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When personal qualities matter more at work than your level of education

Over the past 30 years in the hospitality industry, I have had the privilege to work with young talents with the grit to succeed, even though they do not have the paper qualification. I have learnt that hiring talents based on their academic grades and prior experience does not necessarily give me an accurate indication of their future performance.

When personal qualities matter more at work than your level of education

More often than not, whether you succeed or not in the hospitality industry depends much less on your paper qualifications than on three personal attributes — character, team spirit and a “can-do” mindset, says the author.

Does a degree or diploma determine one’s future?

“A degree in the relevant field” or “at least three years of experience” are criteria commonly seen in job advertisements as requirements for junior positions.

This gives the impression that anyone who wants a job must be educated and have relevant experience.

This could not be further from the truth. There are industries that value personality traits more than a piece of paper or years of experience.

Take the hospitality sector for instance. Here, more often than not, whether you succeed or not depend much less on your paper qualifications than on three personal attributes – character, team spirit and a “can-do” mindset.

And it is amid a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic that you can see why these qualities matter most.

CHARACTER

In the hospitality industry, those who thrive and succeed tend to be compassionate and self-motivated, regardless of their rank or position. They care deeply about their customers and colleagues.

Let’s consider this recent example when Singaporeans and Singapore residents had to serve their stay-home notices (SHN) in hotels after returning from abroad during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the strict rules, guests were not allowed to leave their rooms at any time and food was delivered at set times.

Some of these guests had still not adjusted to Singapore time after flying in from various corners of the globe and were asleep at meal times, for example.

What did the hotel staff members do? They took note of these guests and ensured all their meals were prepared according to their body clocks.

The staff members also ordered food through their personal phones for SHN guests who were unable to download delivery apps.

These gestures are not mandated or taught in any staff guidebook. But by going beyond the call of duty, these hotel workers showed empathy and a service mindset, no matter the circumstances.

And in doing so, they win over customers with their authenticity and character.   

These are instances that I have seen from time to time since I started out in the hospitality industry in the 1980s.

I recall having a colleague who had learnt of an overseas guest who was staying alone while her husband was away for work.

Instead of recommending a few places for the guest to visit, she used her personal time to act as a guide and took the guest around on a shopping trip.

Their common interests led to a long-lasting friendship. To this day, the two are in contact, even though they live an ocean apart.

TEAM SPIRIT

The embodiment of having a team spirit is when a group of individuals work together to accomplish the team’s goals, putting aside their differences and their own interests.

In the hospitality industry, manpower is tight. It is not uncommon for non-housekeeping staff from sales and marketing or the front desk to help with turning over rooms during peak periods.

Likewise, during particularly busy periods at a hotel’s café, a senior chef might be called upon to help man a live food station and you might also see a hotel manager roll up his sleeves and help to clear plates and tables.

In the wake of the Covid-19 outbeak, manpower in some hotels has become even tighter, in part due to travel restrictions by neighbouring countries which meant that some hotel workers here are stuck in their home countries.  

Another factor was the need to set aside dedicated teams to manage properties designated for SHN guests that are completely closed to all other guests.

Times like these can easily lead to panic and lapses in service.

Instead, I have seen hotel workers stepping up to take on unfamiliar roles, including covering duties at dedicated SHN hotels in the place of colleagues who have underlying health conditions.

The term “all hands on deck” could not be more apt during times like this.

This willingness to put the team’s interest ahead of one’s own is not something that you can find on an education certificate, can you?

A CAN-DO MINDSET

Lastly, a “can-do” mindset in the hospitality industry means saying yes to unexpected requests from customers first (within reasons and legal limits, of course) and then finding a way to make them happen.

As hospitality is a service-based industry and a people business, our goal is to have as many happy customers as possible.

A positive attitude is all the more important in an uncertain time like this.

For those in the hotel industry now, it could be a simple daily check-in with quarantined guests to see if they need any assistance.

This would provide a human connection to help ease cabin fever and ensure guests’ well-being at all times.

It is great service attitudes like this that win over loyal guests.

LESSONS OUTSIDE OF CLASSROOMS

These skills sets – being compassionate, working well with others, choosing a positive outlook in every given situation – are not necessarily those you can learn in classrooms.

Over the past 30 years in the industry, I have had the privilege to work with young talents with the grit to succeed, even though they do not have the paper qualification. 

I have learnt that hiring talents based on their academic grades and prior experience does not necessarily give me an accurate indication of their future performance. 

This sentiment is even more deeply rooted after seeing how united some of my colleagues in the hospitality industry are in times of crisis.

Through hard work and a genuine heart-felt wish to serve customers, some of them have risen to become the heads of departments, despite starting out in the most junior or even part-time roles. Some have also become my trusted aides.

This is why, even though the Covid-19 pandemic is adversely affecting the hospitality sector, I believe we are prepared to do whatever it takes to ride through the crisis and be ready to bounce back when it is over.

So, for those out there who feel defeated without solid academic qualifications, don’t fret.

What employers look out for are often traits not found on a piece of paper.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Arthur Kiong is chief executive officer of Far East Hospitality.

Related topics

hospitality hotel Covid-19 circuit breaker coronavirus work education

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