Sometimes hiring staff for your small hotel or B&B feels like handing over your baby to a stranger. There’s a lot at stake but support is often needed if you want to succeed, so it can be hard to find the right questions to ask in an interview.

Here, you will uncover how to get to the heart of the matter and identify the right front desk staff by using a simple conversational format. This includes sample front desk interview questions and Do’s and Don’ts.

Be clear about why you need hotel front desk staff

Your intention in hiring the right person is one of the most important factors you can get right from the start. Many hotel operators get pulled into the perceived need to find someone experienced in using a specific system. In reality, hotel management systems nowadays are designed for ease of use. As long as you hire the person with the right mindset, any good system can be learned in a short amount of time.

To hire the right front desk team, instead focus on matching up your story with theirs: so first, get clear on your own story and values. Then, consider what a team member to complement your current setup might bring to the table. It may be something as simple as your morning team handling checkouts requiring a receptionist who is bubbly and outgoing. 

You want to also enter the interview with the intention to learn about their goals and motivations. Once you have hired the right person, retaining them will be important. That task is easier when you hire people whose goals and motivations fit with yours.

With those aspects clear in your mind, selecting the right questions and conversation openers is easy.

10 questions to ask when hiring front desk staff

Open the conversation

Many people arrive at an interview nervous. Ideally, for you to learn the most about them, you are able to open the conversation and put them at ease. This may include you having a few sentences up your sleeve that convey more about your hotel or yourself. Consider the following statements and questions and how they may fit with your approach:

  • This is just a candid chat. On my part, I would like to briefly share our story and background as a hotel and then I would love to learn about your story and also have time for you to ask questions at the end. How does that sound? “Great!” – [insert brief hotel story & values]
  • For me personally, outside this work I enjoy [insert activities or story] because it is what fills up my energy, so I never pour from an empty cup. What fills your cup?
  • I know we are the ones looking for a team member, but at the same time, I would love to know what makes you consider joining our team. Tell me about your ideal next role / what you are looking for / what is important to you. 

Talk about their current role

In the past it was common practice to ask very direct questions about someone’s experience, which were not always successful at capturing what you needed to know. For example, someone may have responded to “Do you have experience handling checkouts?” with a simple “No.” because there was no clear opportunity to add they were working in a larger hotel that was doing contactless checkouts. By asking open-ended questions you create flexibility to ask follow-up questions, and ultimately learn more of what you need to know. Here are sample front desk interview questions to use once the conversation has been opened:

  • Tell me about your current role: what parts do you enjoy most and which could you do without?
  • Can you describe a normal day in your current role?
  • What might make you consider leaving your current role? (This question has become particularly relevant in a job market where talent has many options.)

Questions around specific experience & close

Now that you know about their background, values, experience and what matters to them, it is time to get into role-specific questions. By asking specific hotel receptionist interview questions at this stage (and not in the beginning), you already know about their general experience and personality for context. This is the time to distinguish at a level of experience with tasks, systems or handling difficult situations, as is relevant to the role.

  • Tell me how you have (or would, if they have no experience) handle(d) a situation such as: you are talking to an important guest on the phone and another guest walks up to the front desk.
  • How would you handle a guest request that you cannot solve?
  • How would you describe your level of experience with [insert task or system]. 
  • What are your questions for me?

How to evaluate responses to your interview questions

Evaluating responses is easy when you are clear about what you are looking for. Using the conversational structure above, you will have learned about the candidate in three ways:

  • Opening the conversation: who are they as a person? What is important to them as a person? Can I generally see them as part of the team?
  • Talking about their current role: what brings them joy or frustrates them? Is there something they are proud of doing? And how does that fit with what the role offers? Can they see themselves here?
  • Questions around specific experience and close: do they fit specific task-based or behavioural criteria? What would I have to teach? And most importantly: their questions indicate what else matters to them in a work environment.

Approach this with an open mind: a well-rounded understanding of the candidate will help you weigh up potential weak spots with strengths and coachability. There may be parts of their personality or experience that align with your hotel but not the role; perhaps they are a fit for another position. 

Do’s and Don’ts when developing interview questions for front desk staff

As you prepare, remember the following Do’s and Don’ts to keep you on track.

Do

  • Do open the conversation with a brief overview, so they know what to expect. 
  • Do learn about the person first, their experience second.
  • Do a quick online search in addition to their CV: note down any interesting fact you would like to know more about.
  • Do prepare a few sentences to open the conversation with what there is to know about your hotel and show your values.
  • Do distinguish between skills that can or cannot be taught before asking about them.

Don’t

  • Don’t expect the candidate to just “tell you about themselves” without offering a few words first. 
  • Don’t get lost in the detail of asking extremely specific questions.
  • Don’t be too rigid with questions, and consider adapting for people who do not yet have a hotel background.
  • Don’t forget to leave time and ask for their questions at the end.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of Little Hotelier, the all-in-one software solution purpose-built to make the lives of small accommodation providers easier. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at Little Hotelier. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance, and, ultimately, value for small accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations (and live their life).