The transition from being a college student to a real-world working adult doesn’t occur overnight. No college senior wants to feel like they’re being left behind, or the outlier who couldn’t sink their teeth into a job before they graduated. With student loans and the pressure to become independent hanging over their heads, finding a job is key. At The School of Hospitality Business, an industry-specific school within the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, the ability to land a job comes with what it takes to get the degree.
A degree at The School of Hospitality Business is not just a piece of paper. It’s a culmination of at least 800 hours of required internships, multiple networking opportunities, and the ability to be a part of its student-run Hospitality Association. Made up of nine clubs with around 80 to 100 student leaders, the association has been running for almost as long as the school itself. Most of the graduated students reported to the school that their required internships and career expo functions, put on by the Hospitality Association, were crucial factors in helping them reach their goal of finding a job after college.
Alex Trompke is a junior at The School of Hospitality Business and the current CEO of the Hospitality Association. He has already been offered a full-time position after he graduates. He credits much of his success to the school’s emphasis on networking and attaining real-world experience before entering the job market. “By the time you graduate, and you have that paper in your hands, you’re ready,” says Trompke. “It’s just about if you want to go out there and take it.”
In a survey of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 75 percent of respondents prefer their employees to have relevant work experience before being hired, while 60 percent of employers say they prefer work experience gained through an internship or co-op experience. Many graduating seniors are unprepared for the job market due to a lack of career counseling and job search training starting on day one, explained Robert J. LaBombard, the CEO of a career matchmaking firm called GradStaff, in a 2015 interview with The Washington Post.
Trompke says the skills he learned in career counseling, such as networking and job hunting, have contributed to his confidence in finding fulfilling work. The biggest networking event hosted by the HA is the career expo. During the recruiting fair, 80 companies come to recruit hospitality students. “It’s almost like the Hunger Games for recruiting in a sense, because they literally open and all the recruiters are at their booths, ready, and everyone just runs through,” says Trompke. While it sounds like chaos, 60 to 70 percent of the employers that come to recruit are alumni, whom the HA CEO describes as wanting their fellow colleagues to succeed as much as they do.
Networking with confidence is a huge part of the hospitality industry, and is a practice instilled in students at The School of Business upon entering the program. Trompke notes that everyone should always have his or her 30-second elevator speech at the ready.
“There was an instance where one of my colleagues had actually been in an elevator with the CEO of a company, and he noticed that they were wearing the same tie,” recalls Trompke. “He started a conversation with the CEO based on the tie, transitioned into his sales speech, and ended up getting a job there.”
Being an integral part of the HA has also provided Trompke with an experience he believes most people don’t get to have as an undergraduate. “It’s helped me so much, because so many times in our generation of millennials, we get fixated on social media. Being the CEO of the HA really forced me to get better at my one-on-one person interactions, how to deal with confrontations, deal with leading my peers, and other people my age. At times it’s uncomfortable, but it’s really made me grow quickly, and helped me become a better leader.”
For those who aren’t a part of the MSU hospitality program, Trompke suggests learning how to be a sponge when working in the hospitality industry. “While you may have had the best day due to the anniversary couple coming in and saying you made their day, you might also have the worst day of your life when the business traveler says you ruined everything and I want you fired.” Absorb the positive experiences, whether it’s working as a bellhop, a waiter, or a busboy, and learn from the negative ones.
“What’s really great about hospitality is that we’re not quite selling something tangible that you can grasp, we’re creating an experience, a culture, a memory, so we really have to live it, breath it, and be passionate about it,” Trompke says. “If you show your passion, it’s pretty easy to get a job.”