Learning and Unlearning on the first job

Learn, Unlearn And Relearn:  Career Guide

So, you have already landed the job of a co-ordinator at the travel desk of the latest seven-star hotel that’s the toast of the town. Heartiest congratulations, do take a bow!

But while you are still popping the champagne and enjoying the last few days of your freedom, it’s indeed worth your while to remember what every employed professional will tell you. First jobs are first jobs and the lessons you learn, and unlearn (while flitting between fetching coffee for bosses to carrying laptop bags to presentations) serve you well until the twilight years of your professional lives, nay, life itself.

It is an oft-neglected universal truth that all of us come with a lot of academic hangover when we step into our first jobs. In fact, neglected is not the term. It is so universal that nobody cares to speak about it. It has grown adventitious roots and become so intrinsically part of the system, that no one notices it.

Fishing for examples, first, let’s take ‘parroting’. Yes, Indian academics routinely over-emphasises learning by rote, rather than the more practical Gandhian ‘learning by doing’ method. As was very brilliantly enacted in the blockbuster 3 Idiots, there’s a wide schism that exists between the textbook and the laboratory, or the laboratory and the industry. So to speak, it’d serve us very well if we were to pick up bits and pieces of practicum and apply them to our first jobs than tend to learn processes by rote.

And then, the shattering of notions and views we had long learnt to nurture as students. For, truth be told, there is a vast difference between theory and practice. For instance, take the twilight zone of ethics. Each organisation gives its own zing to it and subjectivity means everything is open to interpretation. Don’t look like you’re shell-shocked even if you are. Learn to unlearn.

Secondly, there’s the mass marketing mentality or to put it more succinctly, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work. It might have served you well in college. However, professions are an entirely different ball game. Each task needs to be seen through a different prism. As also, there are fresh ways of looking at each task, when revisited. This keeps up the excitement and sees to it that the monster called monotony doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Thirdly, the all-important eye for detail and nitty-gritty. Your professor in college or your parents were inclined to give you the benefit of doubt. Your colleagues will find ways to expose lack of eye for detail. And half-baked cakes never easy on the palate. And remember, it’s a dog-eats-dog world and no one is irreplaceable.

Fourthly, organise and prioritize. Use post its, memos, alarms, rap your knuckles, kick yourself, do everything but get your priorities right. Truth is, a lot of overworking happens because people tend to get priorities wrong. Have lists and maintain excel sheets. Also, maintain time and expenditure lists – a tad painful in the beginning, but quite enjoyable – and most importantly insightful – subsequently. Put in extra hours only if absolutely necessary but try not to make it a habit.

Fifthly, span out. Go out of your cubicle and meet people. Acclimatise yourself to the company’s culture, pedigree and DNA. Water coolers, cafeterias and smoking zones are all very well for bonding. Only, don’t monger gossip. You probably spend more time with them than with biological families or friends. So, get to know them. You will invariably come to strike life-long friendships at your workstations. Also, don’t be judgemental or stalk them on social media. And ‘stalking’ includes saying ‘good morning/evening’ to the person sitting next to you on social media and messaging apps. Be friendly and approachable by all means; don’t overdo it – that looks like you’re trying too hard to please. And nobody likes slimy people. Be a team player who is missed when he takes annual leaves.

Sixthly, maintain standard etiquette, dressing sense and thorough personal hygiene. Workstations must not look like they were just hit by a cyclone, shoes must be sparkling, brows must be freshly threaded, mouths must reek of mouthwash, teeth must not be stained, lips must not be chapped, and neither must nails be chipped. Dresses must be well-tailored and mixed and matched to perfection. Remember, you are in the business of hospitality and people tend to warm up to well-groomed people more easily.
Seventhly, don’t carry any kind of baggage or preconceived notions. Have a good chat and remember the golden rule – note down points rather than speculate and repeat instructions and also ask for advice rather than miscommunicate. Approach work with an open mind.

Lastly, by all means, let your hair down. But it is a good idea to refrain from drinking at office parties. We can never be sure how we behave when we’ve had a drink too many. It’s a small world, an even smaller industry, and tales travel. So, better be safe than sorry.

Go ahead, rise and shine. Chin-up and God bless.

PS – This is just an indicative list. Nothing is writ in stone. As you chug along, you’ll have to make your own permutations and combinations

What Exactly Are Soft Skills and Why Do They Matter?


Getting the soft-skills right

It is said that manners ‘maketh a man’. At the surface, each jobseeker is equipped with the professional pedigree that her chosen industry desires. But for an industry like travel and tourism which is predominantly client-facing and involves people management, at both macro and micro levels, good marks are seldom the ticket to success. And while success is measured by different people with different yardsticks, blessed is the lady who has the oft-neglected soft skills to give her career the edge academic degrees routinely underemphasise.

So, what exactly are these soft skills? For starters, they are ‘soft’ in the sense that they are not tangible in the literal sense and don’t feature in mark sheets. They are a heady mix of good grooming, exceptional communication skills, a pleasant personality and the ability to get things done. And for a high-octane industry that travel and tourism is, just ‘doing’ never suffices. Because, there are doers and there are movers and shakers.

So, when do these soft skills come into play? While many have operated subconsciously which made you ace the interview and land the plush job at a suburban five star hotel, it is while you are on the job when they will be really tested. It is these soft skills that will make the client look for you on their next visit, or tip better, rave about your services on social media, or even write you a recommendation.

But, such is the nature of the game that the operative word here is ‘elusive’. Nothing is writ in stone and the world is constantly evolving. It is a continuous process of learning and unlearning. Most people in hospitality, travel and tourism would however agree on some of the below cardinal rules. In no particular order,

  1. Be well-groomed – while we do not endorse Botox or plastic surgery to enhance your looks, make it a thumb rule to never be shabby at work. Since your appearance repels or attracts a stranger, be immaculate in your presentation. Get a spa session once in a while. At some hotel chains, these are complimentary for the staff.
  2. Follow the cardinal rules of dressing – Match your belt and shoes, never wear ties that do not match your shirt, never ever wear open footwear to work for men and no chapped lips or chipped nail paint for the ladies. If it’s raining, have a change of clothes at the office.
  3. Never report to work drunk or hungover – It’s all very well to party and let your hair down. Only, follow the golden rules of drinking – never drink on an empty stomach, for every drink, have two glasses of water and keep nibbling. And most importantly, never mix spirits and go overboard. The morning after, brush like there’s no tomorrow, use copious amounts of mouthwash, mouth fresheners and chewing gum. Nothing repels like bad breath and rheumy red eyes.
  4. Master your languages – And we don’t mean literally earning a degree in language. Just watch good TV, read good magazines and newspapers and work on your ‘scope-for- improvement’ areas. It’s OK to make mistakes but never OK to repeat them.
  5. Communicate well and never miscommunicate. If you haven’t understood, it’s OK to ask again. Repeat orders rather than see frayed nerves when the squid meant for table 2 reaches the Jain family on table 1.
  6. Be nimble-footed and always smile – Notwithstanding how things stand in your life. If they are paying you for the job, better do it to the best of your abilities. Half-hearted work is never good work and one dislike on Facebook (yes, it’s coming soon!) can cost you potential customers.
  7. Mingle with the staff – Work is where you spend most of your waking hours and you cannot remain strangers to your colleagues. Share lunches, extend a helping hand and travel home together – seemingly little gestures that will get you a support system when boss cracks the whip. But never bitch. And if you find love, switch jobs – no one wants to talk shop at home and it unconsciously becomes so when we work at the same office.
  8. Remember names – Nothing sounds sweeter to us than our names. And this applies to others too. This is indispensable in hospitality.
  9. Always be on call – Given the volatile job market, the ‘I switch off my phone after work’ attitude never works. Be at the beck and call of your bosses 24×7. If you don’t, they’ll find one who will.
  10. Never stack up or take more than you can swallow. It’s all very well to try to impress but don’t behave like a wannabe. Everyone can tell when you’re faking it.

The aforementioned are just the tip of the iceberg and every organisation has its own best practices. So, one has to constantly adapt, adapt and adjust in order to truly fit into his organisation and shine at work. Clients, bosses and schedules are demanding and will always be. But as the famous Hindi proverb goes, ‘Problems life mein kabhi kam nahi hogi. Yaa to usme bhaag lo, or usse bhaag lo!’ Go ahead, shine at work.

Soft Skills Improvement Tips | Blue Whale Academy | Mumbai, India

Hope you enjoyed reading our blog post. Did we miss something? What is your take on soft skills? Tell us your stories in the comments.