Hospitality execs explain how to network the right way
For people who would like to enter the hospitality industry and for industry professionals who want to advance their careers, contacting and meeting new people in hospitality is a good way to identify possible opportunities. Networking also allows job seekers to learn about different workplaces and figure out where they would fit in.
While in some fields networking involves formal interviews, in hospitality it’s more common to meet potential colleagues through shadowing, employment trials, and by temporarily working alongside them at events. “It's an actual performance environment that you're being put in. And that I think is more common in hospitality than anywhere else,” says Scott Samuels, CEO of Horizon Hospitality, an executive search firm. “It's not uncommon in the hospitality industry to see companies bring someone in for half a day or a day to work with the staff, to see the environment, to see if this is the right fit for them and the right fit for the company.”
Maureen Drum Fagin, Director of Career Services at the Institute of Culinary Education, recommends that people get a foot in the door by volunteering at charity events. “There are lots of charity events where they have walk-around tasting receptions where chefs will come and bring little tasting portions of food in support of whatever that charity is. And that's a really great way to volunteer, to find out from the organizers if they need any hands to assist the chefs with those functions,” she says. Since the chefs have to leave most of their staff back at their restaurants, this creates an opening for job seekers to step in and work with the chefs. “Volunteering to work alongside some of those chefs is a great opportunity to connect with others out there in the industry.”
Samuels and Drum Fagin both agree that when professionals try to make a new contact in the industry, the initial communication should be as personal as possible. Drum Fagin recommends that people looking to work in a restaurant research a chef and then email them. The email should reference techniques the chef is using or details of that chef’s career path. “It's going to show that you're really in tune with what that particular restaurant is doing, and they will be much more likely to be receptive,” she says, in contrast to generic emails that don’t demonstrate research and might not result in a response.
Samuels believes that email is not personal enough because busy professionals receive many emails from people they’ve never met and aren’t likely to respond to everyone. Instead, he advises people to pick up the phone. “If all you're doing is sending out emails and expecting to hear back, you're going to be sorely disappointed because that is not how things work these days,” he says. He also recommends being creative to get someone’s attention and gives an example of a job seeker who sent a potential employer a pizza. The pizza had a slice missing, and there was a note for the recipient in the space left by that slice. “I'm not saying that you have to go to that extreme,” Samuels says, but he notes that communications that are personalized and creative help people differentiate themselves from those who are not putting the same amount of effort into their attempts to make new contacts.
Once people are able to talk to a new contact, they should present themselves as if they were already interviewing for a job. “Even though you might not be applying for a specific role, you're always going to want to put yourself forth as being a potential candidate,” Drum Fagin says. She points out that when jobs open up, employers may reach out to people who made a good impression and ask them to apply for those positions.
That said, before they’re asked to apply, people should avoid giving too much unrequested information about themselves when they meet or speak to someone new. Samuels recommends that people wait to be asked for their qualifications. “What you don't want to do is bring a lot of information that has not been asked for and start providing all that information,” he says. “That's not what a company's looking for and it could be a turn off.”
Instead of offering documentation, job seekers should impress new contacts by showing that their personality is compatible with work in the hospitality industry. Drum Fagin mentions enthusiasm and authentic interest as important characteristics to demonstrate. Showing that you have the right demeanor to interact well with guests and colleagues is also crucial. “Every contact that you have with anybody, you always want to put yourself forth as being approachable, friendly, a good communicator. Because whether you're in the front of the house or the back of the house, you're going to be seen as an asset if you're coming to this field from that place.”