During my fourth year at UCSB, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the hospitality industry. My experience working for UCSB Conference Services the summer after my third year taught me that I really enjoyed working with people. The instant gratification of solving guests’ problems provided a sense of accomplishment and left me excited to go into work each day. So mid-summer I ditched my former aspirations of going to Hollywood and instead applied to the new Marriott Courtyard opening in Goleta.
Applying to Marriott was an eye opener. I went to Career Services and met with one of the counselors to polish my resume and cover letter and sent in my online application for the Guest Service Representative position. Two weeks later, I got a friendly rejection e-mail. Over the next two months, I applied for other job openings at the same location with the same result. To Marriott, I was a faceless applicant in a sea of other faceless jobseekers. Understandably, I began to stress out about my future. Clearly I needed to skill up and find a way to stand out.
Career Services saved me. But really I saved myself by using the resources available to me as a UCSB student. I picked up a Career Manual in the Career Resource Room and read about the importance of informational interviews. An informational interview involves talking with a professional to get a first-hand idea of what lifestyle his career allows. “That is great,” I thought, “but I don’t know anyone in hotels, and even if I did, I wouldn’t feel comfortable interviewing someone.” Weeks passed and I continued to research what skills hotel companies look for when hiring front desk receptionists. I asked everyone I knew if they had a friend or family member in hospitality. In the meantime, I took a private acting class on Sunday nights to keep the possibility of going to Hollywood alive. My acting partner mentioned off-hand that his partner was the Regional Financial Director for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Wow! Opportunity stared me in the face, and I could not let it pass. I asked my acting partner if I could meet with this man for coffee to talk about his experience in hospitality. He said, “Absolutely! He would love to.” It was that easy.
The informational interview led to great things. I met with this man at a Starbucks® on State Street and asked him questions like, “How did you get started in the industry,” and, “What lifestyle does your career afford?” He answered each question in great detail, and we talked for about an hour and a half. I expressed my eagerness in pursuing a career in hotels and thanked him for his help. At the end, he revealed that part of his responsibility was to look for promising future hires for the company, so he offered to take me on a tour of the Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito and introduce me to the management staff. I was ecstatic! A month after the tour, I got an e-mail from the HR representative of the Biltmore asking me to apply for a part-time front desk receptionist position! Four interviews later, I got the job.
I learned that personal connection is crucial to obtaining a desired position. My chances with Marriott were slim because I was a stranger. Would you invite a stranger into your home to work for you? Not likely. My tour of the Four Seasons made me a familiar face, and I got that tour by getting outside, meeting new people, and asking for advice. I found that people tend to be flattered when you ask them for their expertise—so don’t be afraid to ask!
Daniel Russell is a Career Peer Advisor at UCSB Career Services and a Front Desk Receptionist at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara in Montecito, CA. He currently studies History at UCSB and is due to graduate in June 2013.
Visit Daniel on LinkedIn.