Note: This article was written and last updated before Covid-19 and so it does not reflect the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality, leisure, tourism and events industry nor how scarce hospitality work experience has become. If you are unable to obtain the work experience suggested below, try to find other ways to develop your people skills – for example, by volunteering (many charities are offering ways for you to volunteer digitally or over the phone). Our list of career-friendly activities you can do while social distancing has some good suggestions for you.
The hospitality sector is all about the consumer, so you need to show you know how to deal with customers. You need to be able to think on your feet, work in a team, know all about the industry and, above all, have a real enthusiasm for hospitality.
You can develop these skills and get the experience to show them off in a number of different ways: you could look for a formal internship or year in industry, take on a part-time job in a local restaurant, do a short work experience placement with a top hotel chain, or volunteer to organise fundraising events for a charity.
Where to find relevant work experience for a hospitality career
Students interested in hospitality are typically interested in a variety of long-term career paths, from general management to industry analysis and sports and events management. Other areas where it's possible to gain work experience and go on to develop a career include administration, marketing and front of house roles.
You need to think about which of these areas you want to go into and select work experience that aligns with the responsibilities of the graduate role you want. If you’re interested in events planning, for example, there’s little point in spending three years working behind the till; you need to get involved in some form of project management.
Be prepared to think outside the box. You might be aiming at getting on a high-flying graduate programme for an international hotel chain, but you could still benefit from a few weeks’ work experience in a small, local guesthouse; if you work for a smaller employer, you might get more responsibility and an insight into the whole business rather than just one section of it.
Equally, you might find relevant experience opportunities in unexpected places; for example, professional sports clubs often have hospitality or conference services too. Similarly, hotels, music venues, ski resorts, theme parks and cruise liners offer more opportunities than meets the eye, as they also host conferences and other events requiring events assistants, caterers and bar staff. By taking a position at these kind of venues, you’ll be able to gain learn how a group incorporates hospitality into their wider services.
Hospitality work experience as a placement year
A number of hospitality courses include a year or a series of semesters in industry – universities should have contacts in place to help you find suitable employers for this period. The advantage of this is that your placements are typically aligned to your degree in some way; it is likely that you’ll be exposed to a number of different areas of the business, which will serve to enhance your understanding of how the wider business operates.
This sort of experience may also allow you to start slightly higher up the career ladder than your peers. Internships increase your employability and may lead to you being fast-tracked into a management role or given a place on a graduate training scheme.
Hospitality work experience if you haven’t done a hospitality degree
Those who are not studying a hospitality degree will find it helps them to compete with hospitality graduates if they have relevant work experience.
It’s important to start gaining relevant experience as early as possible. The hospitality graduate can show that they've been dedicated to a hospitality career for at least three years, whereas an application from a geography graduate with no relevant experience will likely look like it’s been put together on a whim. If you have plenty of experience on your CV, it balances out your unrelated degree subject.
Some of the big employers run internships that are open to both hospitality and non-hospitality students. Equally, there’s no reason why a non-hospitality student can’t also take time out from studying to work in the industry. You could do a ski season, take on a temporary events assistant job, work at summer camp or opt for a formal 12-month scheme.
All hospitality job hunters, but non-hospitality students in particular, need to consider doing part-time work, short-term work experience placements or volunteering alongside their degree. This is an industry where work experience is highly valued and having developed the right skills and attributes can be the key to securing a job.
Getting experience in other areas
Another option is to take the do-it-yourself approach, particularly if you’re interested in events management or planning. By joining a society at university, you can open a lot of doors by proposing, planning and running events related to that group. You should be able to show that you can take a project and manage and promote it accordingly (and within your budget).
Groups such as Oxjam are regularly on the lookout for people who can organise events or gigs, and so offer an excellent starting point. These volunteering positions provide a wealth of experience that will show you are able to co-ordinate people and run events smoothly.
Bear in mind that it’s not just specific hospitality roles that show you have what it takes to work in the industry. For example, travelling shows off your organisational skills because you had to plan the trip and coordinate transport, all within a budget and timeframe, which is important if you want to work in tourism or events. Equally, being captain of the football team involves leadership and interpersonal skills, important skills for budding managers in any area of hospitality.