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The Hospitality Talent Search – Outsourcing Your Most Important Investment

In a hotel’s perpetual quest to find creative ways to reduce expenses while not compromising quality, senior management tends to outsource a lot of services.  From bedding and restaurant linens to IT, security and transportation, for many of these properties, relying on external contracts has become the norm rather than the exception – so why not your key executive search needs?

Yet when it comes to a hotel’s most valuable asset – its people – searching for the right talent is often managed internally, even at the executive level. While I’m a strong proponent of outsourcing this responsibility, it’s important to first acknowledge some situations where it makes sense to keep this process in-house. For instance, large chains like to promote from within, not only because individuals already know the culture, standards, guests and colleagues, but also because it keeps hoteliers motivated to stay with the company. Knowing there is upward mobility and oftentimes a myriad of locations from which to choose to work are both strong employee incentives.

But even when considering this overt example, is the internal hire necessarily the best choice? How do you know there isn’t a more talented and more eager leader out there who can bring in fresh ideas as well as a wholly new perspective on your approach to hospitality management?

Having spent many years in the industry, I can assure you that I’ve seen some very good hires and some very, very bad ones. Just think of the cost of onboarding an individual, which can include a hefty relocation. In addition to the costs of a bad investment, the worst impact of a mismatched hire is that of the acrid taste left behind from guests and staff alike.

According to a study produced by Robert Half, 41% of surveyed hiring managers and HR professionals who have all made a bad hire estimate the costs to easily be thousands of dollars. (Note that from the infographic, this numerical figure pertains to what’s defined as small to mid-sized companies with revenues of up to $500 million per year).

Knowing that there is a monetary risk involved, your strategy for hiring at the executive level (director and up) should include three important considerations: Time, Talent and Treasure.

With all the other open recs an often low-staffed HR department has to fill, is the team really investing the time needed to find its next superstar? It can take a team of four search experts months to first find a slate of highly-capable, ‘passive’ candidates, then vet them, screen them, interview them and finally present them for hire. What HR individual can invest that amount of time to find the best possible candidate? Moreover, can you afford to make a hiring mistake? Think of the implications of bringing someone in who doesn’t work out.

HR professionals are really good at what they do. Oftentimes, their number of open recs is quite high, and range from the most entry-level positions to executive-level searches. The skill set to hunt for lower-level versus higher-level employees is vastly different, though.

It takes the right talent to hit the right buttons when attempting to recruit busy executives. You get one shot at that email or phone call, and it had better be the most compelling message that person receives in his or her overly-packed day. Outsourced search professionals are highly skilled at what to say, what gets a response to an email and how to manage the process from start to finish.


Furthermore, executive searches may be national or even global in nature. Experienced executive search leaders invest a lot of time on the front-end by prescreening candidates via a multi-step prequalification approach, ensuring that their hotelier selection is the right fit, both skill-wise and culturally.

The important questions to ask yourself here are whether or not your internal interviewers know what questions to ask and how they ask them in order to zone in on, say, the implications of a family move to a new state or country. HR leaders often have not had the personal experience and understanding of how to get the full story. Conversations around issues pertaining to relocation or the potential of a counteroffer are also managed quite effectively by external search experts.

Now let’s talk about cost, or as to better fit with our ‘T’ alliteration, the expending of treasure. Obviously, enlisting an executive search firm to fill a role is not free. It is, however, an investment in your most important asset. How many good decisions would a great executive need to make to cover the cost of this flat or commission-based fee? What’s more, if the position is vacant, the dollars that would have been paid to that executive can often cover the cost of this fee.

Call it a wash. Good executive search firms will be willing to negotiate the fee and remittance terms if they are serious about wanting your business.

These three considerations are, of course, best illustrated through two in-depth examples. Firstly, and without mentioning any names, a multi-use property was in need of a finance executive. The well-known resort destination knew it would have a difficult time finding local talent at the level it sought, and had an additional 30+ job orders to fill for the ramp up to its busy season.

They required a national executive search to find an individual with a very specific skill set, and one who would be willing to relocate to the resort area. By outsourcing this one search, which was very specific in nature, the HR Director was able to focus her attention on the other roles that needed to be filled. The search took the equivalent of weeks of man-hours – weeks that one individual could never have spared.

Secondly, another property presented a situation where a senior leader was going to be let go, but leadership wanted to hire the individual who would assume the role prior to the incumbent leaving. In other words, they needed to keep the search strictly confidential. When executive searches of this nature are outsourced, the risk lies with the search firm to ensure confidentiality. Several additional steps need to be taken with each candidate who is vetted, and if a hotel employee is not seasoned at doing this, there is a big risk for a breach of confidentiality and a lot more than just hurt feelings.

So next time you’re thinking of how best to find the right talent for one of your most important positions, think twice about your approach. Just as you would pull out all stops to take care of a VIP who is checking in at your property, likewise, consider your next executive to be a VIP and approach finding him or her in the same way.

(Article by Emily Neill, published in eHotelier on October 18, 2016)

About the Author


Emily Neill is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.