The Interview Game

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2005

As general manager of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, one-time "Independent Hotelier of the Year" and chair of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association, Katie Klauber Moulton may be an intimidating person to face across an interview table.

But she's also one of the best. Over the years, Moulton has developed a 90-minute interview process tailored to extract the most information and clearest impressions of a job candidate. Her techniques, which she also has trained her managers in, have helped her assemble a stellar staff. And with the high turnover rates in the hospitality industry, interviewing candidates is something with which she's had a lot of experience.

"I've made my fair share of mistakes," Moulton says. "I may see someone who thinks well on their feet and does well at an interview, but can't perform on the floor. But I always meet wonderful people, and I get to learn about what interests other people about our property."

Moulton offers these 12 tips for conducting a thorough job interview.

1) Do your homework. Moulton says she combs through stacks of papers for a well put-together application, with no unexplained time lapses in the resume and a cover letter that is suitably brief yet conveys personality. Before the interview, she prepares a list of typed questions and possible follow-ups based on the person's resume, and prepares to take notes during the conversation.

"Even if the resume is not perfect, if it's an exciting cover letter, nine times out of 10, I'll be interested in meeting that individual," says Moulton.

2) Observe nonverbal cues. Moulton notes whether candidates are punctual; checks for poise, neatness, a professional appearance and a firm handshake (she abhors male candidates who treat her like a breakable object); and whether they observe courtesies such as being asked to sit before doing so.

3) Moulton pays attention to more than the candidates' answers; she notes how they are delivered. She looks for candidates who smile easily and naturally and for a quick wit or at least a sense of humor. "If they seem vague, it could be because they're nervous, and I'll say, 'that's interesting, tell me more,'" she says.

4) Test candidates to see if they did their homework. Moulton looks for signs that the candidate has researched The Colony online, driven through the property, or even just arrived early to chat with her assistant.

"I always ask: 'What do you know about us? Why did you choose us?' And I'll shorten the interview right there if they have not made the attempt to learn about me or the resort."

5) Ask pointed but creative questions to understand the candidate's managerial style. One of Moulton's favorites is: "What does it take to get under your skin?" The answer helps define the way that person responds to their boss, coworkers and guests, she says. If that doesn't work, she asks about a favorite former boss and what the candidate learned from them, or the worst boss they had.

6) Scope out candidates' feelings about the industry. Moulton loves to hear about their most memorable hospitality experience, whether it was at a resort, a restaurant or even a gas station, and what lessons they took away from it. She asks what gets them excited about the hospitality industry (correct answer: the people), and why they chose this line of work, which she says is a good way to get interviewees to open up about their first job in the industry and how that influenced their choices. Moulton also inquires about the candidate's typical day on the job, a way to find out whether candidates know there is no such thing as a typical day, and that they need to expect to juggle numerous balls in the air.

7) Draw candidates out about their qualities. Moulton asks how their employees or boss would describe them and about past successful and unsuccessful team experiences and what candidates would have done differently in retrospect. She asks candidates what she will like least about them in a year, and looks for answers such as, "I am dogged, and won't let something go until I have an answer."

8) Legally, employers are not allowed to ask specific questions about marital status or family, but Moulton says she likes to get a sense of employees' "sacred spaces." Moulton's own sacred time, for example, is five hours carved out of a Sunday afternoon that she tries to keep exclusively to spend with her husband.

"It's important because our industry is 24 hours, seven days," she says. "There is no downtime. It's important to know if they have a sacred time so we can protect it for them."

9) "I always ask if they have questions for me," says Moulton. "The person who jumps to benefits is not prepared for the interview." Here, she wants candidates to demonstrate an understanding of the organization and their views for how they might fit in. A good response would be to ask about opportunities for growth.

10) Pay attention to details. "If I don't get a thank you note, they might not get a job," says Moulton firmly. A candidate who does not bother to send a thank you note may also be disinclined to follow up on a guest complaint to make sure it was resolved, she says.

11) After the interview, if this is a candidate you feel strongly about, don't be shy to pump former employers for information. Though some companies have policies forbidding them from revealing anything more than a confirmation of employment, others are willing to chat. "I ask about the candidates' problem solving techniques," she says. "I ask how employers feel about the individuals, and whether they have any specific skills that I might be able to tap into."

12) If the candidate doesn't work out, let him or her down politely and kindly. Moulton always lets interviewees know they are one of several qualified individuals with unique skill sets. She usually calls or writes to the candidates themselves or has her human resources manager do it, and if it's someone she really likes but can't find a fit for in her organization, she's not shy about calling other hospitality companies around town to let them know she has "a live one."

Filed under
Show Comments