A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my college advisor from the University of Arkansas. I am still local, and I regularly reach out to her on behalf of my job for part-time help. But this time was different. She was asking me for something.

A huge part of hospitality, and working towards a degree in it, is actual experience. Accountants can be taught formulas and how to use QuickBooks in class, lawyers have to study the history and teachings of law before they can practice on their own, and doctors and nurses have to study anatomy and physiology before they can actually begin to intern and practice. Hospitality is learned or just naturally there. Experience builds on hospitality. It is hard to teach, and the times it is taught – is not nearly enough.

In a team retreat last year for my company, we watched a video, which is based on the art of hospitality. In this video, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, speaks to what hospitality is and what hospitality means. He compares hospitality to a dialogue, and that it is different than service. His company believes “the way you make people feel is what they remember, more than anything.” Meyer goes on to talk about what they look for in employees, a “high hospitality quotient,” which he says is 49% technical skills and 51% emotional skills. That 51% adds up to someone who is naturally wired to want to make people feel better.

Meyer continues with a phrase that has really stood out to me since watching that video, “always be collecting dots, so you can always be connecting dots.” He relates this to always knowing who you’re talking to – and what’s important to that person. When you make a client or a guest feel special by connecting the dots, you are creating a customized experience for them – and that brings them back. That might even make you their favorite. Meyer adds that being someone’s favorite, is better than being the “best”, because others can’t tell you what is or is not your favorite. Just like they can’t take a picture of the way a hospitality professional made their heart feel – showing the art of hospitality.

I couldn’t agree more.

The University of Arkansas’ Hospitality Innovation program has grown significantly in the past few years. One of the core requirements that they have added is the pre-internship class. This class focuses on the preparation for getting an internship – resumes, cover letters, elevator speeches, and interview skills. Which brings us to the opportunity that my college advisor presented me – she invited me, along with several other industry professionals and past alumni, to participate in mock-interviews with the pre-internship class students.

Building on that video, and what I’ve learned working my way through the hospitality industry thus far, I was excited for this opportunity to participate in the growth of these students. The guidelines for our mock-interviews were minimal, but they were encouraged to be a mini-version of an interview for the companies we represented. The students were tasked with researching us, in addition to our companies, and to be prepared for questions we might ask based on our jobs.

As most interviews go, I asked each student (candidate) to tell me a little bit about themselves. Most responded to this with their elevator speech, which usually started a great conversation. From there, we touched base on their job experience, and a few situational questions based on our respective careers. Overall, the students did well. Some students were outstanding in comparison to their classmates, and I could tell that some struggled. But the positive outlook in their struggles is that we, as industry professionals, could give feedback to help them improve.

We were asked to evaluate the students based on their communication skills, presence, and their self-confidence. The majority of the students were very successful on their presence, specifically in their attire. I could tell that their communication skills and self confidence had improved since they may have been freshman, and where there was room for improvement, we were able to address that. For example, some students struggled with the word “like” or “uhm” throughout their conversation, or fidgeting with their hands a little too much. These are mistakes that I still catch myself doing – so as I noted an opportunity for improvement on students, I also noted an opportunity for myself.

I don’t know who was more nervous for these interviews – the industry professionals or the students. Either way, it was a great experience for all of us and I am very grateful for the opportunity from the college advisor that still sees something in me.


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