Looking for a people-first profession where you can thrive even if you don’t have a college degree?

Welcome to the multi-faceted world of hospitality, where experience is your step ladder to advancement and opportunities are plentiful.

They range from front desk clerk to housekeeper, night auditor to concierge, food service manager to general manager. Hospitality also employs people in administration, finance, marketing, operations and sales.

“You don’t need a degree to start in an entry-level position and you can work your way up,” said Ben Holtzclaw, Executive Search Consultant for Lee Group Search. “If you’re a people-first person, you can thrive in a customer-first organization.”

Holtzclaw, who specializes in the hospitality sector at Lee Group Search says that even some general manager positions don’t require an undergraduate degree, though having one is always a plus, especially if you’re hoping to advance in upper management. In more specialized fields like culinary arts, it’s helpful to have at least an associate degree.

But being able to communicate effectively with people along with being flexible, adaptable and capable of solving problems in a pinch are qualities that hospitality employers value. Most of us know the feeling of walking into a hotel and having a bad experience at the front desk that extends to your stay. With guests today seeking more customized services and savvy enough to explore all their options with using online tools, top-tier service matters more than ever.

The hospitality industry also puts your critical thinking skills to work in an entirely different setting.

“It’s not sales, you’re not doing busywork, you’re helping people who are guests, whether they’re staying in a hotel or resort, attending a banquet or dining out for a special occasion,” Holtzclaw said. “Often people who are overly analytic or system-oriented don’t do as well in hospitality because people can’t be computed into a system. You’re in the business of people and doing things based on the person you’re catering to.”

Of course, the hospitality industry has room for people with business backgrounds, including sales managers, finance officers and marketing personnel. A new wave of positions focuses on guest experience and personalized services.

Being able to be hands-on at a moment’s notice is essential if you’re working directly with the public. “Even if you’re a general manager, if someone is having a problem with their room, you either find someone to handle it or you handle it,” Holtzclaw said.

Entry level jobs that include housekeeper and front desk clerk offer growth opportunities. A housekeeper can aspire to be director of housekeeping, which can lead into working in operations. A dishwasher can move into food prep and catering.

Hospitality is one industry with multiple paths to diversify. And there’s more to this industry than hotels and restaurants. Think convention and visitors bureaus, attractions, cruises, country clubs and more.

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Holtzclaw says. “Opportunities in this industry are endless.”

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