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To get a job at the world's biggest Hyatt, don't just claim to love people

As the general manager of Hyatt Regency Chicago, Patrick Donelly considers himself a good judge of character. He talks about what it takes to get a job at the largest hotel in Chicago and the biggest Hyatt in the world.

Grace under fire

The hospitality industry is all about flashing a toothy smile, but Donelly’s been around long enough to know that guests don’t always affirm one’s faith in humanity. “Somebody who comes into the business and says ‘I love people’ — [that] couldn’t be a bigger lie,” Donelly says. “They love [people] when things are going well.” The rub comes when things aren’t going so well. To decipher who has the chops to handle an irate guest, Donelly looks for physical cues like sustained eye contact and a keen sense of one’s surroundings.

Paper trail

Donelly didn’t go to college, so he doesn’t much care if you didn’t make the dean’s list. “If this was a business for geniuses, we’d all be at NASA right now,” Donelly says. “This is not a difficult business. 90 percent of it is personality.” The intense interactions of an interview provide a much better view into your people skills than your GPA or diploma. It’s normal to be nervous, he says, but don’t clam up. If you’re going to hack it in the hospitality industry, you’ll need to stay extroverted and cheerful in the face of difficult circumstances.

Climb, climb, climb

Donelly worked his way from scrubbing the kitchen counter to heading up the largest Hyatt in the world, so it’s no surprise he subscribes to notions of upward mobility. “We’re not a repair and maintain department, we’re a hotelier that’s got to move for the future.” When candidates don’t have big plans, it’s difficult to imagine them fitting into the operation. “If they have no clue what they want to do, how must I know what they want to do?”

Judging value

“If I’m going to have somebody for two years in my hotel, invest my time into them in a high position, I’m also spending a lot,” Donelly says. To move into the upper ranks, he needs proof to justify a six-figure salary. If you’re slated to make $150,000 over 15 years, that’s a cool couple million coming off of Hyatt’s books. Donelly also factors in the initial investment in training and mentorship to the cost-benefit analysis he performs for each hire. If he senses you’re going to bolt after a few months, he’ll lose interest quickly.

Photo by Sara Mays