Career Lessons in Hospitality

How do you summarize all the wisdom you’ve obtained from years of being an entrepreneur? You get someone to capture the summary for you.  This month, I had the opportunity to be featured on the Defining Hospitality podcast, hosted by my longtime friend Dan Ryan. While I’ve been interviewed many times before, this was my first podcast. Dan and I talked about the road to being an entrepreneur in the design industry. After the interview, I wanted to provide five takeaways to inspire new designers early in their careers.

1. Remember to say “please” and “thank you”

While you might not think it would be important to utter those words, I know they made a big difference in my early career. A former boss had a difficult time  saying,“thank you” and that stuck with me. It made me feel underappreciated and was one of the factors that made me want to find another workplace.  Luckily, before I lost total hope in humanity, I had another boss that did the complete opposite. They treated everyone the same, no matter what their title was. They regularly recognized me and others when we were working hard. This regular appreciative feedback only made me want to work harder.  At AJC Design, I believe it’s so important to show appreciation to my staff, clients, and vendors. So if you haven’t already, write a thank you note to your vendor for that fabulous lunch or better yet take your staff out for lunch to let them know how much you appreciate them.

2.  Work in different work environments 

I encourage young designers to work in all different types of environments from small to medium to large to understand the type of environment that works best for them and what types of people they want to be around. Internships are really important. The more diverse these experiences are, the more they can help you decide what you want. It may be really tempting to want to join the biggest and most recognized firm in your industry. However, at a larger firm, while you may earn more, you may not have the visibility you need to advance your career. In addition, some larger firms have more strict governance of how projects get done, which can either feel constricting or very comfortable, depending on your style. At smaller firms, you are apt to get more responsibilities, and take on different projects to figure out what you like best. Working at a smaller firm also allows you to build more leverage to get to the next level.

3. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s probably not the right fit

This is a lesson I wish I learned 20 years ago. Your gut is a really good indicator so it’s important to really listen to your intuition and your heart’s desire. If you can’t say yes to something now, in 3 or 6 months, it’s probably not going to change. Don’t work for a big corporation if you hate following rules. Define what is really important to you in your work environment. Is it 6 weeks off a year? Is it working in a team environment? While you may not be able to quit a job you hate before you find another job, trust yourself to know what you need next and can’t compromise.

4. Explore the world

I can’t tell you how much traveling around the globe has  pushed my creativity to the next level and inspired my design aesthetic. I highly encourage designers to travel outside the country and even take a few weeks, if possible, to do a full cultural immersion. Being exposed to art, food, and architecture will give experience the culture of the place and expand your creative palette. Can’t travel far? Take advantage of the exhibits, festivals, and architecture in home city or places that are easy to get to.

5. It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish

Not landing your dream job out of school can be disappointing, but you must trust the journey. Release the expectation that only one company will provide happiness or success. Instead, keep an open mind. Identify 5-10 firms you’d like to work for and keep editing it along the way.  In the meantime, keep building your network by getting to know people inside and especially outside of your company. Ask tons of questions. Use your current circumstances to the best of your ability. Building up and diversifying your portfolio now could open doors later down the road. Some jobs are meant to be be stepping stones. As long as you follow your bliss along the way, there is no straight path and there is no deadline for reaching your destination.

 If what I’ve written so far has caught your attention, and you’re still curious about hospitality design or working at AJC Design, drop me a line! I’m always on the lookout for new talent.



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