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'How I used my love of languages and travel to bag a spot on a top grad scheme'

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Jessica Kelly, Director of Operations, Hilton London Canary Wharf

It creeps up quickly - after 18 years of education and four of the best years of your life at university, the daunting task of entering the world of work and deciding upon a meaningful career path. 

Image courtesy of Hilton

It’s tricky to know what to do, or even where to look. We all have those friends who seemed to effortlessly end up in the perfect job. Those friends who made it look easy. For many of us, it was a case of a little luck and a lot of determination (it certainly was for me!). 

I graduated from Manchester University with a 2:1 degree in French and Spanish in 2013. Before I graduated, all I knew was that I wanted to work in an exciting industry focused on people, that I loved languages and wanted to travel. I hadn’t considered the one industry - hospitality – that could tick all those boxes.  

That’s where my luck came in – at a dinner one evening, I found myself sat next to a Vice President of a hospitality company and I was sold by his stories. Each tale about the industry left me more convinced that this was the career for me. I took his final piece of advice – to apply for Hilton’s Elevator graduate program to really understand hospitality and progress towards a management position.

This is my main tip - talk to people. Ask questions, be curious about what other people do. You never know what story will captivate you or what advice will come your way. 

Once I applied for Elevator, my determination really kicked in. It’s a personal development program for graduates across the world.  I applied for the scheme, with no experience whatsoever in hospitality, I simply highlighted my love for interacting with people, my natural eagerness to learn. Each stage of the programme further showed me that hospitality was the perfect industry for me. I was in a diverse and energetic environment, meeting new and interesting people and working hard – by the time I am 30 I hope to be ready to reach my goal and become a General Manager of a hotel.

Canary Wharf Executive Lounge / Image courtesy of Hilton

Elevator allowed me to understand how a hotel works in a very short space of time. The accelerated learning was intense but it meant I had a lot of exposure to different departments. Looking back, I can clearly see my career progression. I was also given a mentor who is a GM and provided support and guidance along the way. My first placement was in Glasgow and from there I went to Istanbul and worked at the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti where I received Turkish lessons and helped manage the World Economic Forum event amongst many other things. When I moved back to the UK, I became Front of House Manager at Hilton Heathrow Terminal Four, then went to the Waldorf Hilton in Covent Garden as Food and Beverage Manager. Most recently, I have been appointed Director of Operations, which is the General Manager’s number two, at Hilton London Canary Wharf. 

I would urge everyone to think about a career in hospitality – even if it hasn’t occurred to you before reading this. Many people will tell you this, but in hospitality, it’s true that no two days are the same. Programs like Elevator will give you the right support and guidance for your career to take off. If you love to travel, want to live abroad and learn new management skills in an ever-changing, fast-paced and fun environment - then check it out! I love it as the challenge is different each day, as are the people you meet. I’m constantly pushed out of my comfort zone but always with the tools to succeed. The buzz is like nothing I ever imagined, and I can’t imagine working in another industry.

My advice for a career in hospitality? You need to be hungry but humble –push yourself to be developed and expose yourself to new challenges.

Applications open in October 2018, for more information on how to apply, visit https://jobs.hilton.com/universities/europe.php#GraduateDevelopmentPrograms

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