How to Hire Great Staff for Your Escape Room

Posted in Hiring Staff by Katie on Mon 30 December 2019

The key to a successful escape room is to offer an amazing customer experience. The key to that customer experience? Hiring great staff.

If this is your first time hiring staff, or if you haven’t hired for an escape room before, you may be wondering, who do I need? It’s important to define what those critical roles are first, so that you can find the right people for them.

This article is especially for you if you’re opening up an escape room or have opened relatively recently. Here’s our take on hiring for your escape room:

Free download: How to set your new escape room staff up for success

Who do you need on your team?

The roles you require typically depend upon the size of your business and the types of games you offer, first of all. There is one role that every escape room needs; that of Game Master.

Who is the Game Master? As the title sounds, it is the person in charge of overseeing or running the games for customers. Out of any team members you have, the Game Master has the potential to influence the overall customer experience the most.

Typical duties of a Game Master include:

  • Ensuring that guests understand what they’re supposed to be doing
  • Explaining any rules
  • Ensuring the safety of guests
  • Providing a positive experience for guests. This might include being “in character” depending on your type of escape room. In any case, they need to be able to engage with and enthuse your customers.
  • Resetting rooms in-between games.
  • Administrative tasks such as taking payments.
  • Helping with clues where this is permitted for guests. In some escape rooms, the Game Master remains in the room, whereas in others, they might be watching on-camera and contacted via walkie-talkie.
In some large escape rooms, there will be more than one Game Master so that simultaneous rooms can be played smoothly. Smaller escape rooms often start with one Game Master, who may need to oversee more than one game at once (usually from a central office or control room).

What other roles might be needed? Here are some common escape room needs:

  • Retail or “front desk” staff. If you have a busy escape room, you might need office staff to check people in, answer phones or emails and take bookings or queries. In small or brand new escape rooms, the owner/manager and/or Game Master may take on these duties.
  • Actors. Some escape rooms have actors playing parts within their stories. Sometimes these people also double-up as extra front desk help where needed.
  • Technical or maintenance staff. If you run some technical mechanisms in your escape room, you may need technical expertise to help maintain or fix them. This is a role that is often handled by the owners or managers at first (YouTube has some great tutorials!), however many escape rooms reach a point where they need someone who is experienced.
  • General Manager. This is the person who oversees daily operations, hiring and managing staff, purchasing of inventory and marketing. It is frequently the case that owners or founders of escape rooms take on the GM role, at least at first. You may reach a point where you’re ready to step back and hire someone to handle the day-to-day, though.
  • Escape Room Designer. This is the person who creates the escape rooms, designing puzzles, devising clues and coming up with a narrative. Some escape rooms hire specialists to do this either full or part-time. It’s also worth noting that there are services you can hire that design escape rooms, for example, Escape Room Doctor or Thrill Builders.
Staff for your escape room

What do you want each role to do?

This step might happen in combination with that first step. Sometimes, if you’re not sure where to start with the hiring process, the best thing to do is to write down all of the jobs you need done. Doing so can give you a great starting point to assess the job roles you need to hire for.

If you’re hiring your first Game Master, we suggest that you are careful about giving priority to the customer-facing aspects of the role. A good Game Master can really make your business a success, however, you need to make sure they don’t get too bogged down with administrative or non-customer facing tasks. Basically, you don’t want them to be distracted over getting “extra” tasks done when there are customers who need to have a good time.

Whichever order you decide to start the hiring process, you will need good quality job descriptions for your escape room staff. Having these gives you direction - you know what needs to be done and can narrow down skills and experience based on your descriptions.

Another key benefit of accurate job descriptions is that they help your applicants. People will read a description and use it to gauge whether they think they will be a good fit. Being as descriptive as possible can help “wrong fit” candidates to self-select out, leaving you with better applicants.

Clearly define the jobs you want to have done in your escape room, before hiring

Personal qualities or personality traits

The purpose of an escape room is to provide a fun entertainment venue for people, therefore people skills should be a core focus, particularly for every customer-facing role that you have. You can have a Game Master that is a fantastic actor, but struggles to provide the personable customer service that people seek.

You only have to check out how many poor escape room reviews are related to the person running the game to get the picture. It doesn’t matter how clever or finely-detailed your room is, the customer experience can be entirely hinged upon how they interacted with the Game Master. Here are a couple of examples we found below (anonymised as we didn’t want to call anyone out here!):
Staff for your escape room

Staff for your escape room
One thing that can help you to define the type of Game Master (or other role) you need is to create a “person specification” for the role. This describes the personal attributes that you require of the role. You should be as specific as possible, so that your requirements are clear. For example:

  1. Be able to command attention with a confident, clear voice.
  2. Possess a warm, friendly personality.
  3. Be able to work well with others.
  4. Anticipates the needs of customers.

How will you find the right people?

Once you have job descriptions and person specifications prepared for the role/s you want to hire for, you’ll be advertising in the places where people local to you look for jobs. Sometimes you’ll be flooded with applicants, so it’s important to have a hiring strategy so that you don’t feel too overwhelmed.

Create a shortlist

There are a number of strategies that recruiters use to sort through job applications and whittle them down to a shortlist. Here are a few strategies that you might use:

  1. Take any incomplete or poorly-written applications out of the running first of all. This can show a lack of attention to detail, and there’s a good chance you’d like the role to have competent written communication skills anyway.
  2. Skim the remaining applications for the mandatory skills and experience you have outlined in your advertisement. Any that don’t have something that is mandatory can be taken out.
  3. Look at cover letters last. You’re looking for people having taken the time to have tailored their letter to the job, rather than blasting out the same template to a dozen job applications. The letter should clearly explain why they’re a good fit for your role.
  4. You’re now left with a shortlist of applications that meet your criteria. If you need to shorten it even further for interviews, look more closely at the resumés to find those that have the most experience, or that perhaps have an extra skill that might be useful.
Interview applicants

We’ve written about conducting interviews for escape room staff before. We’ll go over a few brief points here as realistically, we could devote entire articles just to interviewing! The key goal is, of course, to identify the best person for the role from the applicants you have shortlisted.

Being prepared is the key. You may have experienced overly long interviews before, or interviews where it seemed that the interviewer was “winging it” through. If you want a job interview to be meaningful and to achieve what you need from it, then you need to have a good plan to conduct it first. This might include:

  1. Preparing a space for the interview. You want to give a professional impression to the interviewee as much as they do to you.
  2. Preparing your questions for the interview (you can find lists of suggested questions online.) As a hint for escape room interviews, look for “behavioural-based” questions, such as “tell me about a time when…” This gets you answers beyond “yes” or “no” and gives you an idea about how the person might react in different situations.
  3. Clearing your schedule for the interview, for example, organising someone else to answer phones etc.
  4. Having a plan to conduct the interview within a set period of time. A rule of thumb is that interviews should last between 30 minutes and one hour to get the information you need. From experience, up to 45 minutes tends to be enough - this means that you stay on-track and get key information without going off on a tangent.
Your aim should be to build rapport with the interviewee first to make them as comfortable as possible. Some common pitfalls with interviews include that some people have learned how to “interview well,” so may ooze charm and confidence without necessarily having the skills you need, while others may not interview so well, yet have great skills.

If you’re hiring for a customer-facing role, then of course how the person interacts with you during an interview is a major factor. If the role is not customer-facing, be aware that you may be looking at someone who is highly competent, but doesn’t perform well in interviews. In these cases, you’ll need to look further for evidence of their skills for the job.

This Harvard Business Review article has some great advice for successfully getting through interviews.

Download here: Setting your escape room staff up for success

Check references

From your interviews, you should have identified your top two or three candidates for the role. Your next step is to check the references for these people. Depending on the role, this may also include looking at a portfolio of their work (think escape room designers).

The most important thing to check with your customer-facing roles is that they are warm, friendly and confident with customers. You can train for more technical skills, but you can’t really teach someone to be more personable.

Here are a few quick tips for checking references, so that you go in with a plan:

  1. Ask the person how they know the candidate, so that you can check that they’re in a position to give a valid reference.
  2. Describe the role and ask the reference if they have seen the candidate perform in similar circumstances. Be sure to include a description of what it takes to be effective in the role.
  3. Ask open-ended, yet specific questions. For example, rather than asking “what is your impression of Jane?”, say something like “can you tell me more about Jane’s role in …?”

Final thoughts

As a final tip for hiring great escape room staff, be familiar with any hiring laws in your area before you get started. If this is your first time hiring, you’ll need to know about employment laws and things like minimum wage requirements. You’ll also need to know if there are certain conditions or benefits that you need to provide.

Hiring great escape room staff begins with having clear expectations of what you need for the roles and a good plan for finding and hiring team members. When you’re clear about what you need, it makes it easier to make a decision based on criteria, rather than on gut feelings or in-haste.
Setting New Escape Room Staff Up for Success