I always knew I wanted to be a chef from the time I watched the Disney classic… Ratatouille. Ok that’s not exactly true but Chef Remy is definitely part of my origins story!
While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I knew I wanted to become a chef, I have always known that I would love to work with food & travel, living in different places and expanding my worldview. The advantages of living abroad are endless and landing a hospitality job abroad opens up doors to foreign lands in a way that few careers do.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Expat Pug- Panda’s younger sister. I have written a previous post about what it’s like to be a professional chef and I am now back to help you prospective pugs by explaining the process to landing a hospitality job abroad. It’s difficult to know where to begin to where to look for jobs or what the process looks like, so if those are some struggles you’re experiencing, this guide is for you complete with links to job sites, possible interview questions and an explanation of the entire recruitment process!
During my years living and working as a pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, I have had many people message me on Facebook and Instagram asking for the secrets to landing a hospitality job abroad or “overseas” as some put it. I always do my best to respond accurately to these queries because it’s not a secret as to how I got my job. But at the same time it’s hard to dedicate time to these queries because you never know who is serious about this and who is just wasting my time. Therefore, I’ve decided to make it a little bit easier to navigate the culinary job scene in this guide by listing a few simple steps and hints to help you land a job in the hospitality sector almost anywhere you want to go.
My post is mainly focused on culinary because I trained as a chef but I will include other options about other possible careers in the hospitality sector.
Why should you consider a career in hospitality?
This is a great way to see the world and work with people from different countries. You will also receive the invaluable experience of living in a new place and experiencing a new culture. What about working in an environment where you get to showcase your creativity and enjoy the fact that every day is a different experience?!
Working for an established hotel group also mean you are entitled to employee benefits such as: discounted accommodation at properties around the world as well as food & beverage discounts when dining at the outlets associated with the brand. Depending on what you do, there’s also the opportunity for tips, bonuses and other incentives. Oh and did I mention that you may even meet celebrities and famous people?!
Step 1: Qualifications
If you’re looking for any job across the globe, you need to have the qualifications to back yourself up. The same thing applies to landing a hospitality job abroad. You need to have the right knowledge and qualifications for the position you are applying for, be it a managerial position or a line-level position. Managerial positions as a chef usually require a Culinary Management Diploma whereas line-level positions require a basic culinary arts diploma or something along those lines (each country & institution will have their own programs that are similar). I hold a Diploma in Professional Cookery and Kitchen Management from The International Hotel School in South Africa.
You cannot, like to bake in your home kitchen and then think that working in an industrial pastry kitchen at a 5 star resort is going to be your next job. Hotels & resorts are looking for candidates that know how to cook world-class food, maintain kitchen hygiene standards and work seamlessly with the pace of the kitchen. These are things you are introduced to when you do your training so, make sure you have the right qualifications before you start applying.
Perhaps you already have qualifications in areas like marketing, human resources, accounting, finance, security, engineering, health & safety and many other diverse areas. While these may not be seen as ‘hospitality’ qualifications, there is definitely a demand for them as it takes many different departments to make a place run smoothly.
The bottom line here is to have some sort of qualifications that translate into something tangible that makes you marketable enough to move abroad. Do not expect to move into a profession far removed from what you trained to do or apply for jobs straight out of high school. The international job market is extremely competitive and if you want the best possible package when landing a hospitality job abroad, then you need to make it worth the company’s while to bring you over.
Step 2: Where to Apply
Searching for jobs in this field can be daunting, if you don’t know where to look. When I started out, I had no idea where to find a job and I randomly applied on various sites online. The best way to start is to put yourself out there on a professional platform such as LinkedIn. Establish a professional presence online so that recruiters may look at your profile and get to know you and you can connect with HR personnel of various establishments as well as get notified of job postings that fit your requirements.
Another professional platform that I use and had gotten me my previous job is www.hosco.com . Hosco is completely free to sign up for and it is basically the “LinkedIn” for hospitality members only. Hosco connects you with hotels across the globe. Once you sign up and create a profile, you can search through thousands of jobs across various sectors of the hospitality industry, Hosco mainly works with big hotel brands that wish to advertise their jobs to existing hospitality personnel. It’s a great way to get connected in the industry and it’s the first place I go to when looking for new job opportunities.
Some other helpful links to search online that help with landing a hospitality job abroad include:
Another sneaky trick is to apply directly on the brand’s websites which usually has the most up to date vacancies. Here are a few of the biggest hotel chains with their associated career websites but if there’s a particular brand you want to work for, don’t be shy to investigate what’s on their career website:
- Intercontinental Hotel Group
- Best Western
- Four Seasons
- Wyndham Hotel Group
- Dusit Thani
All of the links mentioned above are completely free to sign up to or you could sign in using Google or Facebook. Setting job alerts on these sites will enable you to get notified when new jobs are posted matching your requirements. Make sure that once you apply, you follow ALL the prompts till you submit your application, an application usually consists of 8 Pages where you need to provide details about yourself, your resume (CV), as well as answer a series of job-related questions before you submit your application. Don’t worry, it’s extremely simple, similar to completing a survey. Have PDF copies of your certificates and qualifications ready as well in case they are needed.
Note: Do not get scammed by anyone who says they need you to pay a recruitment fee… being recrtuited by a company should cost you nothing!
Step 3: The Interview
Once you have successfully applied for a job, you will get a confirmation email. If it is a managerial position that you have applied for then in the email, you will be directed to take a test with a series of job-related questions. The test is usually of a 60 minute duration in which you are to answer various questions based on scenarios and experiences. After the confirmation email it will be approximately two weeks before the company contacts you and wishes to further your application. Set up an appointment via skype for an interview and prepare accordingly. Get to know the property you are applying to as well as browse through popular interview questions.
Remember that applications take time to be processed so don’t send 10 follow up emails! Plus you need to be prompt with responses and adhere to agreed timings regarding interviews.
Most five-star hotels have a list of questions and criteria that need be answered in order to give you a score that will either further your application or close it. Most questions are not the simple ones you would find on the internet such as: ‘Tell me about yourself’, or ‘Why do you want to leave your current job?’. The questions are situational and will require you to relate experiences and challenges you faced to the interviewer as well as the outcomes. Remember that the outcome of the situation is as important as the actions you took to get there. If you are fresh out of college and do not have work experience, you can rely on your educational and training experiences.
Some common questions asked in an interview are:
- Tell me about an experience in your education/training that led you to pursue this job/career.
- What attracted you to your current/most recent job?
- What attracts you to this hotel and why?
- Tell me about a time when you worked through a stressful or difficult situation and what you did to overcome it.
- Describe a situation when you had to work with someone who was tough to work with
- Tell me about your favourite customer service moment and what you did to make a customer or guest happy.
- Describe a decision you made to make something work better.
- Describe a situation when you had to complete several projects/tasks in not much time.
- Tell me about a time when you volunteered to help a co-worker.
With these types of questions, you need to make sure that you answer concisely, telling the interviewer about the situation, the actions you took and the result of the situation as per your actions.
If you’ve been selected as a prospective employee, you might have to do one more interview with the person who will be your direct superior. This will be like the interview you had with HR however the questions will be more specific depending on the position you are applying for. For example most executive chefs and executive sous chefs tend to ask how certain dishes are prepared or culinary related questions. This is why I stressed the importance of having the relevant training to assist you with answering such questions!
Step 4: The Paperwork
Once that is done, you’ve received an offer letter from the company, CONGRATULATIONS! You are on the road to the onboarding process, where you may be asked to have some of the following documents ready:
- Passport sized photos
- Police Clearance certificate/ criminal record check (This could take up to 6 weeks in South Africa)
- Medical Clearance Certificate from your doctor
- Training Certificates (If you’re just out of college)
- Employment Certificates (from previous jobs)
Each company will have their own policies determined by the law of the country they’re governed by which will determine the documents you need to amass. The above documents were the ones I had to get for my job at the Ritz Carlton Dubai, but again they may vary from company to company. Documents and any attestation processes you may have to go through, take time to get together so plan accordingly.
What a standard contract should contain is: salary, accommodation/housing allowance, medical insurance, flight allowance/ticket (make sure to check that its from the city you want to fly into) and that the company will cover the cost of your residency visa.
Usually at entry level positions, the company provides accommodation- sometimes its shared so you need to be prepared for that. Meals are usually provided at a staff canteen meaning that you will not need to spend a lot on groceries. If your staff accommodation is far from the property then the company usually organises a bus to and from work for employees but at resorts’, accommodation is usually within walking distance from the property.
Vacation days should be mentioned in your contract and are different from sick leave as well as your weekly off days. Read carefully before signing and if you have queries, don’t be afraid to ask the HR department. Remember that the company should provide you with a work entry permit (either one you print or one the embassy/consulate sticks in your passport) so you do not enter the country as a tourist (which means you will be working illegally).
Step 5: What to expect once you have your entry permit
If the company is flying you into the country you need to be prepared to fly at a moment’s notice. Don’t wait till the last minute to start packing or buy things you might need. The company should provide you with a ‘handbook’ which should give you an expectation about the accommodation and property so that you can look these up online to have a better idea of what to expect. This handbook might also tell you who to look for once you disembark from your flight (make sure you keep the contact number handy of the person who is fetching you from the airport) and other information about cellphone providers, the climate of the country etc.
Once you have arrived, you should have an orientation with other newcomers (you normally arrive in batches) where they will guide you through the management structures and show you around the hotel.
You have to learn the specifics of the particular hotel including the brand’s ethos, standards and working culture. At the end of the orientation week, the knowledge you have obtained is tested. This might not be the case for smaller hotels but big brands expect you to internalise their rules & philosophies. During the orientation time you may do team building exercises and even get to tour the city as organised by your company so that you have a better understanding of the local culture and guests you may encounter.
Note: For food handler’s (chefs, servers, stewards & others), you have to undergo a basic food safety & hygiene training test that you will need to pass before being allowed to work with food.
Things I wish I had known before I moved,
I wish people had told me that it’s a very demanding job (the physical, mental, long hours and sheer strength needed). It puts strain on friendships, relationships and you may not find time for self-care. Guests can be very demanding and this can take a toll on a person’s mental health.
Working in hospitality is very people orientated- not just with guests but with your own team and other colleagues who you will see at work and also outside of working hours since you may all live in close proximity. Maintaining good relations is the key to a peaceful environment.
Working in hospitality is not always lucrative especially at entry level positions but your passion and drive will be the motivation you need to excel in this career and eventually work your way up the ladder. You also need to be ok with taking instructions from others, having your work critiqued and be prepared for unforeseen circumstances which crop up more times than you know.
While I have emphasised the importance of qualifications, experience is key and many jobs are found through word of mouth hence there is a need to be a team player, obtain stellar references, build good connections and network as much as possible!
I hope this guide to landing a hospitality job abroad has taught you something new. Armed with the correct qualifications and the right knowledge, you should be successful in obtaining a hospitality job abroad. However, remember that you’re not going to get ALL the jobs; some may not be for you or there might be someone more suitable- that’s reality. Searching for a job is a trial and error experience and it involves lots of ups and downs as well as months of long hours searching and researching. Keep your chin up and your profile updated as well, and you should be on the right track!
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If you have any questions about pursuing a career in hospitality, please leave them below in the comments box! Or, if you’re someone who works in the industry already, please do share your tips for prospective job seekers in the comments section!