How to Break Into the Hospitality Industry

Maybe you’re an accountant who has always secretly envisioned yourself as the sommelier of a five-star restaurant. You could be a stay-at-home mom who harbors sugar-plum visions of becoming a pastry chef. Or maybe you’re a retiree who’d rather spend your golden years behind the table at a big-name casino than on the shuffleboard court.

No matter what your dream job is, the hospitality industry has always been a place where newcomers are welcome. The non-stop growth in the service sector means that there’s usually enough room for everyone who wants to be a part of the action, whether your passion is pancakes, canapés, or the perfectly-made bed.

Although the hospitality industry is usually quite hospitable to newcomers, the prospect of a job search can still be intimidating for new entrants into the field. You may be unsure how to address your lack of relevant experience, or unclear on the best way to frame an extended absence from the workforce during an interview. Experts agree that starting your search off on the wrong foot can have a dire impact on your prospects.

But don’t fret! Even the unlikeliest career change is doable if you set your mind to it. Follow these steps and you’ll likely be making progress toward living your dream in no time.

Start small

Okay, so you may daydream about being head waiter at a renowned fine dining establishment, but it’s unlikely to happen right away, especially if you’ve never so much as wielded an order pad in a greasy spoon diner.

It’s great to dream big, but you have to be prepared to start small, especially if you’re a newcomer to the industry. It may be uncomfortable to sit through training alongside a roomful of Gen-Y recruits, but the payoff will be worth it down the road. Set your sights on an entry-level position to help get your foot in the door, and start working your way up from there.

Re-shape your story

If you begin your first interview by blurting out, “I’m trained as a teacher and I’ve never worked in a hotel before,” you may have difficulty getting hired. But if you emphasize the applicable skills you’ve gleaned in your previous professional experience and the ways you can use them in your new role, employers will be less reluctant to give you a chance.

Don’t belittle your past career path; acknowledge it, state your intention to make a change, and describe the ways you plan to transplant what you’ve learned before into your budding hospitality career. The facts will speak for themselves, but it’s up to you to decide how the story of your career will take shape. Condense it into a short speech and practice it until it feels true to you.

Play up your passion

Skills can be taught, but passion can’t be artificially implanted. Other candidates may have longer tenures in the field, but can they match you for sheer enthusiasm? In the hospitality industry, as in many other service-oriented sectors, a candidate’s attitude often plays a major role in the hiring manager’s decision-making process.

It’s always important to remain poised and professional, but don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm for your dream job shine through. Many managers and owner/operators would rather deal with a dedicated but relatively untrained employee than a jaded cynic with years of experience who’s just working for the paycheck, rather than out of love for the work itself.

Pay your dues

If you’re dedicated to forging a new career path in the hospitality industry, you’re probably going to be expected to make up for what you lack in accumulated experience with good, old-fashioned hard work. Don’t hesitate to go the extra mile to prove your determination. Look into educational programs, internships, training opportunities—anything that will give you an edge against the more experienced candidates you will likely be competing against.

Employers will already be taking a leap of faith if they decide to give you a shot at your dream. It will be very difficult to find anyone willing to give you a chance if you seem to be lackluster in your commitment to your new field. Take every step possible to demonstrate your dedication to your dream.

Be realistic—but never stop dreaming

Rome wasn’t built in a day — and your new career in the hospitality industry won’t be, either. Even if you’ve risen to the upper ranks of your previous field, you’re in a new environment now, and in many ways, you’ll be starting from scratch. Take your time and be willing to start small and work hard. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a new career path in a field that has turned passionate novices into success stories time and time again.

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