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So You Want to Work in Hotels ...

By Daniel Edward Craig, August 2009

When I last wrote a post about how to get a job in the hotel industry, the economy was booming and hotels were so desperate for staff they were stopping just short of dragging passersby off the street and slapping uniforms on them. These days, occupancy rates have tanked, room attendants are dozing on beds rather than making them, and it seems the only place to find job vacancies is in the obituaries.

Are job prospects that bleak? Absolutely not. Hotels are always in need of great people, but competition is fiercer than ever. Taking the time to understand the unique culture of the hotel industry will give you a leg up on other candidates. Here are a few insider tips to help prepare you for that elusive hotel interview.

The Interview ...

Are job prospects that bleak? Absolutely not. Hotels are always in need of great people, but competition is fiercer than ever. Taking the time to understand the unique culture of the hotel industry will give you a leg up on other candidates. Here are a few insider tips to help prepare you for that elusive hotel interview.

Martyrs need only apply. Whatís the quickest way to get an interview with a hotel? Highlight ďlove working graveyard shiftsĒ on your cover letter. The quickest way to end an interview? Say youíre looking for something nine-to-five. Hotels are a 24-hour operation, and most entry-level positions involve shift work. Your best chance to get a foot in the door is to apply for a high-turnover position like room service attendant, busser, dishwasher, line cook or any graveyard position. Be specific, and be keen. Not like the young lady I interviewed who explained that graveyard shifts would give her time to work on her personal art projects. 

Beware of the super-friendly people in suits. Your interviewer will smile and use your name frequently and will maintain eye contact for freakishly long periods of time. No, youíre not being recruited into a cult. These basic service standards are programmed into our being. Some of us really are that happy, others are gifted actors, others are heavily medicated. Donít be lulled by that pleasant exterior; underneath is a hard-nosed interviewer who will assess your appearance, communication skills and attitude in three minutes flat. Thatís as much time as youíll have to impress our guests. 

Perfection is something we strive for but never achieve. If your interviewer asks you to identify areas youíd like to improve, itís a euphemism for weaknesses. This question strikes fear into the heart of candidates and can result in awkward silences and moronic replies. Relax, itís okay not to be perfect. Provide an honest, thoughtful answer -- unless you suffer from kleptomania or multiple personality disorder, which you might want to keep to yourself. A woman I interviewed confessed that her only weakness was perfectionism. I drew my own conclusion -- lack of humility and self-delusion -- and quickly wrapped up the interview.

Is something burning? Hotels are notoriously short on office space, so donít be surprised if your interview is held in a bar, kitchen, ballroom or suite (though hopefully not in a bedroom). The activity around you -- sound checks, shattering dishes, grease fires -- will be distracting, but stay focused on your interviewer. If youíre in the restaurant and are offered a beverage, ask for water or coffee, not a margarita and the filet mignon. During a dinner interview for a high-ranking position, I watched a candidate knock back two martinis and a half-liter of wine. Now that was distracting. 

Hotels are glamorous for guests, not employees. Some hotel managers prance around like wealthy aristocrats, but in reality most employees live shockingly modest lifestyles when not on an expense account. The only exception is doormen, whom own apartment complexes and small tropical islands. Should your interview take you into the back-of-house, the area not meant for the eyes of guests, brace yourself for a sharp contrast: general disarray, strange odors and employees who look like theyíve never seen the light of day. A career in hotels wonít make you wealthy, but it will make you rich in life experience. 

Do you speak hotelese? Hotel employees are notorious for using jargon and acronyms to save time, sound smart and confuse guests into paying higher rates. If you donít understand a word your interviewer is saying, donít ask for an explanation -- youíll only be further confused. If youíre interviewing with the revenue manager, hire an interpreter. Do some advance research to understand the language of hotels and to determine whether youíre a good fit for the business. That way youíll avoid the fate of the employee I hired who went for a break on his first day and never came back. 

Interviewing with the general manager. If the GM is late, donít fret. Given todayís tight labour budgets, he or she is probably making beds or baking breakfast muffins. He will wax poetic about how the hotel is a home-away-from-home for guests and employees are like a family, and will seem distracted and vaguely irritated. If you donít get more than a few words in, donít be disheartened. This guy has been dealing with people so long heís got you figured out even before you open your mouth. 

Managing post-interview anxiety disorder. You survived the interview, now what? More interviews. From two to five depending on the position and up to seventy-three for large chain hotels. Then silence. No, hoteliers donít take glee in tormenting you. Every position is critical to our success, and the hiring process takes time. Donít badger your interviewer with hourly calls or issue Twitter updates like ďJust interviewed with uptight chick at ABC Hotel. Hope I got the job!Ē Send a handwritten thank-you note or email -- no butterfly decals or smileys please -- and continue with your search. Itís out of your hands now. 

Yes, itís a tough job market, but if youíre a good fit for the hotel business your resourcefulness and persistence will eventually pay off. Good luck.

Daniel Edward Craigís third mystery novel, Murder at Graverly Manor, comes out in April 2009. Craig has worked for luxury hotels across Canada, most recently as general manager of Opus Hotel in Montreal. His blog provides a frank and entertaining look at issues in the hotel at

By Daniel Edward Craig

Also See: Lifestyle Hotels: Gotta Have Soul / Daniel Edward Craig / July 2009
Are You Hoping Guests Won't Notice the Jack-hammering in the Lobby? A Case Study for Hotels/ Daniel Edward Craig / May 2009
Hotel Industry Trends in 2009: A Lighthearted Approach / Daniel Craig / January 2009
Home Sweet Hotel; Living in a Hotel Not as Glamorous As it Sounds / Daniel Edward Craig / October 2008



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