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Pooja Vaswaney

Pooja Vaswaneye-Marketing Manager, Westin Mumbai Garden City

BA Business Studies, 2001

MA Human Resource Management, 2003

What made you choose Middlesex University?

To be honest, Middlesex was actually my second choice. I didn't do as well in my A Levels as I had hoped. I knew I wanted to study Business and although Middlesex was on my list it wasn't my first choice, so when I missed out on that I looked at Middlesex and it offered a course that I was very happy with.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I wanted a well balanced degree programme that included some statistics, accountancy and HR, but I didn't want a course that was too mathematical. The Middlesex course met these criteria and I was impressed by the content. I was keen to do a year in industry and Middlesex offered one so that attracted me to the course too. It was also close to home and I wasn't sure at the time how far away I wanted to be, so it was convenient in that it was accessible.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

The placement and the way the structure of the course was laid out was what I enjoyed the most. With the work placement you can study, then work, then go back to studying again, and it allows you to apply what you've studied to the work placement and then take that experience back into the classroom. I think it is essential and all students should do it if possible. It gives you direction and in my case it paved the way for my career.

What were the facilities like at Middlesex?

I was quite impressed at the time and having a look at what it looks like now is amazing. The atrium was fantastic, the library was large; it was pretty good. The only thing we complained about was the lack of parking.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

Other than my work placement, my fondest memory is that I met my husband at Middlesex. He was studying an MBA at the time and I was an undergraduate. It means that my degree was more than just a degree because it also brought me to my life partner.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

I think it is important to first look at the content of the course and make sure you are happy with it. Look at what you are going to be studying and if you are happy with that then you're good to go. If there is a work placement that is a bonus too.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you get to where you are professionally today?

During the course I decided that the hospitality industry was for me, and that was directly as a result of my placement. It really helped me to decide that this was what I wanted to do.

How did you find the placement for your year in industry?

I found the placement myself. That would be the only shortfall if there was one: the links with industry could perhaps have been better. Given how reputable the Business School is, the links with industry were strong but they could have been stronger as there is definitely a need for students to be linked with good calibre organisations as it adds weight to your CV.

The University found me interviews with a couple of smaller firms but I wanted a bigger brand so I went and found one myself at the Four Seasons Park Lane in London. My interest was in marketing, but they couldn't offer me a position there. The arrangement was that I would work six months in HR and six months in marketing, but they ended up having a shortage so I had to work as an HR assistant for a year, though I got experience of other areas too.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

I found that I was a people person and enjoyed being around people. I was never really a number crunching or data analysis type of person and HR is good because you get to see all of the new individuals coming in to the hotels. That interactive element of the industry really attracted me, and because hotels have so many branches around the world you're always interacting with people from different cultures, whether it's an Italian chef, a Venezuelan manager or a Singaporean receptionist. The guests are from all over the world as well.

The bad side is that they pay at lower levels and it is not as competitive as the financial or IT sectors. The hours are quite long because it is a 24/7/365 operation. Being in a slightly more responsible role I often work 9am to 8pm, as well as alternative Saturdays and occasional Sundays.

The benefits packages can be great though and I get to travel a lot and stay in wonderful hotels, whether as one of the perks of for training.

How did you get your first foot on the career ladder?

I got my first work opportunity with Ellert Field Marketing as a result of my work placement because I had worked in HR and had the degree behind me. I did that for a year and a half and then I moved to India when I got married. I helped my husband with his business for a little while and then I was offered an opportunity with Four Seasons Mumbai because they were opening a hotel there and I had experience working in the Four Seasons Park Lane.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

This happened recently at The Westin Mumbai Garden City. I was in the executive assistant role but I wanted to move back into HR and there wasn't a position. They knew I wanted to move so they offered me the E-marketing role. As part of the role I managed the preparation of the hotel audit and scored 96 per cent. I was then named Brand Champion within the hotel, which means I am responsible for presenting the brand to all staff, guests and stakeholders. I was also made Departmental Trainer, so I train everyone within the hotel about the brand and how to represent it.

What are the top three tips you would give to current students and recent graduates who are looking for a similar career to yourself?

Definitely be flexible. You need to be adaptive so you can fit into whichever hotel or brand you're working with. They're quite unique in their individual identities, so you must learn to flex your style and work to their way.

Be prepared for long hours, but as you climb the ranks there are benefits – the pay gets better and the perks are there.

Have patience. It's a really global industry, so it gives you a lot of opportunity to move around if you're flexible. If you wish, you could transfer to any part of the globe and get really good exposure. I have friends who have transferred from India to the Maldives, to the US, to Thailand. There is a lot of room for growth and development if you're prepared to be patient and hang in there, but too many people expect to climb the career ladder too quickly. You have to develop your experiences first.

And one more: Keep developing your skills. You should never stop learning, always do courses online or take opportunities to learn new things if you can. You will often have exposure to training so take it! If they offer something, do it. In today's age, to keep ahead of the market having a degree is not enough, you need to keep developing.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

Do well in you're A Levels so you get on to the degree programme of your choice. Do a degree that is broad enough to give you opportunities and the flexibility to move into any industry in the future.

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