Why take one step back to take ten steps forward.

Tamara Lilian
Mar 13, 2017 · 5 min read

When I graduated college in 2010, the unemployment rate was at an all time high, and I was competing with more than just my graduating class for a full-time job. I just needed a job, the prospect of landing a so-called “dream job” was out the window.

I studied event management in school and I loved working with people, so the hospitality industry seemed like the best place to start. I began my career at the front desk of a luxury hotel chain: I checked guests in and out of their hotel rooms while catering to their every preference, from pillow type, to dinner reservations, to wake up calls — you know, the glamorous stuff. But the truth is, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Under all the keycards and suite upgrades, my job was to create personalized experiences for guests. Room 1503 was not just a family of four visiting from New Jersey — they were here to visit colleges with their son, so we covered the room in Emerson gear. Room 926 was not just a family in town for three consecutive months for temporary housing — they were with us for an extended period of time because their daughter had to be treated by a specialist at a Boston hospital. This meant working with finance to find the best rate possible given their length of stay as well as bringing specific meals to the hospital for the family given their religious preferences.

I quickly learned the ins-and-outs of the hotel like the back of my hand. I knew what to expect in the lobby at 3AM on a Saturday and all the possible things that could go wrong on a Wednesday. I soon got promoted to the sales team where I was in charge of coordinating corporate and social events, selling suites and working with VIP guests. I was moving up, but something felt wrong. I loved my job and my team, but I still felt stuck. There was no autonomy in this role, the approval processes and corporate structure started to hinder my creativity, and I knew I needed a new challenge.

I took some time off of work so that I could focus on finding my dream job, a company where work-life balance and culture was a priority. This specific search left me a bit underwhelmed; not many companies prided themselves on their culture, and of those who did, not many did it well. It was easy to read between the lines when meeting for interviews. Unlimited vacation wasn’t really unlimited and working from home was discussed but not encouraged. But HubSpot was different. I remember during my interview process I met with Kenneth Papa, who runs the facilities team globally. He asked me what I wanted to do at HubSpot. I replied that I wanted to work at the front desk as a receptionist. His response? “No, what do you want to do at HubSpot long-term?” This blew me away, we were already discussing growth and goals and visions. The interview experience was so unique and transparent so when I was offered the front desk reception position, I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled, others were not.

People kept asking me:
‘How can you go back to a front desk position?’
‘Ya, they say you’ll grow — but that won’t actually be the case.’
‘A front desk, position? You’re beyond that now.’

People see being at the front desk as unappealing. The reality is, it’s the first impression anyone has of a company and I view it as my job still to this very day to make that impression remarkable in every way — that’s an opportunity that people focused on the perceived glamour of the work will miss out on.

People were confused, they thought I must have been desperate to take a receptionist position. Was I desperate to learn and grow and love my work? Hell yes, guilty as charged. So I did it. I accepted that offer like it was nobody’s business, and I loved every minute of it. I welcomed each guest into that space as if it were my own home. I reminded candidates to take a deep breath and enjoy the experience, I gifted HubSpot branded swag to our customers, I assisted employees in shipping supplies to our international offices, and I welcomed our new hires to a company where the opportunities are endless. I thank my hospitality experience for setting me up for success in this position because working in hotels really helped me appreciate the importance of personalization and delight.

After some time at the front desk, I was offered a coordinator position on the culture team which really made the experience come full circle. HubSpot’s culture had won me over during my interview process, so the ability to join that team was fate and from then on I vowed to work hard to ensure that we continue to enhance employee experience globally each and every day.

But how did that growth happen? First, you need to pick the right company. Find a company where you believe in their mission and you feel confident in helping them achieve goals. Second, make yourself known. Working at the reception desk means sending quite a few company-wide emails, I made sure to introduce a bit of myself in every email I sent whether that was opening with classic rap lyrics or inserting witty puns. Lastly, I got involved in every way possible. Whether that was attending internal talks, helping other teams clean up events or taking the Inbound Certification, I would always raise my hand if it meant learning new skills or meeting new people.

I am now a manager on the culture team, and I manage remarkable individuals who run our reception desks globally in different offices. I love that I am still involved with the front office management team and have a finger on the pulse of the customer, new hire and candidate experience.

My dear friend Drake once told me ‘Started from the bottom now we’re here,’ which I thought was catchy at first but then I questioned what does he mean by ‘the bottom’ and where is ‘here’? There is a stigma around front desk reception and other front-line service positions being ‘the bottom,’ and that needs to change. And if ‘here’ is the top, I’m certainly not there yet. I can’t even see the top, and I am not sure I really want to live there. The top seems boring; it seems like you’re done and like there’s no more room for growth. I’m not ready to stop growing.

So take a step. Whether that step is sideways, diagonal, forwards, backwards — the direction is not as important as the fact that you’re growing. Sorry, Drake.

Tamara Lilian
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