In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.
They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.
Nicholas Farina (SHA’08) is general manager of 1 Hotel Central Park, a luxury lodging on New York City’s Avenue of the Americas. With 229 rooms and just one block from Central Park, the hotel markets itself as a place that combines comfort, convenience, and eco-consciousness, with amenities like organic cotton mattresses and sheets, bed headboards made from reclaimed barn wood, and “farm-to-fork” California cuisine.
As GM, Farina must understand every function at the hotel, from revenues to room service, as traveler expectations evolve and employee needs change. His job, he says, is “to manage the direction of the business itself and its future growth through the lenses of our hotel owners, employees, and guests.” Before his current position, he spent a decade in various managerial functions, among them restaurant, meetings and events, group sales, and entire hotels, at several New York hotels.
BU Today: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in hotel management?
Farina: I knew that I wanted to have a career in the hospitality world when I was eight years old. My parents let me make roasted potatoes on my own for the first time, and I saw the look of enjoyment and gratitude from my family around the table. I am sure that I have romanticized their expressions in the 25 years following that event, but I still experience that same feeling every day when the team I have surrounded myself with works with me on their personal and professional goals. I love and live to take care of others—that is where I find joy and why I’ve chosen my career path.
How competitive is the field today for new college graduates?
Our industry needs smart, intuitive, and dynamic individuals who have a genuine desire to take care of others, whether it be a guest who comes into your hotel or restaurant or an employee who walks into the building. If you have those traits, you are beyond qualified to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, and you will have a competitive advantage if you can demonstrate that innate desire in the interview process.
What qualities do you seek in the people you hire? Are there deal-breakers, things someone says or does in an interview that makes them unsuitable for consideration?
I’m always looking for truly good-natured people who want to contribute to making the lives of those who choose to stay with us, do business with us, and work with us, better. Depending on the seniority of the role and its discipline, there are different benchmarks of proven and measured expertise that weigh heavily in the decision-making process—but who a person is as a whole is always one of the largest contributing factors. What a person’s capable of achieving in the tasks they’re paid to do is just as important as how they’ll fit into the cultural portion of the organization. Deal-breakers are candidates who are not willing to be flexible with the demands of the hospitality industry and the work ethic and dedication that are required.
What questions do you ask job candidates during an interview?
Your résumé and application that got you in the door should have all your measurable successes: how you impacted revenue, managed expenses, increased employee retention, impacted financial accuracy, etc. In the interview, I like to learn more about how an applicant became the person they are today, what they envision for themselves in the future, and what makes them feel important. As a general manager, it is my responsibility to ensure that I create an environment for people to become the best versions of themselves, so I need to know what that is for every person who chooses to spend a portion of (if not their entire) career with us.
What are the most common mistakes made by young job applicants?
The most common mistake that young applicants make is not being comfortable with not knowing everything in a discipline. I personally made that mistake early on, but later discovered that having straightforward conversations about uncertainty with mentors is better than pretending to know it all and never asking for help or insight. What senior leaders are looking for in young applicants is confidence in the knowledge that they have gained through their experiences, and a willingness to learn more about new and unfamiliar fields. Simply put, it is okay to not know it all, so own it and be open.
What advice would you give an employee for the first day on the job, and for the first six months?
Don’t forget: your interview for the next role you’ll want to achieve started when you applied for this role. That means it is time to start figuring out how you are going to measure your success in the position and to understand from your direct reports how they will be measuring your success. In the first three to six months, it is all about learning the function of your role, who the major stakeholders are, and how you contribute to their success. When your six months are up, start writing out the list of skills you need to learn for the role you would like to achieve in the next 12 to 18 months and start asking to be exposed to those new areas.
Are there mistakes you have made in your career, and if so, what did you learn from them?
Looking back on the earlier years of my career, I wish I had made more of an effort to listen more than I spoke. It’s something I continue to keep in mind each day. Also, understanding how to manage and seek out others’ perceptions of you is just as important as your perception of yourself, if not more important.
Who has most influenced your career—teacher, coworker, family member, boss—and what did that person teach you?
“Do what you love to do, and someone will eventually pay you to do it.” This was the first piece of career advice that anyone ever gave me, and it came from my mom. And the second piece was from my dad, who said, “Listen to [Mom], life is better that way!” My parents have been the largest influence in my career. They wanted to promote happiness in my life, and they knew that since we spend so much time in our lives working, it’s better to be doing something that you love to do.
Another major influence in my career was Simon Mais, a managing director I worked with. Simon taught me to be comfortable in not knowing something. He coached me to raise my hand and say, “I don’t know it, but teach me. I want to learn.” Simon gave me the leeway to make decisions, but always pulled me back up if I tripped. This is now fundamental to the way that I manage my business and my people every day.
Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.