Industry Specific Screening
Up a Creek Without a Paddle
Preventing the loss of time and money associated with a bad hire.
Every industry wants good people representing it. But in the lodging industry especially—where front desk staff are responsible for making first contact with guests, housekeepers are required to enter guest rooms, and bellmen are charged with handling guests' luggage—it's particularly important for managers to ensure each employee's trustworthiness, loyalty, and service attitude.
"Service is the backbone of repeat business, so it is imperative to place individuals who can succeed in customer interaction into these positions," says Bill Geheren, director of market ing for Reid Systems, a provider of technology-based hiring solutions in Chicago. "Because hotel positions are often unsupervised, you want honest people who can work productively. Finding them is incredi bly difficult, however."
Increasingly, human resource managers responsible for hiring competent staff are safeguarding themselves from potential liability by conducting preemployment tests and applicant screenings. Once considered an invasion of privacy or an unnecessary outpouring of time and money, the personality tests and background checks being administered by today's hotels prove what Mom has always known: It's better to be safe than sorry.
Any manager who doubts the value of screening should consider this: Half (53 percent) of the 854 hr professionals who responded to the Society for Human Resource Management's 1998 Reference Checking Survey discovered falsified information during reference checks of job applicants. SHRM's survey also reveals that 45 percent of SHRM managers found that appli cants had lied about their criminal record and 30 percent had discovered misstatements regarding their education.
A more recent SHRM survey confirms that a majority of respondents had performed reference, background, and criminal record checks in the past year. According to the organization's 2000 Workplace Privacy Survey, "safety, legal compliance, and performance monitoring" are among the most important reasons for collecting information about employees, both before and after they are hired. Of the 722 SHRM professionals surveyed, 87 percent performed reference checks in the past year, 69 percent conducted back ground checks, 61 percent checked criminal records, and 56 percent checked driving records. Twenty-two percent even administered personality testing as part of their hiring and management procedures.
According to Les Rosen, a criminal attorney and president of Novato, Cali fornia-based Employment Screening Resources, employers conduct pre-employment screening to discourage applicants with something to hide; to eliminate uncertainty in the hiring process; to demonstrate due diligence; and to encourage honesty in the application and interview process. "Employers find that having a background program will encourage applicants to be more forthcoming about their history," he says.
Realistically, prescreening is risk management, says Rosen. "It [reveals] how people have performed in the public aspect of their lives. Criminal records and previous job performance reflect how a person behaved toward others or discharged responsibilities. It is not an act of 'Big Brother.'"
Still, most hotels do not have the time or the resources to conduct such thorough investigations, says Dick Maglio, vice president of operations for Accufacts, a New York-based provider of pre-employment screening services. What's more, "Serv ice is be coming so critical from a com petitive standpoint that employers have begun looking to hire those people who have the right credentials to help their bottom line. If an applicant has lied, they certainly won't be perceived to be as valuable."
For customer service-centered businesses, prescreening applicants often includes testing as well. "I've been in training for 18 years and have noticed a lack of quality in front-line employees in particular," says Gail Van Dusseldorp, executive vice president of training and development for Choice Hire, a Fort Lauder dale, Florida-based provider of psy cho logical assessments. "I've seen a lot of wrong fits . . . people being placed in positions that weren't right for them," she says. "By conducting personality assessments, you can iden tify applicants' strengths and place them accordingly."
One company that has embraced this approach is Delta Hotels, a Toronto-based manager and franchiser of 37 hotels in Canada and the United States. "We're very concern ed about measuring the success of our applicants," says Bill Pallett, senior vice president of people and quality. "The preemployment assessment tool we're using assists us not only in our recruit ment process, but in develop mental placement as well. As a result, fewer new hires are leaving because they relate well to the training they're given. They relate well because they've been placed appropriately in our hotels."
Ignoring the viability of screening is simply bad business, Rosen cautions. "A bad hire can result in lawsuits by employees or third parties, workplace violence, lost business, theft, property damage, and exposure to negligent hiring claims, not to mention wasted time in recruiting and training," he says. "If you hire someone with a criminal record and he or she commits a crime in your hotel, the investigators will come to your HR manager to find out what procedures you followed to ensure that your applicants were trustworthy," Rosen explains. "Because hotel guests tend to trust hotel workers, hotels are particularly vulnerable to bad hires."
Hotels that have incorporated pre-screening have found that the investment is worth the effort. "Every now and then, you do catch applicants with a criminal record or a drug habit," says Sal Blando, director of security at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and a 31-year veteran (retired) of the New York Police Department. "We use background checks and drug tests, which have absolutely been helpful" in weeding out troubled applicants, he says.
"I let them know up-front that we will be conducting a drug screening, as well as a background check," says Kathy Albritton, HR manager for the Courtyard by Marriott Vista Centre in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. "Though [what we check] depends on the job, it still leaves a big liability if you don't know something about that person." In short, she says, "It better serves the guest to know we have reliable staff."
The market for these solutions is crowded. Here's a glimpse at four:
• The Choice Hire Employee Selection System for Hospitality Services administers an online survey to applicants seeking employment in first contact (front desk), administration, customer service, sales and marketing, and operations po sitions. Tailored to be industry-specific, chess for Hospitality gauges an applicant's sociability and dependability. Questions test adapt ability, service orientation, teamwork, and self-discipline, among other factors. Each survey generates a report determining whether a candidate is a good fit for the organization and the position. The $1,500 toolkit in cludes surveys, response forms, employee applications, a quick-step guide to operation, and an administrator's guide. AH&LA member properties pay $750 per kit. (www.choicehire.com)
• Accufacts provides a range of pre-employment screening services, including checks of criminal history, credit, and driving records, as well as confirmation of Social Security numbers and verifica tion of an applicant's education, employment, and professional and personal references. Hotels that submit their orders online receive a log-in name and password and can view results of the checks at Accufacts' website. Clients can pay for a complete package of checks or pick from a menu of services. (www. accufacts.com)
• Employ ment Screening Resources conducts traditional checks of criminal, driving, and credit records, employment and reference veri fica tions, as well as verifica tions of education, professional licenses, civil records, worker's compensation claims, and drug testing. ESR has an in-house legal staff to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and an HR help desk for managers with concerns. Pricing is determined by the volume of services required. (www.esrcheck.com)
• Reid Systems (www.reidsystems. com) offers a full-service pack age of preemployment tools, including recruitment, selection, and verification solutions. JobsNow is a telephone or Web-based automated application and custom ized interview instrument. Reid's employee assessment series helps employers gauge applicant attitudes and behaviors through surveys. Popular assessments include the Abbreviated Reid Report, Employee Productivity Report, and Service Relations Profile. Reid's Employment Information Services offers a range of traditional background checks. Pricing depends on the services provided, but it generally averages less than $25 per applicant.
Marla Misek is editor of Lodging newsletters. This article was excerpted from Lodging hr, a monthly publication of Lodging and AH&LA. The subscription rate is $48 annually for AH&LA members, $96 for non-members. For more information, call 202-289-3113.