One time I had a great guy who was supposed to start training on reception. Thankfully so, because I was about to be really understaffed. A few days before starting he told me he received an email that he was chosen to help set up the 'End of the World' festival, held on the Mayan Ruins in Mexico. He needed to leave in 2 days. I told him "By all means, go! Sounds crazy!" I meant it, but I was also thinking "Ohh shit." You can try to time staff overlapping just right, but at the end of the day, travelers on staff are still travelers. They don't always adhere to a set schedule, you could say.
Sometimes you have a solid work crew, with a constant flow of great people to choose new replacements from, and the stars of staffing are all aligned. Other times, you may get so understaffed all at once that you are ready to grab Dumpster Dave from around the corner and start teaching him your PMS system. Or maybe that was just me. Understaffing just plain sucks for everyone involved, so let's talk about how to fix it.
Often the easiest way to find potential new staff is to just open your eyes. They are probably already sleeping with you. I mean, staying with you. They are probably currently staying, and therefore sleeping, at your hostel. Yikes. I believe sleeping with your guests is a whole different post… Anyway, current guests are usually the best new staff because they already have an understanding of the environment and atmosphere of your particular hostel, and you have a chance to see what type of person they are. More on this later on.
"I only sleep with the best" tshirt at Brisbane Backpackers. Awesome.
Word of mouth can also be a potentially useful resource for finding new staff. This can work anywhere, but tends to work best for hostels who are on a well trodden backpacker route. For instance, in Australia, backpackers tend to travel in a straight line either north to south, or vice versa. As people cross paths, the word gets out pretty quickly, especially in a country where the majority of travelers are on working holiday visas seeking jobs.
This also works well in places like SE Asia and South America, where travelers may not be going in a straight line, but are all going to the same cities and countries. There's a reason The Banana Pancake Trail and The Gringo Trail got those names. Don't underestimate the power of the traveler grapevine, but do try to make sure that the former guests spreading the word are ones you actually liked. It's hard enough getting rid of crappy guests, let alone having them refer employees to you.
Many hostels also use online job boards to find potential staff. These are especially useful when you don't have any current guests who can come on board and need to get the word out. Some of these are internationally focused, such as the 'jobs available' forum on hostelmanagement.com. Others are country-specific, such as backpackerboard.com, an Australia & New Zealand based jobs board for those on working holiday visas. It doesn't only advertise hostel jobs, but is a great way to quickly reach a large amount of travelers. Other common sites are hosteljobs.net, helpx.net, and workaway.info. Gumtree.com is another popular UK based site, which also has Australian, New Zealand, and South African versions.
Personally, I like workaway because the responder must have a profile with photos, information about themselves, and the type of work they are looking for. Besides knowing a bit more about them, it helps to see if they are interested in hostel work specifically or just casting lines to every listing on the site. Helpx has an interesting feature to aid that as well. It allows you to see how many messages that particular user has sent, at what frequency, and how many characters they used. Basically, without knowing who they are messaging and what they are saying, you can quickly figure out if they are copying and pasting the exact same message to multiple people. If you aren't a copy and paste kinda hostel, beware!
I'll admit the photos on workaway have nearly swayed me off my better judgement before. I once had to pause and think logically before responding to a very sexy Italian guy who also happened to be a bit incompetent, at least on paper (nothing to do with his level of English). For a moment I wondered if it was in the hostel finances to follow Abercrombie's staffing lead, and just have him walk around the hostel smiling, with his shirt off. I mean, I hear Abercrombie is a very successful company. I'm just saying. (If you aren't familiar with this American clothing store chain, who often has a half naked staff walking around, here's a music video of their models 'singing' Call Me Maybe. Ladies, I'll come back in 3 minutes to clean up the puddle of drool in front of your computer. Yes, I'm completely digressing, but it's so worth it. The first time a guest showed this to me, we put it on repeat and just stared.)
A preview for you. Um, call me definitely.
Finding people who want to work in a hostel is generally not a problem. Between job adverts, word of mouth, and current guests, people often come crawling out of the woodwork to apply. I'm not sure who's my favorite: the classic guest who's been extra helpful the past week while also dropping not-so-subtle hints he wants a job ("Yea, I love this city, it'd just be better if I could work here too. You must love working here. I know I'd love to work here. Isn't your receptionist leaving soon?") -OR- the person who emails but clearly has no idea what a hostel is. ("It's just, like, a bunch of women living in a house right?" No sir, that's a brothel. You were close. Perhaps in some cases, closer than others ) No, the problem isn't usually finding people, it's finding the right people.
Something I've heard over and over from different hostels the past few months is the desire to connect with potential staff in some way other than email. Job boards are great, but anyone can sound good on paper. One way to use them is simply as a tool to get these potential staff to your hostel first as guests. Some hostels use online adds as a buffer to see if the person can follow simple directions. For instance, the add will ask for the responder to list certain information in their reply, or call to speak with a manager at a certain time of day. If they struggle to get even that correct, it can be hard to imagine them properly making a bed let alone learning your front desk software.
At my last hostel in San Francisco, we sent out a survey to responders of job board ads. We always emphasized that we generally only picked staff in person from current guests, but it would be nice to get to know them ahead of time as well. It was only a basic 'get to know you and why you want this job' questionnaire, but was also an easy way to weed people out. Only about 1 in 10 people who emailed me looking for a job would even bother filling it out. Of those who did, I had a better idea of who to look out for once they arrived as a guest.
They say you can't choose your family, but in the case of live-in staff, they're wrong. They become a part of the 24/7 hostel family, which can- and should- be chosen carefully. Getting the right balance of staff can be difficult enough; adding a wrong fit into the mix of both living and working can be disastrous. This is one of the main reasons so many hostel managers I've spoken to prefer to hire in-house. Not only can you estimate the guest's work ethic or character, but also how he or she interacts with the rest of the guests and staff. Having a chance to see how those relationships develop is utterly more useful than a CV, email or phone call.
Some of my boys at the hostel in San Francisco. My staff was always like family to me!
It's also an easy way to see how they handle smaller tasks first, like occasional cleaning or guiding activities, before considering them for a bigger role such as reception. If they can scrub a toilet without complaining, or even better, with a smile!, they are likely to do well with more responsibility. On the other hand, sometimes you come across people who maybe you don't necessarily need for a certain task or skill, but discover they are just great for the atmosphere. Other guests love them, they positively contribute to the hostel environment, and having them around is overall beneficial. I've spoken with hostels who have had this situation, and find tasks specifically for these people in order to keep them around.
So yes, when it comes to hostels, you can choose your family. The atmosphere of any hostel will ebb and flow with the changing staff, but the core personality of the place should remain. So, choose well and choose wisely. And in the immortal words of The Hunger Games: May the odds ever be in your favor!
Where do you find your staff? Any tips for finding great people and screening out the bad ones? Sign in, comment below, and help spread the hostel knowledge love. Then be sure to check out Part 2 of this staff post, coming soon!
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