Paying it forward: How mentors make a difference

By: Sandra Clavijo

My love for hospitality first started in high school. I loved cooking from an early age and was fortunate enough to attend a high school with a culinary arts program. I was introduced to the hospitality industry my sophomore year through industry professionals who came to speak to our class and mentor us in our skill development. I remember how interesting their careers sounded- I learned so much from them!

Throughout high school, I continued to have mentors that helped guide me in my pursuit of a hospitality career. It was because of my mentors that I applied for a scholarship, received the scholarship, and ultimately was able to attend culinary school at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

After culinary school, I went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Finance, and gained new mentors that allowed me to work and learn from them while in school at their restaurants and nonprofit organizations. Once I began interviewing for jobs post-college, I had college instructors who I considered mentors that spent time with me honing my interviewing skills and giving me tips on what companies to consider. To this day, I am very thankful to my high school hospitality teacher and the mentors I had early on in my career journey. The time they dedicated to me left a lasting impression.

Andrea Zellner, Rachel Kremnitzer, and me volunteering at our 2018 Careers@Hilton event at the Hilton Anatole.

Because mentors were so instrumental in my career development from an early age, I am passionate about paying it forward by mentoring high school students interested in hospitality. I am so lucky that I work for Hilton, a company that is so committed to helping young people start hospitality careers. In fact, the company has pledged to opening doors for at least one million young people by this year by connecting, preparing or employing them.

Hilton encourages Team Members to volunteer their time and share their experiences with the youth through the Careers@Hilton initiative.

For the past four years, I have been able to coordinate a Careers@Hilton event that impacts up to 50 local students in Dallas in what first started as a volunteer event through our Hispanic/Latino Team Member resource group. I’m fortunate to always have plenty of Team Member volunteers who also understand the importance of mentoring and want to pay it forward. At our volunteer events, we host office tours and networking events, review resumes, help with college scholarship prep, lead panel discussions, and offer monthly soft skill development courses in our office. For the monthly development courses, we use Passport to Success material. Hilton launched Passport to Success, in partnership with International Youth Foundation and it serves as a resource to help young people develop critical life skills they need to thrive at work and at home. We have also been able to go outside our office and host events alongside local hotels such as the Hilton Anatole, Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre and this year the TRU Garland Richardson. Our goal is that these students walk away knowing more about the hospitality industry and equipped with the tools they need to succeed. We also hope that the early exposure to the hospitality industry may leave a lasting impression and one day these students will join us as future Team Members at Hilton!

Richardson High School Hospitality intern student presenting on the importance of planning during our mentor session.

When mentoring, I always advise young people interested in the hospitality industry or starting their careers to take people up on their offers. People, especially hospitality people, are usually always very willing to help someone else. So say yes! Take up the offer to learn more about someone’s job. Ask someone if you can shadow him or her or meet for coffee to get to know them better. You never know, that person can turn out to be just the mentor you need.