The team that you put in place to run your hostel is arguably the most important key to your success. Here are some tips on interviewing candidates to make sure you hire the right people for your team.
Each of us has our own list of things that we really want to find out during the interview to determine if the applicant is a good fit for the hostel, and to see if the hostel is a good fit for them. Asking direct questions may elicit prepared responses or a temptation for an applicant to tell you what they think you want to hear. A good way to organize yourself is to make a list of the things you specifically want to find out, and then write a few questions for each one of them that would reveal those things to you. As you go through the interview ask one question from each area of interest. Choose whichever question seems the most appropriate for that candidate.
Every hostel is different, so the things you want to know may differ too. These are just a few suggestions.
Possible areas of interest
Basic understanding of the business
Does the applicant know what a hostel is?
- If your neighbor asked you what a hostel is, how would you explain it?
- What would you say is the difference between a hostel and a hotel?
- In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of staying in a hostel versus other accommodation options?
Compatibility with your hostel’s identity
What do they value in a hostel? If you run a hostel with a cozy kitchen community and they think rowdy pub crawls define a great hostel, then they may not be compatible with your vision and values.
- In your opinion what separates a great hostel from one that is only pretty good?
- From your own travels, which hostel was your favorite? What made that one so great?
- Have you ever stayed in a hostel that you didn’t like? What didn’t you like about it?
Level of commitment
Are they really interested in working in your hostel, or are they just looking for a job to last until something else comes along? Do they have their own motivation to work hard? Do they have other priorities that will conflict with the hostel?
- How long do you see yourself working here in the hostel?
- Why did you apply to work in this hostel as opposed to another type of job? How do you think you will benefit from working in this hostel?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- What other activities are you involved in?
- Are you applying for positions in other companies right now? Are they also hostel positions, or are they in other fields?
Transferable skills and talents
Due to the eclectic nature of our industry, every skill and talent imaginable can probably be applied to hostels in some way. A well rounded team should contribute a variety of talents that balance and complement each other. Some of these skills may never be mentioned in the CV or motivation letter.
- What kind of skills or talents can you bring to the team and apply in the hostel?
- What have you learned from your previous experiences that you can apply here in this hostel?
- Tell me about something that you do really well. Can you give me a demonstration of that talent right now?
Being passionate about something (anything) is a very positive trait. If you can find a connection between your hostel and their interests, then they may very quickly become passionate about your hostel too. Having personal interests to share also helps to create connections with guests.
- Tell me about the last time that something made you feel really happy.
- Tell me about something that you are passionate about. What is it about that thing that you find so appealing?
- Tell me about something that you have been learning or doing for a long time. What compelled you to spend so much energy on that?
- How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working? What kind of hobbies do you enjoy?
The responsibilities of a receptionist are very different from hostel to hostel. It is important to clarify any differences between what an applicant expects the job to entail and the reality of your specific position.
- Please describe your understanding of the duties and responsibilities of this position.
- When you heard about this job, what did you imagine that it would involve?
- What do you already know about this position and the responsibilities that you would have?
When working in a group, what role does an applicant normally play? (Leader, contributor, follower, independent)
- Do you tend to be more productive when you work independently or as part of a group?
- Describe a situation when you have searched for tasks to complete and carried them out without anyone assigning them to you.
- Tell me about a group project that you have been involved in. What role did you played in that group?
- What do you and your friends usually do when you get together as a group? What role do you normally play in organizing those get-togethers?
A hostel receptionist is the most trusted source of information for your guests, and they should have at least a basic knowledge of the local area and its attractions.
- I would like to find a traditional restaurant for dinner and then go somewhere fun where I can dance and meet locals. Where would you recommend I go?
- This is my first time in the city, and I don’t know much about it. What is there to do here? What are the top things that I absolutely must see or do before I leave?
- Please explain to me how to get to the art museum / university / train station / nightlife area.
We can’t train for every single situation that might occur in a hostel, so it is important to know what an applicant’s instinctive response might be. Think of some of the more challenging situations that your receptionists have had to deal with and ask them what they would do in those scenarios. For example:
- A group of drunken guests become loud in the middle of the night
- A guest vomits in a dorm room
- While conducting rounds you find the kitchen is on fire
- An angry guest demands a refund
- A guest tells you that he is unable to pay for his accommodation
- A fistfight breaks out between two guests in the reception
- A criminal attempts to rob the hostel with a weapon
- You discover intentional vandalism in the hallway
- The hostel manager receives negative feedback specifically mentioning your behavior
- Another hostel calls to warn about a guest that they have kicked out just moments before that person arrives at your desk with a reservation
- A guest complains that a couple is having sex in her shared dorm
The interview process
The specific questions we ask the applicant are one aspect of the interview, but how we structure the interview process is also important. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your interviews.
It is convenient to conduct interviews in an office or off-site, because it removes distractions and allows you to speak openly about sensitive things like salaries or procedures. But that’s not how the work environment will really be. It is a good idea to conduct at least a part of the interview in the hostel to see how they work with all of the guests, noises and activities going on around them. Can they stay focused, or do they get distracted? Do they feel comfortable or overwhelmed?
Your current team members will need to work with anyone you hire, so their input is very important. It is good to involve them in the hiring process and ask for their opinions about the applicants. This could be done by asking them to join you in the interview and pose their own questions. Another option is to ask the applicant to sit and chat with a current staff member until you are ready to begin the interview to get a more candid impression. Because your current team knows firsthand what the position entails, they will be able to recognize if an applicant would be a good fit for the job.
Silence is golden
The applicant should do most of the talking anyway, but you can take this a step further. After asking open-ended questions that require an explanation rather than yes or no, stay silent for a little longer than seems natural. If you don’t say anything after they finish their answer, a natural instinct for many people is to keep talking to fill the silence. This gives them the chance to elaborate on their answers, and it gives you some additional insight as well. The first response may have been prepared in advance, but what they say afterword may be more from the heart. This technique also tends to reveal when they are being sincere or just giving the answers that they think you want to hear.
Most hostel reception positions involve socializing with guests as a key aspect of the job. It is helpful to create an opportunity for applicants to speak with your current guests to observe how they interact with other people. An easy way is to send them into the Common Room or bar to engage with guests while you observe their behavior. Are they outgoing or reserved? Are they interested in the guests or do they talk about themselves the whole time? Do they pick up on social cues or do they behave inappropriately? Someone who looks great on paper may turn out to be too timid to approach a guest or too overbearing to be pleasant company. Likewise, someone whose CV is lackluster may turn out to be a natural born socializer.
Stating that they can do something and actually demonstrating their abilities are two very different things. In order to verify an applicant’s basic competencies it might be helpful to assign small tasks for them to perform. For example:
- Can they follow directions? Ask them to rearrange a short list into a designated order, to fill in a spreadsheet with guest data, or to set out a breakfast display according to your instructions.
- Can they communicate clearly in e-mails? Give the applicant a sample e-mail with a reservation request, and ask them to write a response.
- Can they communicate clearly on the telephone? Have another team member call on the phone with a question or a request and ask the applicant to speak with them.
- Does the applicant speak the language(s) required in the hostel? Conduct some or all of the interview in the required language(s).
- Do they have an eye for details? Take the applicant into a room and ask them to identify (and resolve!) any cleanliness issue they see.
- Ask the applicant to make a bed, scrub a toilet, write legibly on a whiteboard, wash a sink full of dishes, look up the concert schedule for the bar down the street, take out the garbage, or anything else that might be a regular task during a shift
Let them interview you
Every applicant should have questions. They will probably want to know about the schedule, the salary, the workplace vibe, and maybe even about you and your team. The interview is as much a chance for them to evaluate you as it is for you to evaluate them, so it’s important that they get the answers they need. Encourage them by asking, “What questions do you have?” and finish the interview by asking, “Have I answered all of your questions?” It can be very comforting to invite an applicant to ask your current team questions as well, because they can provide firsthand perspective on what it is really like to work in your hostel.
Contrary to the recommendations that some applicants receive, it is acceptable and even necessary for them to ask about salary expectations during an interview. You would expect your receptionists to be comfortable talking to guests about the money they should give you for their stay, so why shouldn’t that same person be comfortable talking to you about the money you will give them for their work?
You will probably conduct several interviews before hiring someone, and it is very easy for the details of each applicant to blend together after a while. As soon as the interview is finished, write down your observations about the applicant. What stood out about this person? What did you particularly like? What concerns did you have? Was your overall impression very positive, negative, or somewhere in the middle? Do you feel like you would really enjoy working with them? It is helpful to keep the notes in a spreadsheet, along with contact information and the date of each interview. This is particularly helpful if there are multiple good candidates for a single position. If another position opens up later you already have pre-selected options to call back. If a candidate applies at a later date, you will also have a record of why they were not offered a position the first time. Perhaps something has changed since the first interview. Perhaps not.
When you determine that you like an applicant, it is a good idea to invite them back for a second interview to make sure that you still have the same positive impression. The second interview is a good time to delve deeper into job specifics, address any concerns that either of you had, and clarify anything that remained unclear after the first round. Applicants tend to be calmer and less stressed in second interviews, so their personality may shine through a lot more. Consider making the second interview feel more like a social gathering. Maybe meet for a coffee with the team at the hostel. If you run a party hostel, maybe you would take them out for shots instead to see how they hold up under the influence of alcohol.
Building on the procedural suggestions, here are some other factors to take into consideration.
Today almost everyone has a presence on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Checking out the types of things an applicant posts or shares may give you valuable insight into their personality and their character when they are being themselves instead of putting their best foot forward for a potential employer. Given the personal nature of hostel work, an applicant’s true personality is very important for your atmosphere and your business overall, so it’s good to get a candid glimpse. Many accounts have the privacy settings locked down, but frequently more information is shared than people realize. If you see something questionable, you have the opportunity to pull up the posts during the interview and ask about them.
Resist the temptation to sugar coat anything about the job or the hostel. It is best to be very clear and honest about what an applicant can expect while working with you – the good and the bad. In fact, you might find it helpful to emphasize the less glamorous aspects of the job right up front. Real life isn’t always sunshine and kittens, and hostel work isn’t always playing and making friends. You don’t want a new hire running for the hills feeling deceived the first time a difficult challenge comes up, so it’s good to be up front about what can go wrong as well as right.
Listen particularly closely to the comments applicants make about their goals and the plans they make to achieve them. If they are not interested and committed to their own personal growth and development, then you probably can’t expect them to do much more than the minimum requirements of the job. On the contrary, if they demonstrate a desire for growth, then they may develop into integral factors of your long term success. You can prompt this kind of discussion with questions like these:
- What are some of the goals that you are currently pursuing? What steps are you taking right now to achieve those goals?
- What dream are you chasing right now? Why is that important to you at this point in your life?
- If anything were possible, where would you love to be and what would you love to be doing five years from now?
You may only be hiring this person for a reception position today, but you are also making them a part of your collective hostel team. In the future you may want to promote them to a management position or empower them with additional responsibilities that could be mutually beneficial. This can only work if they are prepared to grow.
Any potential receptionist must be capable of doing the work and fulfilling the responsibilities of the position, but that alone is not enough. They must also have a personality that is compatible with the existing team members. Neither you nor your team will have much fun at work if you don't like each other. Each time a team member changes, so does the collective personality of the hostel, and that is a good thing. You want new hires to compliment the team and balance it, not be a cookie cutter copy of everyone else. Consider what new skills, talents, and unique traits they bring into the team that you don’t already have, and how you can use those additions to improve the hostel. The applicant who contributes the most to the hostel’s potential improvement overall should be your top choice.
If you like an applicant and you would consider hiring them, it is wise to verify their references in order to confirm your impressions. This is especially true if they have worked in another hostel. It is very likely that their previous employer thought just as highly of them as you do, and they will probably tell you that you have picked a great candidate. Or you may find that they are not as great as they seem. Some questions you might ask include:
- Can you tell me about their work performance?
- Can you tell me about their attitude toward the job and the guests?
- Would you rehire this person?
Some countries have laws about what a former employer can tell you, especially if they have a negative opinion of that person or when the employee left on bad terms. If the very best this that a former employer can say about someone is “Yes, I confirm that this person worked here,” then that may be very telling.
Resist the urge to hire anyone out of desperation. Even when you are painfully short-staffed you need to maintain your standards. Anyone you hire has to add to the hostel culture, not degrade it. If you don’t find the right person for the job, keep looking. Hiring the wrong person because you just need “someone” may relieve the immediate stress of an empty position, but it will wreak havoc on the team in the long run. Frustrations will build, productivity will drop, your guests will feel the awkward tension in the air, and the most common result is the loss of your good team members. Avoid destroying a good team by bringing in a rotten apple, even if you really, really need another receptionist.