An interview with Dawn Holden, Recruitment and Training Manager at YHA (for candidates)

03 Jan 2023

03 Jan 2023

We caught up with Dawn Holden, YHA's (Youth Hostels Association) Recruitment and Training Manager, to discuss the major influencers in her career, why a candidate should choose to work for YHA, advice for a successful career in hospitality, and more.

Tell us about your first job in hospitality?

I remember it well. It was with Mitchells and Butler, and I was studying my A Levels. I can remember my parents driving me there. The interview only lasted 10 mins, in which I was handed a uniform and given a start date. I’ll never forget the look on my parents’ faces. The interview finished early, so I started walking back and I could see they had tears in their eyes as they saw me and the uniform under my arm. Despite my youth, Mitchells and Butler quickly recognised me as being a responsible person. Few were given till access and responsibility, so it felt good to be given it. I had to fit it in around my studies, which was challenging at times, but it was a great first insight into hospitality – an industry I really hadn’t considered career wise - I had my heart set on being a teacher. Hospitality is hard work and can be long hours and I really carried the can from an early age.

Has there been anyone who’s stood out as being a major influence on your career?

I can recall a manager that I have strived not to be like - I’m sure we all have those.

But yes, there is one particularly person who influenced me. When I was 21 years’ old, I was made a general manager for Intercontinental Hotels and opened a brand-new property for them. I was Intercontinental Hotels youngest general manager and I’ll never forget the man who recognised my potential, he was called James Ford and I’ll always appreciate the opportunity he gave me, which arguably went on to shape my career thereafter.

What skills do you think you need to be successful in hospitality?

I’m not a big fan of identifying specific skills when it comes to working in hospitality and that’s because I believe the most important thing is attributes, values, and behaviours such as: positivity, authenticity, and communication. Many of the skills in hospitality can be learned, so I believe life skills are more essential. My best advice to candidates would be to gain life skills and experience, and volunteering can be a great way to do this, especially if you have no solid experience to speak of. In terms of communication, it is important to be open about what you want to do and achieve and make sure your manager knows you might have an interest in developing in other areas.

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in people’s expectations of working within hospitality?

Post pandemic I think things have changed quite a bit. People are now expecting higher rates of pay and wanting more flexibility in terms of shifts and working hours.

Where we’d have expected employees to work a 5-day week on a rota perhaps, we are now more open to dividing that person’s role into two shifts, so they in effect share the hours and role. Flexibility really is key in both attracting and retaining the best candidates.

Why should someone choose your business to work for? 

YHA (England and Wales) offer accommodation, meeting spaces and cafes in rural, coastal and city locations, but we are predominantly a charity and are one of the top 10 membership charities in the UK. We offer affordable and reduced accommodation in some of the most remote places, but we change lives through travel. Our profits are regenerated into the charitable aspects of our organisation. It’s a rewarding place to work.

What advice would you offer to someone coming to interview for a job in your business? 

Research and prepare. Make sure you know what the role entails, obviously. But also, look at the venue/location. A lot of our hostels are in remote locations such as coastal paths, mountains, and national parks. It’s always good to ensure you can get to and from the place you’d be expected to work at, as sometimes there’s no public transport, and if there is it can’t always be relied on as being available around the rota you’d work. Most of all be your authentic self during the interview, know your own values and how they might align to that of YHA.

What are you most excited about for the year ahead?

We’ve lots of exciting plans for the year ahead. We’ve just refreshed our careers page and our core values, which spell out HEART (Helpful, Efficient, Authentic, Respectful, and Team spirited). These are core values we live by here at YHA. We’ve also spent the last six months working on the internal intranet, to both educate and offer information and support to our staff and volunteers on everything including equality, diversity, and inclusion – which we’ve had a big focus on in the last year. We’ve just gone live with a section on menopause awareness and our menopause policy. And next year we are planning on launching our intranet section on neurodiversity. We’ve recently be awarded some money from the Culture Recovery Fund, which will help enable us to develop on the good work we are doing around all of this.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone working in hospitality who wants to be successful?

Ensure you stay in touch with your manager and have the 1-2-1s you need, to ensure they are aware of the development you require and where you want to be. It’s so important to keep lines of communication open and be honest about the areas you need support in and how you want to progress within the business. And above all, enjoy your job and look after your wellbeing. Hospitality is hard work, but incredibly rewarding within the right company or organisation.

Browse the wide range of opportunities available with YHA here.