Charting Your Career Path in Hospitality – 3 Steps for Successful Foundation Years


Serving as an advisor to executives within the hospitality sector I have had the very fortunate opportunity to work with the best minds in the industry. This group is NOT just Chief Executive Officers running big companies; peak performers include a variety of people who have excelled in the many areas of the hospitality business. While they come from different walks of life and their stories are excitingly different, they share eerily similar themes when it comes to charting a successful career path.

In following the careers of peak performers, I realize that planning and execution start immediately upon entering the workforce. Thus, I call this “The Foundation Years.” This stage is critical as proper implementation provides the necessary building blocks for the long journey ahead.  While there is no specific timeline surrounding the Foundation Years, most people can actually cover these objectives within a two-year period.  It does not matter if you are an Ivy League graduate or someone with a high school degree; the three actions below are simple to understand and are non-discriminatory in nature.

  1. Be a Sponge: As you are just starting your journey within the hospitality industry, take full advantage to learn the business from as many perspectives as possible. Stay close to your boss and express your willingness to go above and beyond your primary job responsibilities. A high performing Senior Vice President of Operations within the restaurant industry put it best, stating that in his Foundation Years he served as an Assistant General Manager and pressed his boss to let him work shifts as a dishwasher and server.  He checked his ego (and hospitality degree) at the door and recognized that it was more important to vigorously absorb as much information about the industry as possible.
  1. Secure a Mentor: Everyone needs professional guidance and advice during their Foundation Years so it is imperative to link up with someone to serve as your guide. As you are new to the workforce and have limited resources and relationships, a mentor is typically someone who works within the organization you join. S/he should be someone you respect on a personal and professional basis and if you are extremely lucky it will be your boss with whom you have a direct line of reporting. A sound mentor/mentee relationship should be a formal and transparent relationship where the mentor is holding you accountable for your goal setting/tracking, thinking/reasoning, and decision making.  DO NOT settle on the first person willing to be your mentor – choose wisely. If it were not for my first mentor there is no way I would not be where I am today – thank you Tom Civitano!
  1. The Critical Three: The Hospitality Elite come from all different walks of life but interestingly enough share very similar attributes.  In my recent article titled The Critical Three, I discuss the most important traits I see among the highest performers — humility, self-awareness and resilience – The Critical Three.  If you don’t master these traits I can say with 100% confidence you will never be a peak performer.  During your Foundation Years you must identify your weaknesses and tirelessly master the Critical Three.  These traits are not necessarily innate, but can be learned, and are imperative for business success and personal well- being.

In my next piece I will discuss the next phase of the Career Progression Journey, Building Your Expertise. This will cover developing a rock solid network, finding your passion, and the importance of understanding the harsh realities around the 10,000-hour rule.