Whitaker’s career path
- Nonprofit leader
- General Manager
- District Manager
Lodging Leader’s Proactive Recruiting Strategy Gets Results
Extended Stay America’s Jason Whitaker goes looking for potential hires outside his hotel.
Jason Whitaker’s years in the Navy, retail and nonprofits gave him a fresh perspective as he entered the hospitality industry. When he was hired as a general manager of Extended Stay America, he came without preconceived notions of how things should be done in lodging.
Instead, his successful outside-the-box approach to recruiting for his hotel staff earned him companywide respect and recognition. After just 2.5 years as a general manager in Asheville, he transitioned into a district manager role on North Carolina’s east coast.
Whitaker says success didn’t come right at check-in. He had some reservations. He struggled the first couple of weeks, thinking he’d give this gig a shot, but it may not last.
“It was a literal culture shock in the beginning. We were very short staffed,” Whitaker recalls. “But the [Extended Stay America] leaders came through. We got some things done that needed to get done, and I kept staying longer and longer. The month goes by and then six months goes by, and I’m starting to see light. I’m glad I stayed. It was worth it.”
He addressed the staffing issue by venturing outside the hotel. He didn’t wait for candidates to come to him. He went looking for them.
Here are five ways Whitaker approaches recruiting.
1. Search outside the industry.
In lodging, housekeeping is a role that often needs filling. Whitaker’s approach to finding talent took him to places that draw a lot of people.
“I did hire some people that had good hotel experience, but a lot of times I was looking at different areas for housekeepers,” he says. “I was looking at the same type of industry, same type of cleaning industry, but high traffic volume,” he says.
Whitaker came into his role without lodging experience, so he assumed people from other industries could excel in hospitality, too. He’s even recruited at the fast food drive-thru window. He also pays attention to those who are often overlooked.
“I have stopped at bus stops ’cause I’ve seen a uniform on someone. I’ve gone to grocery stores at night and talked to people. I’ve gone to the mall. I’ve eaten lunch in the food court and had conversations with the folks who were assigned to clean that area,” he says.
He starts the conversation with something like this: “How are things going here? Are you getting the hours you need? Are they paying you what you’re worth?”
2. Pay more and offer full-time hours.
Adjusting pay was part of his strategy to attract employees.
“You have people who work at these jobs, and a lot of times they are really hard jobs, sometimes very hard hours and they are not paid great,” he says of the workers he recruited from other industries.
Under his management, the pay at Extended Stay America in Asheville was enough to even lure those from luxury hotels in the area.
He also offered most of his staff full-time, rather than part-time hours.
“We were able to increase the pay some, and we still found each month that we were staying under budget for our labor costs because of the way that we did it,” he says.
In other words, Whitaker was able to cover the hours needed with fewer employees.
3. Promote the package.
As an Extended Stay America employee, Whitaker appreciates the excellent benefits offered. They’re even better than his military benefits, he says.
“Extended Stay America has the best insurance I have ever had,” he says. “It’s going to attract better fish, and you can expect more from the candidates.”
4. Get them in the door and then figure things out later.
If Whitaker sees that a candidate shows promise—especially in a general manager or other leadership role—he’ll try to bring them on board even if that role isn’t yet available.
He was able to secure one such candidate by convincing them to take an assistant manager role on the promise that they would soon become a general manager.
He also convinced company leadership to agree to pay them at a higher rate (for the role for which they were initially hired).
“I said, ‘Look, we need to get her hired. It’s more important to have her working for the company than to lose her.’”
Within three months she became a general manager and is doing well, Whitaker says.
5. Make retention part of the strategy.
Whitaker says Extended Stay America is also focused on retention. Employees want respect and advancement opportunities, and he says the company excels at noticing employees who do well.
“Extended Stay America is just great for recognizing talent and where and how to use people … and how to use their skills in different areas, whether that’s as a housekeeper or a GSR [guest services representative] or night laundry,” he says.
He’s been known to promote employees quickly when they show promise and leadership potential.
“I support and advocate for ALL my employees and they each understand that I have their best interest in mind with their needs,” he says. “It is an honor that I am able to be a leader for associates who rely on me for the fruitfulness and security of their income.”
Applicants who apply by traditional means—through Indeed or the company’s website—are certainly considered for roles. But Whitaker’s nontraditional staffing approach is gleaned from decades of Navy training and retail and nonprofit management. He respects loyalty.
“I love loyal employees who are dedicated, not to me, but to the company, because the truth is, I’ll take a loyal employee over a skilled employee,” he says.
And he trusts his instincts.
“A lot of times, it’s just a gut feeling,” he says. “I have been known to hire directly off what my gut says to do, and it’s worked.”