By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown
I get lots of messages from hospitality students and aspiring hotel workers who read this blog. In fact, an associate professor at San Francisco State University recently emailed me to say the General Manager’s Blog is required reading for his class. For some time now I’ve been promising to write a post about how to get into the hotel business. As the shortage of workers in the hotel industry begins to reach crisis proportions, the time is ripe.
One of the “horror stories” I’ve heard is a Wendy’s in Alberta had to close because they couldn’t find people to staff it. Doesn’t sound like much of a horror story to me. Starbucks maybe, but Wendy’s? All sorts of emergency task forces and working groups and action committees are being formed to address the labour shortage. Which begs the question, wouldn’t our time be better spent working than exacerbating the problem by sitting in meetings? The prospect of not having enough staff to fill positions strikes terror in the heart of hotel managers. Not only are we concerned that service levels will suffer but, more importantly, we’re terrified that we’ll have to do the work ourselves. Don’t be surprised if the next time you stay at a hotel the general manager parks your car and the human resources director fluffs your pillows.
If you’re interested in working in hotels but don’t know where to start, my advice is to get a job in a hotel. Brilliant, I know. My point is that I caution you against enrolling in four-year hotel management program before you know if the industry is right for you. Some people just aren’t very hospitable, and you’d be much better off establishing this before wasting your time and money on a diploma from a hospitality management school. If you are a good fit, then you’ll have some great practical experience to apply to your studies.
How to get a job in a hotel without experience or education? No problem. Hotels used to be really uppity about hiring the young and inexperienced, but times have changed. Many hotels, particularly big ones, are desperate for staff. This doesn’t mean that even though you have a ring in your nose and a chip on your shoulder you can walk into a high-paying executive position. It means if you are well-groomed, outgoing and have a great attitude you should be able to land an entry-level job. Even a little whippersnapper fresh out of high school can. Yes way.
The key is you have to be open to anything—delivering room service, cleaning rooms, bussing tables, fanning the GM—at any time on any day of the week. Yes, that might mean—gasp—graveyard shifts. We stopped calling them graveyards a long time ago for obvious reasons, so don’t be fooled by euphemisms like “night shifts” or “shift work”. If you want to work in guest services or management, the reality is that night shifts are a right of passage. The great news is you get to witness bizarre things that nine-to-fivers never see. Night shifts make you stronger, more knowledgeable and less afraid of the dark.
If you can’t demonstrate this kind of flexibility then you’re probably not cut out for the industry. A degree in hotel management isn’t going to change that. Save your money and consider a career in banking.
If you manage to land an entry-level job, don’t worry if it’s not your ideal position. Play your cards right and there will be opportunities to move. Work hard and be super nice to everyone, even that bossy lady in HR who made you cut your hair. Never say “It’s not my department” or “I can’t” or “Bite me.” Pay close attention to detail. And don’t steal anything, not even pillow chocolates. Colleagues must respect you, guests must love you and management must remember you. Once you’ve established yourself as an essential and noble martyr, don’t assume you’re entitled to the first opportunity that comes along. It takes time, patience and luck. Years ago, a coworker on the front desk used to apply for every sales position that came available. When she didn’t get them she would bitch to everyone about management’s appalling shortsightedness. She became the Susan Lucci of the front desk, always a contender but never quite good enough. Hm, wonder why.
I realized just how desperate hotels are for qualified people when a colleague from another hotel called me for a reference check on a former employee. The employee had issues, a lot of them, and I was quite candid about not recommending him. A few days later I got a call back. They wanted to know just how bad he really was. Apparently, the staffing situation was so dire they were willing to overlook past transgressions. Until recently, one negative word in a reference check was enough to rule out a candidate. Now hotels are more willing to compromise, which is very scary indeed. Good old Canadian hospitality is in jeopardy.
What’s the solution? One committee suggests bringing retired people back into the workforce and attracting foreign workers, disabled people, youths and aboriginals. All great ideas, but I think we need to be even more creative. What about ex-convicts? They’d be good at making beds. In fact, why wait until they get out of prison—why not hire prisoners? We’d have to keep them shackled, of course, and away from the cash drawer, but I’ve fantasized before about handcuffing wayward employees to their desks. Military personnel are also worth consideration. Their skills with weapons would come in handy in the accounting department collecting bills. We could also import workers from France now that its new rightwing government appears determined to kick immigrants out.
A more obvious solution is to increase wages in the hotel industry. I suggest we start with the general manager. Katrina suggests starting with the director of sales & marketing. Regardless, it would increase operating costs, which would result in higher room rates, but in this economy people have more money, and they should be willing to pay a premium for good service, no? A positive work environment is also important, as are good benefits, training and opportunities for advancement. But now I’m stating the obvious. I’m starting to feel like I’m in one of those task force meetings.
The big question is, if we manage to attract enough employees to staff all these hotels under development, are we going to have enough travellers to fill them? Only time will tell. In the meantime, outgoing, flexible candidates with no previous criminal convictions are welcome to send your resume to email@example.com.
For more tips on working in hotels click here.
posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 3:01 PM
pure gold. loved this post, thanks so much 🙂
Maple Guy said…
I’ve managed to retain some of my best restaurant servers by running a lucrative betting pool on how many job offers each one will get over the lunch rush. Highest to date was 5, with business cards.However its so true about slipping standards for hiring and its effect on service standards. Also more and more work gets passed to the managers. Except now we can’t find managers. Must be time to cut another service, self serve banquets it is, doscount given if you roll your own table away.Odd question for you on the short staffed economy and junior-middle Managers. Do you think it looks bad to have a couple shorter term jobs in a row (under a year each) if each move showed a new opportunity or does it speak to disloyalty?
I am happy that the SFSU professor forced us to read your blog. it has been not only inspirational but entertaining. I am now employed at a hotel in San Francisco through my internship program. I hope to visit your hotel one day from what He has told me. Please keep up the great blogs. I think I might suggest to our GM to start one as well…SF is an interesting city…with interesting people….
Daniel Edward Craig said…
Maple Guy, You pose a good question. I love to see loyalty on a resume. If the candidate has jumped around a lot I want to know why, and if it doesn’t add up I move on to the next candidate. Assuming there is a next candidate.
Opus Hotel is beautiful. I highly recommend it.
I bet the students are glad it’s required reading as it’s so infrequently updated….:-)
loved your post. Great ideas . looking forward to work with you in Montreal . M.Zai
I love that you give this advice:Never say “Bite me.”Barbara
Colin Jopling said…
“Colleagues must respect you, guests must love you and managment remember you.” so true. I think i will have to steal this one myself. Look forward to your next entry daniel.
Confused Highschool Student said…
First of all I want to thank you for all your useful and genuine advice you’ve given on this blog. It really helps to see the industry from an insider’s point of view.As you can see from my name I am in the wonderful stage of my adolescence called ‘what are you going to do with your life’. My parents want me to go to medical school. I don’t want to medical school. But I probably will have to go to medical school since I have no idea what else I’ll do for hmm.. 6 years? Well that’s all changed.I’ve always known I had to knack for to please people and interact with them. I wanted a job that will give me opportunities to use my creative abilities. I want to travel all over the world. I know I am still young and naive but I think this career is the perfect blend of everything I want. You have no idea how good it finally feels to know what you want, and have something to direct and motivate you to achieve it. So before I write my life story on here I want to thank you so much Mr. Craig for pretty much inspiring me to go for my dreams. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll work for you at the Opus. 😉
i’ve said bite me before, it wasn’t that bad. I can see what you mean about the Hotel Industry being short of management staff. It certainly explains why I got the GM job.
Sage advice, Sir Dan. ~_^I am an experienced front desk clerk and moving to the area. From what I’ve seen and heard of your location, I can only dream of getting in, but I plan to send you my resume nonetheless. Cheers to you and your beautiful hotels. ~Adriana Van Leeuwen
I am an outsider to the industry and have a question: Does the hotel really care when I put my family of 6 in a room intended for 4? There is no way I would stay at the place at all if I had to use two rooms.