Now Hiring: Hotel and Restaurant Managers
By Joyce Routson, Hcareers.com
Demand for hotel and restaurant managers is picking up. Experts in the hospitality industry say new graduates once again have multiple job offers and employers are hiring experienced personnel to fill jobs that were left vacant during the worst of the economic downturn.
While there are still five applicants for every managerial job, candidates with education and experience will be able to find work, they say.
This is a turnaround from the situation four years ago when about 400,000 U.S. hotel employees were laid off as the recession started taking a toll on the hospitality industry. At the start of 2010, at the recession's peak, U.S. hotels had a record-low 45.1% occupancy rate — the lowest January rate since industry statistician Smith Travel Research began tracking data in 1987.
According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 11.4 million workers in lodging and food service establishments at the end of 2010; by May 2012 that number had risen to 11.8 million, an increase of more than 6%.
Observers say the market began turning in job seekers' favor at the beginning of this year.
"When the economy tanked, our grads maybe got one or two offers," said Sheri Ispir, director of experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University. "This year has been a big turning point and we're seeing a lot of hotel grads get three or four offers, which speaks to the change in demand."
On the employer front, recruiter Vic Haus, president and CEO of HMR Search, a staffing firm, said "business is terrific, up 50% since late 2012."
Haus' firm, which places managers in hotels and resorts, said employers are not trying to fill every vacancy they have, but "it's continuing to improve." When business was at its nadir, many hotels went without personnel such as sales and convention services managers.
"If they had five or six sales managers, they laid off all but one," he said. "Or the director of catering was doing all the convention services. Instead of having the sous chef do banquets, they are now hiring just for the banquet department."
Graduates of another top program at Pennsylvania State University are also stepping into a much better job market, says Rosemarie Hibbler, coordinator of career placement and advising at the School of Hospitality Management.
"The market has definitely improved," she said. "It's come back strong – recruiters are now calling me and asking when they can come." She says the school has a "low 90%" placement rate and those who used the career center have had multiple offers.
Bachelor's degree required
Graduates of the programs at Penn State and Johnson & Wales are educated to step into management-in-training programs or jobs such as assistant managers, property managers, restaurant managers and food service managers at top-tier hotels. In today's marketplace, the bar is set high – a four-year degree is essential whether it comes from a specialized university program or a general one.
"It is imperative," says Haus. "It doesn't have to be in hospitality management, but a degree signals that the individual can start something and finish something that takes time." He adds that his clients don't want an associate's degree.
He advises even if you can't complete a degree in four years, get a BA or BS. "Stop and work a full-time job in the hotel business or be a food server for four hours a day and go to school part-time. Get your additional education – that will help you move into the $80,000 a year high-end positions."
Ispir at Johnson & Wales concurs. "In the hospitality industry there was a time when you didn't need a four-year degree or didn't need to specialize in a certain area. But when I talk to the Hiltons, the Hyatts, the Starwoods – many have updated their job descriptions to require a bachelor's degree."
Hibbler adds that many management-in-training programs require a high GPA along with a college degree. Without it, options for upward mobility might be limited. "If you don't have that you maybe could get a lower-level supervisory role, but it's unlikely you'll get into a specialty area," she says.
The specialized college programs have extensive internships that provide graduates with experience. College graduates without specialized hospitality school training but interested in the industry should try to work in the field to improve their chances.
"Do whatever you can to get in the door," Haus said. "Apply for a food server position, or cashier or hostess, or a catering coordinator position." With some experience, candidates can improve their chances of moving up into management and they can take specialized courses in finance and get certified to work with food.
He adds that limited service properties -– hotels without food and beverage such as the Hilton Garden Inns and Marriott Courtyards –- are great training grounds for managers.
Also, experts say, be flexible in your choice of employers and geography. And if you have social media and finance skills those are important. "Food service managers who know how to lower costs and make more with less, that is in demand," said Ispir.
About the Author
Joyce Routson is a journalist and researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for Hcareers.com.