How to get started into the hospitality industry

If you’re just breaking out into the workforce and are thinking about getting a job in hospitality, it will be well worth it to explore your options in this exciting field. The hospitality industry is made up of so many different kinds of businesses that all revolve around the generous and friendly reception of guests. The industry has gotten so large, it’s broken out into different sectors: food and beverage, hotel and lodging, travel and leisure, recreation, and spa/health.

You can approach your job search by doing a number of different things, but the best thing to start with is examining yourself and your personality so that you set yourself up for success. If you look at the true stars in the industry—celebrity chefs, hoteliers, spa owners and the like—you’ll notice they all have something in common. A seasoned personality. Years of experience have shaped their personality, expanded their knowledge, and fueled their success. It doesn’t come overnight, so you need to be gentle with yourself and start with a solid foundation.

For example, Gordon Ramsey didn’t start his career as a professional chef by working in a restaurant. He went to school for hotel management and worked under a chef in college after London having no real culinary education. Claude Challe, famously known for co-founding the world-renowned Buddha Bar with eclectic music and mind-blowing ambiance, went to Rabbi school and then became a hairdresser, traveled around Asia, then returned to dive into Paris nightlife. Richard Branson started with a magazine and then a mail-order record business, which then morphed into a record store purchase, a record label-producer, and now over 400 brands under the Virgin empire from airlines to hotels.

So start your hospitality career journey right where you are. Here is a recommended process for how you might approach your endeavor.

Table of contents:

What is my personality type?

Truly knowing your own personality type requires a little self-examination. You may have an introverted or an extroverted personality; you may be extremely handy and resourceful, or uncoordinated and slow to react; you may be extremely outgoing and friendly, or quiet and reserved; you may have a particular talent or area of interest like music or food, or maybe you’re still exploring and unsure; you may be a morning person, or maybe a night owl. Knowing your character traits and understanding them is key to your job search.

If you recognize you need improvement with social skills or staying organized, then this level of awareness can help you in the process. When looking for an entry-level job in hospitality, you will want to identify areas that you need to develop and be honest with your potential employer about this! For example, if you’re not ready for the prime time of being a server, start out by being a food runner or busser so that you have experience on the restaurant floor and engaging with customers and are able to work on those areas of your personality that you need to exercise more.

What field should I choose?

The field you choose to investigate boils down to where your interests lie. The hospitality industry sectors are full of different environments that may appeal to you. It’s important that you start with the basics, like your “likes and dislikes.” If you have always liked baking at home or enjoy really high-quality coffee, then you may want to pursue an entry-level job at a bakery as a cashier or food prep, or as a cashier or barista at a coffee shop. Identify the things that interest you and start applying them to your search.

Giving yourself a range of options to think about is a good way to approach your job search. Don’t limit yourself to one industry sector or business type, unless you’re absolutely hell-bent and passionate about it. Understanding there is no one-size-fits-all approach to careers (and life for that matter) will serve you well as you start to explore your options.

How do I look for a job?

Once you’ve identified some possible hospitality businesses, it’s critical to do your research! The best way to start is to talk to people. If you reach out to someone who works in a hospitality business area that you’re interested in pursuing, you might find they are actually excited to talk about this stuff with you. They can give you some pointers on what to look out for, what entry-level roles provide the most opportunity, and even help you compare different job scenarios across the industry.

Where do you find these people? Talk to your family, friends, school mates—go into these places of business and ask the people working there if you can set up some time to chat with a manager about a role that interests you. Even if it’s 5 minutes of a manager’s time to explain to you what the role entails, you’ll leave there with more knowledge than you had before. Never let the fear of being judged stand in your way and be confident that your pursuit of knowledge is the next right thing you could do.

After doing your research, you need to button up the administrative side of things. Got a resumé? You’ll need one, as well as three people you can use as references. Ask for help writing your resume, follow a template online, or start to peruse articles about how to format a resume and the right people to be references for your character.

Second, you want to put yourself on the map. The internet. Grit Hospitality is a professional network, much like LinkedIn, but especially suited to the hospitality industry. This is where hospitality businesses come to find and hire new employees, but it’s also a place where jobseekers can perfect their professional resumes, profiles, add media, and really market themselves in the industry. There’s also helpful content geared toward industry topics that might help you in your job search.

Then finally, go seek out job postings. Job postings can happen anywhere—in social media groups, on Craigslist, LinkedIn, Grit, and even the newspaper. Don’t stop at just one, as mentioned before, but prioritize the ones that interest you the most and start with your top five and see where it goes.

How do I interview for a job?

These days, you can interview for a job over almost any platform—phone, text, FaceTime, Zoom, and of course in-person. You may be able to send links to your digital resumé and even introductory videos if you’re comfortable producing one. Grit’s platform has a template set up to help you do that, for example.

Once you are asked to interview, it’s important to remember your manners. Please, thank you, and of course being open and honest—these are keys to being a great hospitality worker. If you’re nervous, say so. If you’re excited about the job, say so. Hiring managers appreciate an open, honest, willing employee more than the one who looks good on paper.

The interviewer will likely ask you some basic questions about why you want the job—make sure you come prepared to answer these questions and there is no one answer. Try to make your answers as well rounded as possible. For example, “Why do you want this take-out cashier job?” Because of a number of things right? Not only do you need the money to support your lifestyle, but you’re probably looking for something to get your started in the industry and using the role as a stepping stone for professional growth. Identifying your learning opportunity should you get the job will be a high mark for you in the eyes of your interviewer.

Important things to remember:

Always follow-up: after interviews or inquiries, thank the person for their time and showing interest in you. This shows dignity and class, as well as manners that go above and beyond the norm, which is a must-have in hospitality! Even if it doesn’t come naturally for you to be so friendly and outwardly appreciative, practicing these behaviors will only serve you well. Fake it until you make it.

Ask for help: whether its advice on what to wear to an interview, or sprucing up a resumé, or understanding a role at a company better—ask a human being! Rarely are we asked for our opinions and advice, so a good person who is truly looking out for your best interest and supportive of your career will be happy to do so.

Make mental notes: you’re not always going to be successful after job interviews, so make mental notes about what you could’ve said differently, or maybe something you should’ve said, but didn’t. We’re not perfect—it takes years of experience to present ourselves in a confident, professional way, so when you’re just starting out, take it easy on yourself, but use every failure as a learning experience.

Get out there: use as many tools as possible, like digital platforms, forums and online communities, and just get out there into the world! If you’re going to make a splash in hospitality, it’s a good idea to get on the diving board.