Hersha Hospitality's corporate director of talent acquisition runs us through her day

(Michelle Yianolatos began her human resources career in retail, but she eventually found her true calling in hospitality.)

Michelle Yianolatos is a newcomer to hospitality. The corporate director of talent acquisition at Hersha Hospitality Management began her career in retail, working in human resources and recruiting for the Loews Cineplex movie theater chain, as well as Tiffany & Co. before switching to a consultancy gig in the pharmaceutical industry. After a six-year stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Yianolatos returned to hospitality through a new position at Hersha Hospitality Management, a post she has manned for roughly a year.

Michelle Yianolatos

“I was excited to get back into an industry I preferred,” she said, reminiscing on her time in the retail world. Though Yianolatos was acting as a recruiter for PwC, she missed the human element her previous positions provided.

“I have no real interest in tax and accounting; it’s a different level of energy in this sector,” Yianolatos said. “I’m not working on property right now but we approach every position as if they are a customer, in essence, and I missed the direct interaction with people who are planning to make a professional shift in their lives.”

Currently, Yianolatos can be found heading up talent acquisition for Hersha in Philadelphia, an environment she says she thrives in. Her days begin with a 15-minute meeting from leadership on the day ahead, something that energizes her. Which is good, because after these meetings her days are full of listening, research and relaying information to the right people.

“We are all people with different disciplines, and these meetings help me and my team prepare for recruiting for the day,” Yianolatos said. “We have to bring clarity to what we do, provide information on why we recommend someone or why not, and be transparent throughout all of it.”

Energy For Every Day 

When asked what most excites her about her job, Yianolatos said interactions with company employees are the highlight of her day. Part of this can be traced to the structure of Hersha Hospitality Management’s Philadelphia office, which, according to Yianolatos, is a small group of roughly 70 individuals. Thanks to the group’s tight-knit nature, Yianolatos maintains an open-door policy for conversations, questions and concerns, and leaps at the chance for discourse.

“With our group the way it is, we can get real-time feedback, knowledgeable feedback, in a short time,” Yianolatos said. “My team is also something that I am excited for every day. They are best in class, and they work well to solve issues as they pop up.”

It is her team at Hersha that Yianolatos is most proud of. Having been in her position for only a year, Yianolatos was forced to acquaint herself with the hospitality world as she led a group of professionals in recruiting for Hersha, and sometimes Yianolatos and her team have been forced navigate difficult situations.

“Recruiting is tough; you can do everything right and it could not work out,” Yianolatos said. “The person you could be vouching for may not choose to accept an offer, or they could show up and fail to perform. Our team rolls with changes and carries on with a sharp, great sense of humor. We do have pressure on us, but we also do what we can to take the edge off.”

Eye Of The Beholder 

Yianolatos has a unique gift of perspective: She’s seen all sides of the recruiting business and can compare and contrast hospitality to retail in a way not many others can. To her, hospitality is looking for employees with good judgment, a customer focus and the ability to mix with a given company’s culture, and that person has changed over the years.

Yianolatos also that on the retail side the environment is hyper-focused on a one-time transactions environment, where the employee is expected to overperform and provide a single great experience in the moment. Hospitality, by her estimation, is much more difficult because of the frequency at which a guest is likely to encounter hotel employees. To Yianolatos, this means hotels have to train harder for employees to hit customer touch points, have a long-term plan for service in mind for every guest and go above and beyond at all times.

“There is more emphasis on culture in hospitality, more so than the skill set, and that is the biggest change,” she said. “An employee may not work out if they check all the boxes except for culture. We’ve turned down some good people in person and on paper who may have not been the best for our brand and culture.”