If you haven’t already seen it, there is a New Hostel FAQ. Among other things it includes links to some previous discussions about staffing.
I can answer your questions from my own experience with hostels under 50 beds. Others with different experiences can give you their thoughts as well. Out of curiosity, will you also be writing a paper on hostel staffing?
1) What recruitment methods do you use? (such as newpaper ads, websites, social media, etc.)
I have approached this in different ways depending on the hostel, the laws that apply, and how quickly I need to hire someone.
1. I only accepted applications from people that I had already met in person and with whom I thought I could work well. Frequently I would recruit my team from among my guests, hiring travelers who already knew my vision for the hostel and who understood from first-hand experience how other guests would experience it. This always gave me my best staff, but it could create challenges. (Ex. working visas might be required. Not all travelers have the flexibility to stop their trip and work, or they can only work for a short time. They might not speak the local language, etc.)
2. I have asked friends and employees to recommend qualified candidates. Someone who comes in with a personal recommendation is often likely to work harder, because their performance also reflects on the person who recommended them.
3. I have solicited staff from the general population of job seekers. I put up posters at the local universities, put classified ads in the newspaper, and posted available positions online here in the Hostel Management forum. All of this got a much higher rate of response, but required more filtering to find qualified staff.
2) Do you do more internal or external hiring when it comes to higher up positions?
I think it’s better to hire from within. It’s important for the management to understand YOUR business and how it runs as opposed to anyone else’s. Working their way up helps a manager to know the team (strengths, weaknesses, motivations) and also to know how each decision that they make is going to affect the rest of the staff.
3) Do you know how much money is spent for recruiting and hiring?
Recruiting through any of the methods above costs almost nothing. Training those new recruits costs me time.
4) What staff members are involved in the hiring process?
Generally the management team, but also other staff members.
5) What do applicant interviews look like? (interview questions, duration, panel vs. one-on-one interviews)
The interview is conducted by the management team (two people). On occasion I will involve another staff member as well. Their opinions are very valuable because they will work closely with that person.
The actual interview usually lasts between 30 minutes and one hour. I ask them to describe the job that they think they’re applying for, so we can see if we’re on the same page. I want to know about their hobbies and interests, (what outside time constraints they have) their social life and their friends, (can they get along with both guys and girls, are they familiar with fun places around town) and just generally find out who they are (are they charismatic, can they hold a conversation, and would guests want to spend time with them?). I also emphasize how much work is involved, so that the correct expectation is set from the beginning.
Sometimes before the interviews starts I will tell the applicant that I am running late and ask for them to wait for me in the Reception (which is also our common room). Afterwards I’ll ask the receptionist if they chatted with guests or anyone else, if they asked any questions, and generally what impressions the receptionist had of them.
6) What methods of hiring do you find most effective?
If it’s possible to cherry pick your favorites from among your guests, then definitely do it! Otherwise, try to get recommendations from people you know.
7) Do you know which hiring process is most cost effective?
These all seem equally affordable to me.
8) What does employee turnover look like? (how often are you hiring for new positions?)
We tend to hire for about one year. Because our high and low seasons are very different, sometimes we need to replace some staff members between seasons. The ones hired in the winter tend to be very proactive and are great at engaging the guests, but they feel overwhelmed in the summer when we’re full. The ones hired in the summer get really good at juggling multiple challenges as they arise, but they have trouble interacting on a more personal level with fewer guests and proactively addressing the work that needs to be done when things slow down. Do what you have to in order to keep the ones who can handle both with a smile!
It’s a pain to hire and train new people so often, but I would much rather have a rockstar for a short period than a long term staff member who is mediocre.
9) Do you hire any additional seasonal work?
We tend to have more receptionists in the summer when we’re really busy so that people can have more off-time to relax.
10) What kinds of skills or qualifications are you looking for when hiring?
For me a good hostel receptionist has to speak English. Other languages are a bonus, especially if the country is not English-speaking. They need to be charismatic – if they don’t have social skills they’re not much good in a hostel. I like them to be energetic and self-motivated so things can get done without a manager needing to push every job along. Someone who has traveled as a backpacker gets bonus points, but it’s not a requirement. I also need people who like the city, are familiar with its attractions, and who can tell others why it’s such a great place. I’m really more concerned with their personality than their work experience or their job skills. I can probably teach them to do anything they would need to do in the hostel if they don’t already know how to do it.
11) Do you do any specific measurements of applicants? (personality tests, aptitude tests, integrity tests, etc.)
Can they tell a story? They need this while interacting with guests, but also for passing on important information to the rest of the staff. Can they tell you a joke, and is it appropriate for the situation? This is important for when they're surrounded by a mixed crowd and representing the hostel. Recognizing what is inappropriate to do or say is a valuable skill, especially with younger employees.
12) How long does the hiring process usually take?
It depends on how many good people apply and how urgently we need to fill a position. Two weeks from the time we advertise a position to hiring someone is not unreasonable.
13) How many people do you have on staff?
Currently we have five part-time receptionists on rotating shifts, one housekeeper, and a management team of two people.