How I got a detailed preview of the hospitality industry while interning at Taj Hotel
I am a dreamer, and as Oscar Wilde succinctly put it, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Having said that, I can’t profess that I’ve been terribly crushed by life’s grindstone, but I’ve had my bad days. 3rd December 2016, however, was not going to be one of them. I was determined to be out in the moonlight for as long as I dared; I didn’t want to welcome yet another weary dawn in whose wake I would only find regret. The mind is a charmingly confused entity that hurtles down a thousand different paths at the most inopportune moments. Mine, for instance, decided to ponder on Wilde’s quote, dreaming and regretting even before what could possibly have been one of the biggest moments of the year for me – my summer internship interview. What had brought this on? Quite possibly, the astounding magnificence of the organization I had the chance to spend the summer at – Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. My dream was to get in and the thought that I might not, was excruciatingly painful.
The selection process was tremendously satisfying. The first elimination round was an extempore public speaking one, possibly because the service industry needs people who can either think on their feet and satisfy everyone around or those who can finagle their way out of any situation through some thoughtfully placed words and intonation. Anyway, I was glad because it played to my forte, and I was dogged in my efforts to come out on top. During the personal interview stage, the panel from the Taj was polite, charming, and displayed intent curiosity when I spoke. I would say that luckily for me, the technical round was a smooth one. Looks are deceptive, and while I might have appeared unruffled and poised trying to deflect their attempts to trip me up on certain questions, my brain was a sparkling barrel of gunpowder. So if I had one piece of advice to give myself at the end of that pleasurable ordeal, it would be this: try not to ape a headless chicken even if you see the interviewer coming at you with a carving knife.
The interview lasted for about forty-five minutes, and the questions ranged from the ubiquitous “Tell us about yourself” to the interesting “What passion of yours make you go on day after day?” to “What would you want to explore at Taj if given a chance?”. I was asked a lot about my favourite subject and my insights into the same, so it is always a good idea to brush up on technical knowledge before the D-day. Etiquette and tone of voice matter too; in this scenario, I was appearing for an interview for one of the biggest names in the service industry, so my crisp powder-blue shirt was impeccable, my trousers were neatly pressed, my hair bound, and face devoid of pancake makeup. I had, of course, perused the etiquette and dressing rules of Taj Service associates a week before the interview, and I was sure that the panel did not miss a single detail as I walked in. In a nutshell, the hues you use to paint your portrait are just as important as the portrait itself. If you can communicate non-verbally as well as you can with words, half the battle is won. These aspects, underrated as they are, were the ones I was determined to ace. So I did just that. Looking back, the pre and post-interview stages were the most difficult to get through, made worse by each second of the wait which felt like an eon. Once the selection process was over, it was a Schrödinger’s Cat scenario – unless I waited (for that agonizing one hour), I would not know if I had gotten through or not. However, before the list was out, I was in a superposition of being both selected, and not. My act of looking at that list, or knowing the result, would force nature’s decision – my curiosity would kill my chance. But this was not a thought experiment; it was real life. I had no choice.
So after an excruciating hour, three months, and a plane ride later, I found myself staring up in awe at the façade of the Vivanta by Taj, Yeshwantpur, Bangalore. My project was two-pronged: measuring manpower productivity at their current levels within the core departments at the hotel and creating a framework for an outsourcing agency which, if on call, could cut costs and increase productivity. The fact that I used the experiential method to collect data made all the difference. It led me to understand that the glass walls of that coveted corner office may not actually be transparent and that if one wants to make a difference and sustain that change, one ought to focus at the grassroots level by going down to those levels. It is never too late to involve people in your decisions and simply talk to them about their job; people like talking about their jobs. My project was replicated at the Taj Bangalore as well, and with 35 kilometres and an hour’s bus ride between the two hotels, I also took the time to enjoy Bengaluru’s skyline, soak in its urban landscape, and laugh about its frustratingly long traffic jams with fellow passengers. The Taj Bangalore experience was pretty much the same, only adding to my belief that the Taj is simply one of a kind.
Conversing with people and conducting interviews was what the project demanded; my own experiences of the same left me feeling both dazzled and slightly daunted by the work that goes on beneath the starry, posh upper levels of any hotel. Being a novice in the service industry and this particular type of work, I was definitely concerned about how I would create tangible results. However, the advice of one of my professors back at my university came to my rescue: “Never let your fear overwhelm your common sense.” Armed with this sane advice, I went forth onto the (battle)field and was left pleasantly surprised. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The only thing to fear is fear itself” rang loud and true as I gathered data through interviews and observation. It wasn’t an easy ride, but the fact that people were always willing to help, once I asked for it, was both incredibly gratifying and humbling. One of my most vivid memories from the experience was that of a housekeeping associate staying back for almost two hours after his shift had ended and explained how exactly the housekeeping department functioned. That one gesture, more than anything else, was an epitome of the Taj and its Tajness.
At the end of the internship, I had both qualitative and quantitative data and did succeed at delivering the results. Since I had to collect information for the past half year in order to analyze trends and patterns of operations within the hotel, I also spent long hours rifling through numerical data, something I was unaccustomed to. This taught me the importance of being flexible enough to glide from task to task. Part of the various responsibilities that I handled was learning how each of the core departments (kitchens and housekeeping) functioned and how exactly work was done by each member within the organizational hierarchy (this was done through a time-motion study – another arduous but remarkable experience). Besides, interning at the Taj helped me add a host of skills to my repertoire, including how to crunch numbers using software, analyze data to identify patterns, weave together qualitative and quantitative data efficiently, draw forth answers from people when they are reluctant to give them, and most importantly, how to trudge ahead despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Besides, a tremendous learning opportunity for me during my stint at the Taj was to take note of its culture. Drucker was on point when he said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and this was a great opportunity for me to examine the underlying causes for what makes it a great place to work for so many people around the world and a force to be reckoned with. Their hospitality, discipline, conversational etiquette, and most importantly, the feel-good factor of simply stepping in through the doors of any Taj hotel is incomparable. The Taj service associates, responsible for the comfort of the guests, were the epitome of cooperation and collaboration. What I learnt from the entire experience went far beyond what I learnt from my project. These life lessons will stay with me for a long time to come. At the Taj, I grew up.
Author of the article: Chunduri Prashanti