The business travel world turned upside down in 2020. Careers came to abrupt pauses, leaving professionals wondering when and how they’d again be employed. The Company Dime offered free one-year subscriptions to travel professionals who lost their positions due to the coronavirus and about 570 of you took us up on the offer. To help those with questions about job searches, career opportunities, résumé building and interviewing — and to provide a forum for commiserating, networking and sharing — in April and May 2021, we hosted dozens of attendees on a two-part conference call as well as a Zoom roundtable with five of those displaced. We based the discussions on feedback gathered from a survey of the 570 as part of our project.
The following is an abridged transcript of The 570 Roundtable, a discussion among corporate travel industry professionals who met May 5, 2021 via Zoom to share personal stories and job-hunting tips and challenges. They wound up getting into what it really means to be part of the business travel community. The original transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Mindy Berger, a former senior director with BCD Travel, which she joined when it acquired Travelocity Business where she had been in senior roles for about seven years
Barbara Dirnberger, who most recently served as a consultant with Airline Metrics after a long career in tourism marketing in Canada and airline sales in Asia
Mat Domaradzki, who was a travel manager with ConsenSys following various positions including more than nine years at Hilton
Daniel Nettuno, who joined American Express GBT after he was let go by another TMC last year following various positions in TMC and airline sales and also a stint as a corporate travel buyer
Jack Purdy, who was in sales with United Airlines for 15 years until October 2020, and served Continental and US Airways dating back to 1987
Michael Antrobus, journalist, The Company Dime
Jay Campbell, journalist and co-founder, The Company Dime
David Jonas, journalist and co-founder, The Company Dime
Let’s start with each of you taking a minute or two to describe your career journey since the pandemic hit — really anything you’d like to highlight.
Mindy Berger: It’s been a very lengthy journey since September of 2020 with a lot of ups and downs. I thought it would be a lot easier than it turned out to be — you know, being in the industry for a very, very long time, having the skills in client management, team leading, mentoring teams, financial management. All these things I was convinced were very transferable. I found it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be.
I was targeting job opportunities in IT and software-as-a-service, given that I was spending a lot of time with those types of customers. But I couldn’t translate [corporate travel experience] to other companies, so it became very frustrating. And here I am, a long time later, still continuing to look. The qualifications of what companies are looking for today are much higher than many of the jobs require. So you get sort of knocked out of the running. I’m still positive about the outcome, but it’s been pretty frustrating going through the process.
Barbara Dirnberger: Mindy made some points that got me to recollect about what happened in 2008 when there was that huge job loss and so many of us, myself included, [lost our jobs]. I had just returned to Canada after having been posted overseas. In 2008, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in LinkedIn doing up job profiles, learning from job professionals how to do proper résumés, and it’s what everyone had said: getting a job is really about networking. It will come from the people that you know. If you just do a résumé, it goes into an electronic pool, searching for tags and keywords. Because of that experience, this time around I just didn’t even try [applying online]. So I stayed low-profile in 2020. I gardened. I did all kinds of things. I took every call and I made every call, but I didn’t go down that résumé rabbit hole.
Mat Domaradzki: I like the comparison to 2008. My whole life basically has been in the travel industry. I started on the business travel side recently with a tech company — the largest blockchain company, called ConsenSys. I was very excited. And, of course, the pandemic happened and ConsenSys decided they weren’t going to travel in all of 2020; they decided not to travel until 2022, and I found myself without a job. I knew that you have to keep yourself relevant, and so I’m a part of the GBTA Accommodations Committee and I’ve stayed very active in that. Also GBTA Ladders, which is career development.
Initially, I was looking at possibly becoming a part-time travel manager. But when you try to be a part-time travel manager when there’s no travel, it doesn’t really go anywhere. I also started looking in financial technology because there was a lot of that going on at my company. It’s difficult to transfer the travel manager parts of my job to those industries. I tried but never, unfortunately, got too far.
So, luckily, lately I’ve been taking some part-time gigs working with some other startups in the business travel field. I try to prove myself to companies on a part-time basis. At the end of the day, I have bills to pay. I would eventually like to get that full-time position, but I know this is a good step forward.
Turning to Daniel now, a number of our survey respondents shared a sentiment that Daniel included in his response, which was, “All roads lead back to the industry I love.” Fortunately for him, it has happened. So Daniel, tell us about your experience.
Dan Nettuno: This whole journey for me in so many ways has been a journey of faith — not in the traditional sense, but faith in myself. I started in the travel industry about 20 years ago working for a few different companies and TMCs. Then, for a variety of reasons, I left the industry and went into more of an IT services background, and it turned out right before the pandemic, I had landed what I felt was a dream job in sales with CWT and everything was going great. Then the pandemic hit.
In the interim, I was able to kind of lean back on my IT services background and sell for a company that did technical education. But in a way, all roads lead back to travel. For me it really was about passion. The only thing I ever felt I really had a passion about was talking about travel — connecting people together. So when I think about it, although I did try selling something outside the industry for a few months in between, I really couldn’t talk about it with any conviction.
I learned something about myself. I knew I had to pay the bills in the interim, and that was fine, but [technical education] really doesn’t matter much to me. I was willing to take what was in a sense a little bit less money to stay in the travel industry. And, luckily, I did find a position at American Express GBT, and it all worked out.
Congratulations, Dan. Jack?
Jack Purdy: My career journey since the pandemic actually started in late June of last year when United Airlines made the business decision to reduce the size of the company. And that included the elimination of my sales region. And I must say, it was not a surprise to me my region was eliminated given its geographical contours. Nonetheless, I was extremely disappointed. I’d never lost a position ever in my life. But I also recognized that the best way to survive was to embrace the situation with as much optimism and positivity as I could find. And that’s really how I started the journey.
[After ultimately leaving United in October 2020], I didn’t actually engage in my job search until January or maybe even early February of this year. And at that point I became fully engaged, engrossed in it, contracted with a placement service and began to look at and study job boards, networking and all that kind of thing. I’m in that mode today, still looking. From what I read, it looks like in September-ish, I think, we can expect travel to bounce back. The companies that many of us represent who reduced size at the beginning of the pandemic will begin to rebuild their sales organizations and options will present themselves. So I’m sort of holding out.
Most of the people we talked to love the industry. They don’t want to leave it, so it’s tough to kind of get over the feelings of that. Secondly, they’re running into challenges where the skills many talked about — the expertise developed within business travel — aren’t appreciated or recognized by hiring managers in other industries. Would anyone like to elaborate on any of those thoughts?
Berger: If I had my druthers, obviously, I want to stay in the travel industry. I am starting to see more opportunities open in travel right now, since everybody is starting to see a little bit of comeback. So, while I spent months and months applying and networking towards finding work outside of the industry, I’ll do even more hard work towards continuing to network within the industry. When I first started networking within the industry during the pandemic, I could network all day long knowing full well there really wasn’t anything at that point in time. And I’m re-cycling [through my contacts], because you have to remind people: “I’m still out here, I’m still looking.” You don’t want to bug the tarnation out of people, but we’ve all built up these networks and connections over the years. You have to keep going back to people and seeing where you can cultivate opportunities.
Nettuno: I was thinking to myself, like Mindy, that what amazes me about this industry is just the tenure. Like, you don’t get into the technology industry and find people with 25 or 30 years of service. They’re fantastic people, where I find in the technology industry it was three years, five years at most. I am just amazed at the experience out there and very humbled.
Purdy: It’s for me all about the people and their relationships. I love the analytics; I love the sale, if you will, closing the deal. But those kinds of fulfillments can come really in pretty much any industry. The greater travel community — hoteliers, travel managers, car companies, distributors — I like working with them, and I think many of us who have spent years in this business really do center on the people side of it more so than the actual transaction.
Would anyone like to talk about how leisure travel is different?
Dirnberger: If you’re on the leisure side, you’re always looking at the corporate side as being so much more polished and so much more accountable. I’ve noticed that, too, there’s a lot more leisure jobs that are available. I think the skillset that you have, whether it’s corporate or it’s leisure — as long as it’s in travel — it’s really what Jack said: It’s the people part of it that’s so important. And then it’s just networking and timing. Never give up; never surrender. Keep trying for those roles, whatever, even if it’s way out of your comfort zone.
Purdy: All of us have different career DNA. We have different backgrounds, different tenure, different personal financial situations. So in terms of targeting the next job, I think we’re all going to have a different position. I don’t think there are any two people who can follow the exact same path, based on all of our differences. I think some good advice for people is to figure out what you want. Do a self-inventory on your skills and your passions, and target and go after it. Create those relationships. Put some purpose behind the search, and I think you’ll probably find some success quicker, and ultimately, you’ll be happier with whatever it is you do next.
Berger: You have to be really honest with yourself, too, in terms of what your hard skills and soft skills are. I’ve been very encouraged by being a part of a couple of networking groups that help me recognize what’s really out there and how to really talk about myself. Because I think people have a really tough time talking about themselves. That key statement: “Tell me about yourself.” Sometimes people don’t do it very well. And it takes practice. It takes somebody to help you who’s going to be really critical, to say, “That makes sense; this doesn’t make sense.”
There are executive networking groups or mid-level groups and I encourage people to join some of those if they are looking for a job. And also, accountability groups. It’s really easy to get off track and say, “Today I’m not going to go look. I’m sort of in a downer mode; I’m just going to go do my gardening, or I’m just going to go watch TV or whatever.” You really need an accountability group or an accountability coach or a friend or somebody to keep you on track, because it’s really easy to step away and get really downtrodden about it.
Purdy: The one thing we control is our attitude, and having a positive attitude and waking up every morning with a purpose — setting career-search goals — is really, really helpful to me. There were a couple of weeks in early February or late January, when I first started to get going, when it felt like it was just a hopeless endeavor. I realized the solution was in my own head, my own brain, my own attitude. It’s tough out there; we’re in a pandemic. There aren’t many jobs. Many of us are creatures of habit in our careers, and it’s just important to be kind to yourself, go easy on yourself, stay positive and have a system. Set goals: weekly, monthly. Keep chipping away at it. Good things will eventually happen.
Domaradzki: I agree with what they’re saying about keeping a schedule. It’s really important. That’s the only way that I see myself moving forward through this. One of my very good friends, who went through a phase where he was unemployed many years ago, said the way he got through it is just by making sure he still had a 9-to-5. Basically, you know, committing to this, learning that, reading this and going to these events. It was good advice, and I try to follow it by setting up my calendar, even if I don’t have a job to go to. I think during the pandemic it’s been really hard. You’re stuck at home; you’re not seeing a lot of people. It’s really a good thing to stay in touch with people.
We discussed how the skills and the sophistication that employers are listing in job listings are more than the job actually calls for. Is that an issue?
Purdy: I think a lot of HR people need to look at how they present the jobs. They’re putting everything plus the kitchen sink into the job description. It’s really hard to know what are the most important skills they are looking for. I think the fact that so much artificial intelligence is involved here allows for the system to get a little sloppy. The system will root out 990 of 1,000 résumés that were submitted electronically and pick out the 10. When I apply for a job, I research the company. I craft a meaningful cover letter. I even adjust my résumé. I put a lot of work into it. To think that it’s just getting brushed aside by some robot — it’s just disheartening.
Berger: I’ve had this discussion with several people. So many people have become unemployed during the pandemic that have MBAs. So if companies can get an MBA verses a B.A., they’re going to go for it. The only problem with that is, somewhere down the road, that MBA who takes this job may not be very happy and will look maybe a year from now or two years from now for another position. Because they’re not satisfied with this senior director-level program manager job now, because they are probably not making the amount of money that they could.
And, Jack, you were talking about the customized résumés, and I do the same thing. You research [the hiring company], you look at Glassdoor, you look at all these places to review what the company is about. You customize everything. I do a tremendous amount of research and try to figure out who the hiring manager might be. Or senior leader. If I’m looking for a client management role, I can go into LinkedIn, I can find out who the VP of client success is, and then send a message. Or, if I can figure out what their email address is, go directly to them. Sometimes I’ll get a response, sometimes it gets passed over to HR and I hear back from HR, but trying to just work around the ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems).
Purdy: My outplacement coach told me that only 20 percent of the jobs are filled through job boards, through blind résumés, or what have you. I think based on my experience it’s higher than that. Probably one in 10 or less are going to be filled through a blind application trying to navigate the AI. However, for anybody that sees a job on a job board they really want, read the job description very carefully. Highlight the words, the skills. Use those words. Rewrite your cover letter or your résumé and include those words in the same balance, the same percentage as you see them in the job description. Because those systems are very structured, and you may get lucky and navigate out the other side where a human actually reads your cover letter and your résumé.
I spent three hours one evening applying for a dream job, one that I know I’m perfectly qualified for. I put a lot of effort into the cover letter, the résumé, everything. I was sure I was getting a call. So I submitted about 11 p.m. Applied electronically. I then relaxed, caught up on a couple of personal emails, and I was getting ready to go to bed, and at 11:45, I had a rejection letter from this company telling me that they had reviewed my résumé and were going to pursue other more qualified candidates. And you talk about a heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, aggravating, annoying experience — it was that. So, back to the comment by Barbara, I’m falling back on the networking. I’m not going to waste a lot on the job boards based on the experience I’ve had so far.
Domaradzki: Frankly speaking, the Internet, job boards, HR are glorified gatekeepers. It’s a numbers game. We’re a big country with a lot of people who are looking, are trying to fill a lot of jobs. And the gatekeepers are going to use the latest fad to try to figure out how to get a person into that role who will be the best fit. When I got my job at Hilton, it was nearly an entry-level job, and I got it from a job listing on Monster.com. And I still apply for jobs on the Internet, and I call them moonshot chances. I quickly submit an application; I don’t bother too much. I’ll go the route of LinkedIn. I’ll see if someone has said something somewhere that their company is hiring; I’ll reach out to them. I don’t bother applying anymore unless I know people can get me past these filters.
How do you identify your transferable skills?
Berger: I went to two of my peers who I had worked with and asked them what they thought of [my listed skills] and also if they thought there was anything else I had missed or if I had overshot my own thought process of myself.
Purdy: In my case, thanks to United, I went through an executive leadership program. We went through and did a formal skills assessment. Frankly, I don’t know that my own determination would be accurate. I think you have to be careful going with what you think. Online, there’s one of those skill finder applications you can use to help you.
Berger: I have done that as well. If you have an opportunity and can afford working with a coach, take some of those skill assessments.
Nettuno: I was thinking that the more you interview, the more you can hone down the skills. So, for me, it’s been really this process. The more I’ve gotten to talk to more employers, I’ve sort of thought to myself, “What am I good at? What am I not so good at?” I think the more you interview, the more you get good at [articulating] what you’re good at.
Dirnberger: Everybody tells you, “You should interview the company, rather than the company interviewing you,” and that’s such good advice, because you’re making a decision for your life. I have a sister who’s in the movie business, and the projects always come and go. And she’s always telling me, “I just can’t wait for the next interview. I just love the interview process.” So I actually capitalized on her to just try to break down the nerves, just the language, the personality: allow it to come out, not focus so much on what are they looking for.
Purdy: If you get the interview, you’re qualified. Knowing that should provide a little boost in confidence. Interviewing is a critical skill and needs to be practiced. Again, I think there are services out there that are probably free where you can actually do a video interview, a self-interview. You can select the questions and then you have a virtual interviewer ask you the questions. You answer them, and then you can watch your response afterwards and redo it. I’ve done that for hours. Your confidence level improves each time you do it, and you learn from every answer you give. So I would encourage people to seek out that option if they can.
In our survey, we noticed that quite a few people were concerned about résumé gaps — applying for a job and having a résumé that for six months or a year doesn’t have anything on it.
Nettuno: I think it’s important to keep it honest, make it functional and really explain what you had been doing.
Domaradzki: I agree with what Dan said. I also think there are two things. One, you could do the part-time thing that I’m doing to show that you’re doing some work, and it will be on your résumé; it will be on your LinkedIn profile. Secondly, if you don’t have anything part time, you can take courses. You could do enrichment-type of stuff. Be involved in an organization of some sort and put that down in some capacity, saying, “I am keeping myself busy; I am trying to better myself for you, my future employer.”
Purdy: I think that’s sufficient in today’s world to explain the gap. Remaining productive, bettering myself, building skills. I don’t think the gap’s an issue in today’s world.
Dirnberger: I think if there’s another [job barrier] you might want to look at, it’s ageism. That was one I thought was even more important than the gap. They’re going to see your résumé, and if you have a long list of experience, they’re going to think that you’re going to cost too much. Then it was, well, how adaptable, how flexible are you going to be as an employee? I think it’s something you need to give a lot of thought to when you complete your résumé. You can actually get away without putting in years of employment. So, yes, you have to play a good game. Because you know that you’re good; you want to get in the door for that interview. You’re not cheating anyone [by hiding your age].
Berger: If I went back [in my résumé] as far back as my career went, ageism would obviously be a problem. So I don’t go all the way back. And the other thing is, I don’t put necessarily the years that I went to college. I try to highlight my expertise.
Nettuno: I think there is ageism out there, but I have to do an inventory of what’s the right fit for me. I was being so desperate about “Oh, my god, I need to get a job,” that I wasn’t thinking through, was it the right company for me? So what I’ve seen is that ageism may be out there. That may happen. But in retrospect, I think I had made the wrong decisions about wanting those certain jobs. So, I think it works both ways, at least from my opinion.