When I was a student at Ryerson University we often had guest speakers join our class to talk about their career path and to answer our questions. Since graduating in 2004, I make it a point to give back to the school and share my career experiences with aspiring hospitality professionals. As an invited panelist to last Thursday’s Hospitality & Tourism Students Society “Convention 2021”, a range of topics were discussed.
With everything that’s happened in the past year due to Covid-19, I was curious as to how engaged students would be and if the pandemic had dampened their enthusiasm for hospitality. While there was a wide variety of students from different years, I was encouraged to see that most were focused on the future and their own personal growth. This is important to note as resiliency will continue to be important for the hotel and tourism sectors in the coming years. In addition, it is important to ensure that hospitality schools continue seeing enrolment numbers increase to support the growth and innovation in the industry overall.
There were several questions which stood out, not least of which because I had similar questions to guest speakers while I was a student:
How do you get hired by a luxury hotel?
First, prepare an enticing CV which is simple to follow and a proper cover letter with some humility and an indication of your inner drive. Second, select a few target hotels which you believe will align with your core values. Third - for those with no hotel experience, be prepared to take on an internship role to get your foot in the door; for those with some hotel experience, be prepared to explain in an interview how your experience will benefit the hotel’s goal, such as achieving/maintaining a Forbes Five Star rating. Progressive hoteliers will look to hire candidates with luxury experience and balance their team with those that have the right attitude and ability to be trained.
How do you apply your experience in luxury to The Skill Shop?
The Skill Shop is a holistic sales and operations advisory and we believe in not only helping clients to find new customers but to also retain them. I compliment my partner Katharina’s background in luxury sales with my extensive operations knowledge, helping our clients with their company’s customer journey, retention strategy, and service excellence. I am also passionate with developing products that will enhance the overall guest experience in addition to a detailed understanding of sustainability and safety & security. Hospitality is almost entirely based on people performance and I support our clients through leading change initiatives. Our clients can achieve their business goals through colleague engagement, increasing their motivation levels, creating team buy-in for company goals, while training customer service related topics.
How do I advance my career in hotels?
As a foundation, it’s important to consistently deliver exceptional guest experiences and maintain high levels of humility and integrity with fellow colleagues. In addition to this, I believe that there are two practical ways to get noticed by your leaders for career advancement. One way is to regularly participate in volunteer and community activities, and be known as the “one they can count on” to support. Not only will you become a part of the hotel’s cheering squad, but also gain a sense of fulfilment by giving back to your community. Another way to get noticed is to take on some of the less desirable responsibilities or roles, which are difficult to fill. For instance, one of the tougher positions to fill in a hotel is Night Manager - people generally prefer sleeping overnight and it can impact your personal life. However, being seen as the solution and having a positive attitude to this commitment will increase your overall experience and empathy to others in a similar role. Your credibility stands to gain by committing yourself to volunteering and “filling the gaps” from time to time.
How do I build a global hotel career?
I believe that before setting out on a career abroad that it’s important to define the purpose in doing so. The commitment with being an expat involves a fair bit of sacrifice, being away from family and friends, missing several birthdays and weddings, but along with it the opportunity for cultural learning and experiences. While in my final year at Ryerson University, I set myself two personal goals: 1) that by the age of 28 I will have worked in five cities, of which three were capitals, on three different continents and 2) I wanted to gain luxury hotel experience abroad in order to return home and further develop Canada’s hotel scene. I had already worked in Ottawa and Toronto, which was followed by London, Beijing and Shanghai. After achieving my first goal at the age of 28, I returned shortly after to Canada in 2012 to be a part of the leadership team of Shangri-La hotel - which achieved my second goal of contributing to Canada’s growing luxury hotel sector. My career abroad brought much personal joy and memories.
Are you a mentor?
Yes, and I believe that it’s important to make yourself available to others especially if others have made themselves available to you. It’s important to have a mentor whom you can trust and to ensure that they come from diverse backgrounds. There needs to be a regular evaluation if both the mentor and mentee feel that they are benefiting through exchanges. The relationship needs to be complimentary.
How do you ensure that colleagues have their say?
In hotel operations it is very important to regularly walk the floor and interact with colleagues. One of the first colleagues I would speak to in the early morning was the doorman to get a sense of the atmosphere. I also implemented regular one on one feedback sessions and asked several different questions about how the colleague feels that we’re doing as a team. It was an excellent opportunity to see how connected our managers were to their teams and if we had any blind spots as an Executive Committee.
What tactics do you use in an interview?
I don’t believe that candidates should approach an interview with tactics in mind, as it may hinder conversations with the interviewer. I think that’s important to know your strengths prior to an interview. A very useful tool is the Gallop Clifton Strengths Finder which advocates that it is more fruitful to lean on your strengths as opposed to spending a great deal of time on your weaknesses. Having a firm grasp of what makes you a unique candidate will position you as self-confident and more natural.
How can someone standout in an interview?
After having interviewed hundreds of candidates over my career there are some aspects which consistently stand out. If someone has clearly made an effort to prepare themselves for the interview, for example with grooming, learning about our company, and being punctual, then this creates a great first impression. I look for humility when the candidate describes their experience, as I value this very much. During the interview I also pay attention to how a candidate may connect with guests through how they maintain comfortable eye contact, good posture and how easily they engage in conversation. When the interview is finished, I will provide positive and constructive feedback because it’s important for a candidate to know how they did and any areas to improve. I’ve always appreciated receiving a short note from a candidate, sent a few hours after we’ve met, which is either a “thank you” or mentioning how eager they are to join our company.
There were many more questions asked during the Alumni Panel and it was wonderful to see the continued support for current students. With so much uncertainty facing the hospitality sector, it is vital to keep up the enthusiasm and motivate the leaders of tomorrow, whenever we can.