By Sheri Hernandez
Program Director, Hospitality Management at American Public University
So, you’ve decided to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. Good choice! The leisure and hospitality industry is expanding and is forecasted to see increasing job opportunities even as other sectors slow.
While there are many opportunities and career paths to pursue within this exciting industry, as with most industries, the higher paying jobs are at the management level. Obtaining a degree is the first step, but what else can you do to put yourself in the best possible position to move into a leadership position within your career?
The Hospitality program at American Public University employs some of the best and brightest industry professionals to serve as instructors for hospitality courses. We asked some of them about the advice they would give students and professionals looking to advance their careers. The questions and excerpts from their responses follow.
What are some of the top professional development opportunities for lodging, food & beverage, tourism, and event planning?
In the food and beverage industry, managers need to be more hands-on and interact with customers in order to get feedback of the services offered. Many corporations are offering manager-in-training positions to recent graduates for financial reasons. This can be a win-win situation for both the corporation and the new graduate who is not sure what area he or she may settle in.
– Paulette Williams, Adjunct Faculty
Take advantage of training and seminars. Many companies offer a large amount of online or on-the-job training, but there’s also the great option of taking online courses to help move ahead.
– William Oliver Hedgepeth, Jr., Adjunct Faculty
Pursue industry certifications through Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI), The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), or American Culinary Foundation (ACF).
– Corey McNair, Adjunct Faculty
Attend events or conferences that offer educational sessions; they vary so much and are so specific for each sub-industry that the range is wide, and you should be able to find a conference and specific training that will meet your needs.
– Marco Albarran, Adjunct Faculty
There are a variety of organizations that students can join to learn more about the hospitality industry. These organizations can also provide hands on opportunity for students to work side by side with experienced industry professional.
– Kimberly Roberts, Adjunct Faculty
What kind of professional development is available through attending conferences?
Aside from the opportunity for networking with like-minded individuals, attending conferences allows professionals to connect with industry wide trends or developments. Often, we can unintentionally have blinders on as we look at local or community trends, so a conference helps to see the broader picture of what is happening in the industry, what to expect, and new perspectives to resolve commonly experienced problems. In this sense, professional development is defined by increasing awareness of and readiness to react to changes, trends, and developments.
– Steven Cooke, Fulltime Faculty, Hospitality Management
By attending conferences, we are exposed to people in the industry who will share real life experiences, industry challenges, industry standards that have evolved over a period of time, or challenges that men and women experience in certain positions. Breakthroughs in the industry are also discussed. Sometimes there is an opportunity to connect with others who are living in close proximity or to get information about a job that is not advertised externally.
I have found a lot of value in breakout sessions where you learn about new tools and techniques for loyalty.
– Hedgepeth, Jr.
Several organizations have annual conferences where credit can be earned towards certifications such as Certified Executive Chef (CEC) or Certified Hospitality Administrator (CHA).
At these conferences, you have a chance to learn about the latest and greatest trends that can help create innovation and of course, see where the industry is moving.
Students can attend industry conferences, participating in various training workshops, seminars, etc. Students can build on this exposure and further their expertise by obtaining a variety of industry specific certifications.
What is the importance of continuing education, through certification, within the industry?
Professional certifications show that you are a committed learner of best practices and dedicated to striving for excellence. Having professional certifications on your résumé can help open doors to promotions or new opportunities. American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) or the National Restaurant Association are just two organizations that offer certifications that are widely recognized in the industry.
– Sheri Hernandez, Program Director, Hospitality Management
Continuing education in the industry covers many areas and is always beneficial to participants. The process of continuing education is beneficial as it allows us to remain current on industry changes that pertain to standards, eligibility, qualifications, recertification, or research—to name a few. We also get a chance to speak directly to representatives of the board of directors who are knowledgeable to clarify any misconceptions we may have regarding changes.
Without extra knowledge in the industry, you will continue to use old technology and old cost calculations. Taking courses and adding tools can help you understand where you are losing money.
– Hedgepeth, Jr.
A key benefit of continuing education within the industry is essentially an expansion of learning from your mistakes. In a classroom environment through a curriculum, the student faces a wide variety of scenarios that they must research and analyze solutions to problems they may experience in a work environment. A wrong decision or uncertainty in the classroom results in a teachable moment, while the same decision outside of the classroom will have more serious repercussions. Building on that, the knowledge gained from continuing education or seeking certification improves the ability to respond to given situations or to be proactive and preventative.
In an ever-evolving industry, continuing education helps you stay current with regard to trends and practices currently impacting the industry.
What kind of action should we take to elevate yourself to a higher role within your industry?
Be actively involved in attending relative meetings, classes, or webinars and show interest in the industry. Remain connected to professional sites that help elevate your skills; connect to organizations that will educate you on how to craft a winning resume; and create professional industry connections. Social media can help with this networking.
I read trade magazines and take the online courses offered to me. I also teach mini-learning sessions at our monthly meetings to have us share knowledge.
– Hedgepeth, Jr.
As with customer expectations of value, the employer has expectations of employees. By increasing your value, you are more likely to become a valuable asset within the company. Through continuing education, knowledge and preparation is increased, thus reducing harmful effects from indecision or simply not knowing. The same can be said of networking and being exposed to those that work for different companies or in different regions. Attending conferences and trade shows as well as pursuing continual learning will build a strong foundation to build a career upon.
1. Share thought leadership in academic and non-academic opportunities (conference papers, journal contributions, interviews) 2. Seek out unpaid leadership roles (i.e. Advisory Board, or pro-bono work for a non-profit) 3. Make sure you have relevant education 4. Amass a resume showing broad industry experience; 5. Network
Networking and publishing articles on results and expertise are the best ways to demonstrate your value as a hospitality professional.
In order to elevate myself to a higher role within the industry, I would earn 1-2 certifications, attend conferences, and participate in continuing education workshops and seminars. I would also join various industry associations and become active within the associations by joining committees, volunteering at events, and serving other needs.
To sum it up – education, motivation, staying on top of industry trends by getting involved with a professional association, and not being afraid to work hard and get your hands dirty will help open doors. The most successful managers are those who have “been there, done that.” They understand how to manage their employees to provide service excellence because they have been in their shoes, learning the ropes, and loving the industry. I always tell my students to just get out there and find what they love to do. Sometimes, their dream job finds them.