A Guide to Networking Effectively in the Hospitality Industry
Networking is one of the best ways to further your career. According to data from LinkedIn, referrals are the #1 way that people find a new job, and 56% of job seekers utilize their professional networks to find new opportunities.
A strong network can be especially valuable in an industry like hospitality, where your ability to communicate and build relationships with people is a big part of job success. Whether you’re a recent graduate just starting to build their hospitality career or an experienced professional who wants to improve their networking skills, here is some advice that will help.
Preparing to network
Networking is something that professionals in just about every industry need to do to further their career. It basically means developing connections with other people who work in your industry, and doing that can have a lot of benefits even beyond finding your next job.
Attending a networking event can be intimidating, especially for young job seekers who don’t yet have much experience forming professional relationships. Preparing beforehand can help you overcome these nerves and make the most out of networking opportunities. Here are some things you can do to develop a networking strategy and increase your odds of success.
Identifying your networking goals
As was mentioned earlier, networking has a lot of potential benefits. Knowing exactly what you want to get out of your professional network can help to direct your efforts and make sure you’re doing the type of networking that has real value for you.
Some of the most common goals of networking include:
- Finding a new job. Many job openings aren’t posted to the general job market. Instead, they’re filled through employee referrals, recruiters, or other behind-the-scenes methods. Building your network is the best way to find out about these jobs.
- Learning about other career opportunities. Job openings aren’t the only opportunities people share through their network. It’s also a great way to learn about conferences, professional development, and other resources that can help you grow your career.
- Gaining knowledge. One of the best ways to learn about an industry is to hear other professionals’ experiences and insights. Networking can also be an excellent way to find a mentor, especially for those at the beginning of their hospitality career.
- Building a professional reputation. Every industry has a community around it. Networking with members of this community helps professionals grow their professional brand, and that can be valuable for people at all stages of their careers.
Figure out which of those benefits has the most importance for you. This will help you decide which type of networking will serve you the best, and who you want to connect with during that opportunity. For example, if you know you’d love to work for a particular hotel chain, connecting with employees and leaders in that company will give you the best chance of landing a position with them.
Crafting your elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is a brief introduction to yourself as a professional. The idea is that it’s short enough to be said on an elevator ride–roughly 30 seconds is a good length to shoot for.
Having a solid elevator pitch gives you an easy way to start conversations with the people you meet. That can help you approach other people with confidence since you have something ready to say instead of needing to improvise. An elevator pitch also gives the other person a general idea of your interests, goals, and identity as a professional, making it more likely they’ll share ideas and insights that interest you.
There are four key ingredients in an effective elevator pitch:
- Who you are
- What you do professionally
- Your goals
- A call to action
So, a hospitality elevator pitch could look like:
“Hi, it’s great to meet you! My name is Pat and I’m a hospitality manager. I’ve been in my current role as the front desk manager at ABC Hotel for three years and am eager to take on a role with more responsibility. Would you mind exchanging business cards so I can reach out about opportunities at your property?”
The call to action doesn’t need to be something after the event, either. You can also use it as an invitation for the other person to share their thoughts or introduce themselves. It’s smart to prepare a few versions of your elevator pitch for different scenarios you may encounter while networking.
Key skills to network effectively
Networking is all about communication, and that’s the main skill you should focus on developing if you want to be a more successful networker. Specifically, the listening side of communication is the most important. Yes, you want to tell other people about you, but actively listening and responding to what the other person says is the difference between a sales pitch and a real conversation, and the latter is what will form meaningful connections.
Another oft-neglected skill is non-verbal communication. An open stance and friendly smile will attract more people than hunched shoulders and a scowl. It’s also beneficial to be able to read other people’s body language, helping to guide your conversation to the topics that truly interest them.
A good memory is also an advantage in networking, especially for in-person events. You’ll likely meet a lot of people, and being able to match their face to their name, and remember what you talked with them about, will let you maintain that connection after the event is over. If your memory isn’t great, bring a pen and notebook you can use to jot down notes after conversations, or write key points you discussed on their business card so you can follow up on them later.
Networking opportunities for hospitality professionals
Networking events can be either face-to-face or online events like webinars, virtual happy hours, and similar virtual gatherings. As a general rule, an in-person event will give you more chances to engage with other professionals one-on-one. This is still possible in many online events too, though, and these virtual offerings can be a great way to grow your network beyond your local area.
Some of the best places to find hospitality networking events include:
- American Hotel and Lodging Association – The largest hotel association in the U.S., the AHLA hosts both in-person and online events around the country.
- Hospitality Net – The #1 global hospitality news website, Hospitality Net’s events page lists upcoming industry events that can be excellent places to meet other professionals.
- Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International – A global membership organization for travel sales and marketing professionals that offers a variety of webinars and networking events.
- U.S. Travel Association – A non-profit organization dedicated to the entire travel industry, their online calendar is a great way to find out about industry events across the country.
Joining professional organizations, like the ones listed above, is one way to expand your network. These groups often have forums and similar social outlets for members, in addition to the events they host.
You can also become a member of groups dedicated specifically to networking. The largest of these groups is the Hospitality Industry Network, which has chapters around the world, including several in the United States.
To find local groups, Meetup is a good first place to check. There are thousands of independent groups that use the site to coordinate meetings, including many dedicated to hospitality and travel professionals.
Social media networking
The advantage of social media networks is that you don’t need to wait for an official event to start making connections. You can also use social media to stay in touch with people you meet at these events by following each other on your platforms of choice.
LinkedIn is the go-to social media platform for professional networking. In addition to connecting with individuals, joining LinkedIn groups dedicated to hospitality can expand your network’s reach.
Another great online networking tool is Facebook Groups. Similar to LinkedIn Groups, these are communities of people who share the same interests, and you can connect with both local and international professionals by joining.
Tips to build and maintain a professional network
1. Research potential network contacts before you connect.
During a job search, applicants are often advised to research the company before an interview so that they can ask meaningful questions during it. The same is true of making network contacts. The more you know about someone’s professional life and activities, the better you’ll be able to form a meaningful connection by asking about their career and business.
This won’t always be possible, of course, especially for networking events like mixers where you don’t know who’s going to be there in advance. If you’re doing online networking, though, or if you’re attending an event where names of attendees are available ahead of time, take some time to peruse their LinkedIn profiles, articles they’ve published, or other information available online. This will help you identify the key people you want to connect with and give you ready topics to bring up during the conversation.
2. Follow up with the people you’ve connected with.
Meeting a person in your field is just the first step to building a relationship with them. Making a strong first impression is a great first step, but you need to stay in touch with them to truly benefit from the connection. At an in-person event, make sure to take business cards from people you want to follow up with, then actually use that contact information to send them a message after the fact. You can also follow the individual on social networking platforms and make a point to engage with their posts by liking or commenting.
3. Find ways to be a helper.
If you can help someone solve a problem or reach their goals, they’ll be much more likely to remember you than someone they briefly chatted with. There are lots of ways to be a helper, from sharing knowledge and advice to volunteering for an industry event or passing along an opportunity like a job opening. You don’t need to be a company leader or industry expert to offer this help. Passing along a useful article, sharing someone else’s post to give it a broader audience, or forwarding a job opportunity email are examples of ways you can be a helper at any stage of your career. Actively seek out these opportunities and take advantage of them when they arise.
Bristol Associates, Inc. is an executive search firm with over 55 years of excellence in recruiting nationwide. Bristol specializes in recruiting for the Casino Gaming; CBD; Facility and Concession; Food and Beverage Manufacturing; Healthcare; Hotel and Resort; Nonprofit; Restaurant and Foodservice; and Travel, Tourism, and Attraction industries.
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