Since the employee turnover rate in the hospitality industry is much higher than in other industries and the rate of management failure is sometimes as high as 50 percent, hoteliers need to use all the data in their possession in order to select the most qualified managers.
A study published in 2011 by Linchi Kwok and colleagues has shown that 12 out of 14 hoteliers do not look at GPA when evaluating applications for a managerial position. Is this a good strategy? Maybe not. Obviously, hoteliers usually justify their approach by claiming that they either prefer to have someone with high social skills and that academic performance is poorly connected to job performance.
The real meaning of GPA
Dozens of studies have shown that students who score well on general aptitude tests (you can also call them intelligence tests or reasoning tests) tend to succeed both at school and work. What does that mean concretely? It means that students who have the highest grades are the ones who learn very quickly. As quick learners tend to be more efficient on the job and tend to be perceived as better managers, GPA can be used as a valid indicator of future managerial performance.
Many studies have also shown that the personality trait of conscientiousness (being organized, hard-working and reliable) is an indicator of academic performance and job performance. Again, the same characteristic predicts both outcomes. Usually, the most hardworking students are the ones who get the best grades. Their efforts translate into good attendance, punctuality, and meeting deadlines, which pays off in the end.
But are these aspects also important at work? Is it important that employees work as hard as they can? That they do not wait until the last minute before starting a project and that they keep their promises? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it means that you recognize that GPA can be an indicator of these important personality traits.
The limits of alternative approaches
Now, you might think that you agree that the ability to learn quickly and being conscientious are important elements to consider when hiring, but that there are better approaches to measure these qualities than relying on grades. You might think that psychometric tests or interviews would constitute better measures of these important constructs.
It is true that psychometric tests assess them with more accuracy than GPA. There are, however, two major drawbacks to the use of psychometric tests. First, they are clearly more expensive compared with a hotelier who can quickly glance at a GPA score. Second, applicants can fake their psychometric test much more easily than they can forge their transcript. What I would recommend is that hoteliers consider GPA scores at a very early stage in the application process. In a second stage, they can use a psychometric test to confirm the potential of the applicant.
And what about interviews? They are by far the most popular selection tool, used by more than 95% of all hospitality firms in some countries. The main problem is that, first, many hoteliers are poorly trained in the use of selection interviews. Second, there is so far no evidence that hoteliers are able to accurately evaluate the candidate’s intelligence level or degree of conscientiousness during a selection interview.
However, they are able to gain an understanding of how comfortable the candidate is in a social setting. Indeed, extraversion is a trait that can be ascertained by the hotelier in a few milliseconds. It is good because hoteliers do not have to subject candidates to a battery of tests, including structured interview-psychometric testing-assessment center, in order to know if they are extraverted or not. However, the downside of being able to determine extraversion so quickly is the fact that hoteliers may be tempted to think that a candidate is smart and reliable only because he/she is comfortable during the interview process and expresses his/her purported intelligence in a confident manner. Here, the evidence is unequivocal: There is no (or little) relationship between the fact that a person is extraverted and the likelihood he is actually smart or hardworking.
However, humans tend to stubbornly cling to the notion that people who have positive attributes tend to have other positive attributes, or that people who display negative characteristics possess other negative characteristics. If we see that a candidate does not smile a lot, hesitates before answering our questions or speaks in a less-than-convincing manner, we tend to think that he is not motivated, not dependable and not smart. In other words, we suffer from the halo effect.
In reality, if we have such a candidate in front of us, the only thing that we know for sure is that he is reserved, but we know nothing about his/her intelligence level and we know nothing about how dedicated he will be later on the job. Does it mean that we have to discard this information? No, because it is important for a manager to be confident and at ease with others. However, hoteliers should not place too much importance on this single piece of information and should weigh it alongside other factors.
The problem with selection interviews is that if they are not properly conducted and the hotelier does not know exactly the type of answers to expect, he will be bombarded with thousands of pieces of information coming from the candidate. As people cannot process more than a few pieces of information at a time, there is a great risk that they miss important ones and that they pay attention to information that is not of great value for making a sound hiring decision. It is why some hoteliers make sometimes hiring decisions after a selection interview that they regret even if at first they were convinced that they had made a good decision. It means that they have received much more information than GPA can provide. However, they have failed to recognize that GPA provides information that is relevant whereas in the selection interview lots of the pieces of information are not relevant at all.
What should be done in practice?
I strongly recommend that hoteliers consider using GPA in the selection process. They should require candidates to provide their college transcript. Then, they should decide who they are going to short-list based on several indicators: presence of certain extracurricular activities and work experience, languages but also GPA. Regarding GPA, I would advise hoteliers to consider all candidates with a high or a medium GPA – and none with poor marks. If only candidates who have a high or medium GPA are short-listed, hoteliers will have a better chance of picking a good manager than if they select a low-GPA candidate.
Hoteliers should never forget that all selection procedures involve a probabilistic decision. In other words, even if hoteliers follow the aforementioned advice there is no guarantee they will always choose the “right candidate”. It is still probable that they will let good candidates go and it could happen that they retain a poor candidate. What is sure however is that in the long-term they have a better chance of retaining a good candidate if they use GPA in their hiring procedure.
About the author
Dr. Sébastien Fernandez (PhD in Differential Psychology) is currently an Assistant Professor of Human Behavior and Performance at the École hôtelière de Lausanne. He is also teaching executive education programs in talent assessment. He performs research about selection practices and human factors in the hospitality sector that predict effectiveness in the workplace. He spent several years conducting selection interviews and psychometric testing in the Swiss army.