra health and safety procedures to take into account when you’re dealing with food.

Of course, as an employer in the hospitality industry, it’s your responsibility to make sure your employees know about the necessary rules and regulations. But once your part in their training is done, they’re on their own in following those procedures when needed.

You’ve probably already guessed it: not everyone is of the rule-abiding type. Some of us simply are better at following rules and procedures than others. And some people just have an issue with procedures in general. That’s fair enough, but when it comes to other people’s health and safety, a more goody-two-shoes kind of person is desirable.

This is why you need to make sure you have a good indication of a candidate’s character when it comes to applying your company’s rules.

6. Work Standards

Depending on the job, working in hospitality can be pretty tough. It often means long hours, being at work when your friends and family aren’t, and literally running around all day. Add some demanding, not always easy, guests to the list and you know your staff needs to be extraordinary.

Hospitality applicants need to have a particularly strong attitude when it comes to their work. It’s important they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into before they start. No nonsense; a real preview of what it is like out there in the hospitality world.

As good as today’s video technology is, there’s no video in the world that can make a hospitality applicant feel what it is like to stand on your feet for (more than) 8 hours a day. Let alone run around with a heavy tray full of hot plates and drinks.

The physically demanding side of working in hospitality is not to be underestimated. Needless to say, the majority of people isn’t cut out for this.

In order to avoid premature departures and wrong expectations, it’s important that applicants experience what it is like to be running around your hotel or restaurant all day. Therefore, if possible, try to incorporate one or two days of ‘on-the-ground’ experience in your selection process.   

This is the only way for hospitality applicants to really find out what they’re getting themselves into and decide whether or not it’s right for them. If it isn’t, then it’s better for everyone involved that they back out now rather than a few weeks or months further down the line.  

7. Multitasking

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in a hotel or a restaurant where an employee has to do two things at the same time. Think for instance of a reception desk worker with a complaining guest in front of him, simultaneously having to pick up the phone and cancel a booking on the computer.

This is just one situation that can occur, but there are countless scenarios that require a hospitality employee to multitask. Therefore it’s wise to assess an applicant’s ability to perform multiple tasks.

Now, How to hire the right hospitality employee?

Once you know what personality traits you’re looking for in an applicant, it’s time to assess. The good news is, all of these competencies (except for the physical element of the job) can be tested.

Most of the time, an SJT in combination with a personality-and skill test will get you a long way. Especially when used together with Predictive Analytics (PA).

Sounds complicated? Let me give you an example from our own experience here at Harver.

We’ve developed a pre-hiring platform infused with AI and Predictive Analytics. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

Your candidates enter an engaging, online environment that takes them on a virtual journey through your company. Think of it as an online day at the ‘office’.

While they’re touring the hotel or restaurant, the applicants are presented with a selection of real life, on-the-job scenarios and a variety of hard and soft skill assessments. All of this based on the personality traits and competencies you are looking for in a candidate.

Once they’ve completed the process, the applicants get an individual feedback report that indicates how they scored on the various parts of the pre-selection test. Hence giving them valuable feedback on their performance, something they can use to their advantage even if they don’t get the job.

But what happens behind the scenes you ask?

A lot. While your candidates navigate through the different stages of the online assessment, data is gathered based on their input after which our self-learning algorithms calculate a so-called matching score.

In short: a score that indicates to what extent an applicant fits (or doesn’t fit).

The matching score specifies – among other things – how likely it is that a candidate will be successful in the role he or she is applying for, but also the likelihood of them fitting into your company culture.

A win-win-win situation. If you want to know more about Harver, go here.

On a Final Note

Yes, finding great hospitality applicants is hard. If you keep in mind these 7 personality traits and get a little bit of help from the right HR technology though, you’ll be able to find this special breed of rock stars.  

Stop guessing,
Start data-driven hiring.

Learn how you implement a modern candidate selection process, that is: streamlined, experience-driven and backed by data.


Neelie Verlinden is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Digital HR Tech. She’s an experienced digital HR & HR Tech writer, speaker, and entrepreneur with an international background. She has written countless articles on all things HR technology.