Whether you’re a school leaver, a graduate or looking to change careers later in life, the hospitality sector offers a dizzying world of opportunity and variety. But what skills does the industry value most? With a respectful nod to the ‘hard’ skills or knowledge competences that any candidate needs to fulfil the basic requirements of a job, in this article we’re going to focus on the ‘soft’ skills which are just as important in shaping overall performance.
Hospitality, leisure, and travel is, above all else, a public-facing, people-first business, so it should not come as a surprise to discover the importance the sector places in finding candidates with the right personal attributes to become effective and cooperative members of their team.
Here then are the soft skills most valued by this dynamic sector. Oh, and it’s worth remembering that these skills are often referred to as ‘transferable skills’ because they can be learned in many different contexts. Have a think about your own previous experiences and how you might use them to evidence these skills in any future application.
Think about the sheer number of restaurants and hotels in any major city and one thing becomes clear. Hospitality is a highly competitive business. While great food and facilities are rightly important, there are many venues with high quality offerings. So how do they distinguish themselves? The truth is, it’s the human experience of customer service that is the real differentiator and that depends entirely on the attitude of staff. Exceptional service, the kind of service that builds reputation and loyalty, requires empathy. It means being able to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. With empathy you can not only meet customer needs but anticipate them before they occur. It adds real value because it’s a precursor to being pro-active, playing your part in creating compelling service offerings that leave a lasting, positive impression. Empathy also means having the ability to treat customers as individuals. This is increasingly important at the luxury end of the market where the ability to offer personalised service separates the excellent from the merely good.
This is the ability to understand, control and channel your own feelings in a way that encourages peak performance. Think about it in a sporting context. When a footballer takes a penalty in an important game, one of the biggest determinants of their success is the ability to control their emotions and stay calm and positive in a stressful situation. In hospitality, this is an important trait, particularly in customer-facing roles, where individual customers may complain or make challenging demands, time schedules are likely to be tight, and dealing with the unpredictable is close to a given. Coming to terms with operational pressures and keeping a level-head requires a level of self-awareness and perspective. However, if you have the right amount of emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to manage your way through a crisis and keep the appearance of the swan, gliding through the water, while your feet kick furiously beneath.
Perhaps not the most obvious choice compared to some other sectors, but it’s important to understand the way we spend our leisure time is subject to constant change. From the chef concocting their latest masterpiece, to the club promoter dreaming up themes nights for new audiences, hospitality is always looking to capitalise on the latest trends. It’s the same with travel and leisure as new destinations become hot and new lifestyles become popular. The industry is fuelled by the imagination of younger generations entering the workforce with their own ideas. It needs people who can pitch and sell a compelling narrative and motivate others with an offer that is hard to refuse.
Imagine you’re organising a wedding banquet for 300 people. Now imagine a chart showing the amount of energy you need to successfully pull it together. What would that chart look like? Most likely, you’d see quiet periods of preparation punctuated by hectic explosions of energy during peak service. Not all hospitality roles are like this of course, but many are and when it is, it’s all hands to the pump. In these moments of fevered activity, being able to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, assist your co-workers and keep on top of it all is an essential skill. In a sector where no two days are the same, effective multi-tasking is the key to delivering stunning service.
The entire hospitality industry has just been through once huge exercise in resilience as Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns threatened to pull the plug on many businesses. Those that survived had to weather the economic storm, often by finding innovative solutions including new products and new ways of delivering them. At the individual level, resilience is important too. You may need physical resilience if your job involves staying on your feet for long hours. You may need mental resilience to cope with the pressure and flurries of activity. Sometimes things will go wrong. Can you keep going? Bouncebackability is an admirable trait in anyone, and it’s especially sought in this industry.
Attention to detail
Delivering on customer expectations means making sure everything is as it should be – hotel beds made right, tables clean, food properly cooked, service delivered on time, supplies ordered. Hospitality businesses are looking for people who are ultra-aware of their surroundings and have the initiative to put something right before it causes a problem. An eye for detail is a key skill.
Listening and communication
In any job that brings you face to face with the public, you’ll meet people from many walks of life. They’ll be different ages, nationalities. They’ll have different temperaments. Different expectations. That diversity can be found in the workforce too. So, the ability to actively listen to, process and understand what people are asking for is vitally important. When you work front of house, you’re the representative of your organisation and must be able to communicate in a way that reflects the values of the business – with patience, with kindness but also with clarity and efficiency. The speed with which you can identify an issue and communicate a solution impacts the performance of the whole team around you. People with an ability to build a quick rapport with strangers are worth their weight in gold in hospitality.
There are few sectors more dependent on cooperation than hospitality. Whether you work in a hotel, a zoo or for an events business you are one cog in a well-oiled machine that is only as strong as its weakest link. From the barista to the cruise ship entertainer, you’ll find a team orientated mentality boosts the motivation and performance of all those around you. Great teamwork is the secret sauce that makes a job fun and an organisation more likely to succeed. It means being open to others and showing initiative. Sometimes it means offering leadership. But above all else it means understanding that you succeed when those around you do too.