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By Chris Pulito, General Manager, Whiteface Lodge

In an industry in which guest satisfaction is paramount, the right personality trumps an experience-packed resume. This simple rule has held up to scrutiny throughout my career managing luxury hotels and resorts: When you're interviewing an associate, look beyond the candidate's resume and focus on how the person in front of you will make your guests feel. 

While this is particularly vital in the luxury sector, a personality-centered approach to hiring has relevance throughout the hospitality industry even, to a lesser degree perhaps, for those in-demand "express" hotels that put the emphasis on smart, efficient service (with limited staff interaction) for the on-the-go business traveler.

Serving as a housekeeper or front desk associate for years does not mean one understands the art of hospitality. It is one thing to be skilled at performing a task, whether it's making a bed or running through the check-in script, and quite another to know how to make a guest feel special. And it's far easier to take a novice with the right personality and train him or her in hotel and resort job processes than to teach an experienced associate to be warm and approachable, the importance of remembering and using guests' names, and how to anticipate their needs and create memorable experiences. 

The hospitality superstar

You know that person - she walks into a room and conveys confidence and friendliness. He carries himself in a way that is approachable and shows interest in the people around him. That's the hospitality personality, the star player on your team. You know you can rely on him or her to handle a guest situation with tact and keep the guest's needs foremost. For the hospitality personality, delivering a great guest experience comes naturally. 

Depending upon a candidate's experience level and the available position, it can take anywhere from two weeks to two months to train a new associate to work a line staff position. By comparison, it can take years, if you succeed at all, to train someone for whom it doesn't come naturally it to provide genuine hospitality. 

How to build a superstar team

The best way, then, to build a team of Guest Satisfaction Score superstars is to be proactive in hiring. Apply these steps to your hiring practices and you'll ensure you are spending money training more superstars than role players:

  • Know your business cycles and begin recruiting for upcoming openings early, especially with predictable seasons at most resorts.

  • Encourage your existing staff to be comfortable giving at least four to six weeks' notice over the standard two; this buys you valuable hiring time.
  • Ensure you are providing a competitive "Total Compensation Package." Don't just look at the comp set's wages, because benefits are more important than another dollar per hour for many of your most desirable candidates.
  • Provide plenty of examples of your history promoting from within. Again, this will appeal to those candidates seeking a long-term position over a short-term paycheck.

The rule of three

Also vital in the interview process is to follow the "Rule of Three":

-- Interview a minimum of three candidates for every open position; count on reviewing between six and 10 applications to find three to interview.

-- Require a minimum of three references. If a candidate provides three and one is unreachable, ask for another.

-- Use of a minimum of three Red Flag searches from this list:

  • Have a second manager interview the candidate in person

  • Check the candidate's online reputation via Google 
  • Check his or her social media sites 
  • Require a drug test
  • Require a background check
  • Require a practical/shadow for a half shift with a manager or trusted associate

While no interview process can guarantee the right hire every time, sticking to this approach will ultimately pay off on the bottom line in all hotel and resort settings, especially luxury segments. High GSS scores, lower turnover and bottom-line profit are all very closely related.  And the candidate with a true hospitality personality, given the proper job skills training, will almost always be the more successful pick than the veteran worker without it.

About Chris Pulito

Chris Pulito serves as Whiteface Lodge's general manager. He joined the luxury lodge in 2012, leveraging more than 16 years in the hospitality industry to run this one-of-a-kind, all-suite property in Lake Placid in the Adirondacks.

Pulito relocated to Lake Placid from the New York Finger Lakes, where he served as chief operating officer and co-founder of Mirbeau Hospitality Services. This position developed from his dual role as general manager and spa director at Mirbeau Inn & Spa in Skaneateles.

Before joining the Mirbeau team in 2007, Pulito was spa director at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. He was previously spa director at Stoweflake Resort and Spa, joining the Vermont resort in 2002 to open its 50,000-square-foot spa and wellness center, and held the same position earlier at Rockresorts' Avanyu Spa at La Posada in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Pulito launched his career at Topnotch Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vermont. Over a five-year period, he served in a variety of roles, including fitness, club and spa director.

A graduate of Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont, Pulito received a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology. He is a member of the New York Spa Alliance and the International Spa Association, and is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. An avid skier, Pulito lives in Lake Placid with his wife and son.

Contact: Jamie Scalici, Middleton & Gendron/Eric Mower + Associates

jscalici@mower.com / 212-980-9194

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