From Sales Manager to Global Development Analyst: How My Career in the Hotel Industry Came Full Circle

After eight years in the hotel industry, working in all manner of roles from the front desk to the sales team, Cheryl’s career path was thrown off course by the pandemic when her job at Marriott was eliminated. She used this setback as an opportunity to learn new skills and retrain as a data analyst and is now back in the game working as a development analyst for Marriott International.

by Alison Lightfoot on 31 August 2022

Cheryl Poulain, a CareerFoundry data analytics graduate

Cheryl’s love of travel, hospitality, and customer service was the perfect blend for a career in the hotel industry and she spent eight years working with Marriott, climbing the ranks from the front desk to multiple sales roles.

Sadly, the pandemic put a stop to her progress when her role was eliminated. Taking this as a sign to pursue her ever growing interest in data, Cheryl retrained for a career as a data analyst. When she graduated from CareerFoundry she immediately landed a job as an analyst with an insurance company. 

Her bold move had paid off; she was putting her newfound data skills into practice and getting to grips with a new industry, when unfortunately another of life’s curveballs came her way when that company surprisingly dissolved hers and dozens of other analysts’ roles in a company reorganization.

Back to the job searching phase and still keen to put her data skillset to good use, Cheryl didn’t let this setback knock her down. After a month or so, in a somewhat satisfying turn of events, Cheryl landed a job back at Marriott International as a global development analyst.

Here’s how she used the pandemic struggles and setbacks in her career as a driving force for a better future, and how she unconventionally rose through the ranks with Marriott.

Hi Cheryl! To kick things off, please could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and about your background?

Hi Alison! Absolutely. I worked for Marriott International for eight years. Growing up, I traveled cross-country with my parents in the US. We went from the East Coast all the way to the West Coast and back, staying at countless hotels along the way. These trips sparked the beginning of my interest in hotel management, so when I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to work in hospitality.

My first job out of college was with Marriott. I got my foot in the door at the front desk to learn the ropes. I also learned a lot about every department which provided a great foundation for my Marriott career. Over the next eight years I held seven different roles including the front desk, sales admin and multiple sales manager jobs. I made amazing friends and I enjoyed my job, but unfortunately, hospitality, as we know, did not do too well once the pandemic hit. I was furloughed for several months. Marriott kept me on as long as possible, but eventually my job was eliminated.

What was that time like and how did you handle losing your job?

It gave me the time to think about what I really wanted to do with my career. About a year before the pandemic, I’d thought about making a career change but never fully committed to it. When I was furloughed, I didn’t know when or if I would be called back to work. That uncertainty gave me a lot of time to self-reflect and wonder if there were other roles even better suited for me. Being furloughed was the extra nudge that prompted me to explore different careers which, for me, was the silver lining of the pandemic.

Related reading: Michael’s Career Change From Graphic Design To UI Design: How I Found A Job During Covid-19

It sounds like you did some good soul-searching. How did you begin this process of searching for a new career?

I researched a lot, since I knew I wanted to do something different but I wasn’t exactly sure what role I wanted to pursue. I took countless ‘What careers are you suited for’ quizzes online, but mainly I reflected on my career and on what job aspects had interested me thus far.

What made you decide to study with CareerFoundry?

I thought about pursuing a master’s program before settling on an online program. I researched multiple different companies, and I determined CareerFoundry the best because I loved the quality training combined with the flexibility of working at my own pace. This was especially important because any day during my furlough I could have been called back to work, or my job could have been eliminated. CareerFoundry gave me the flexibility to complete the course no matter which situation occurred.

I also liked the aspect of having a mentor, tutor, and a career specialist—having a full support system was really attractive.

So you took the plunge! How was your experience on the Data Analytics Program?

I really love that CareerFoundry offers an intro course because it’s like a baby commitment before the real commitment, both timewise and financially. The main program definitely gave me the skills to add to my resume, which helped me land interviews. It gave me the skills and the foundations of being a data analyst to be able to actually work in the field.

Did you feel like you were starting from scratch when you started the program, or did you have a good base understanding to begin with?

When learning coding with CareerFoundry, I felt like it was all from scratch because I had no experience with SQL, Tableau, or Python. I had a decent background in Excel, because I used the program pretty often in my previous Marriott roles to review and analyze hotel data.

A quote from Cheryl about her career change journey

What was your relationship like with your mentor and your tutor?

I loved my mentor. She was awesome. I felt like we clicked right away. She gave great advice, whether it was industry guidance or help with the tasks. While the tutor is your main resource with help on a task, my mentor was always willing to help out too. I relied on her a lot and I appreciated all of her help. I also appreciated that my tutor periodically shared articles for additional reading on topics related to the specific tasks.

What happened once you had finished your studies?

I originally hoped to have finished the program earlier, but I had a few bumps in the road due to IT issues and computer memory. However, I started applying to jobs and actually accepted a role as an analyst with a leading national insurance company before finishing the program. It was a whirlwind at the end!

Amazing! How did you find the job searching process?

I don’t know of anyone that loves applying to jobs because it’s a lot of work and it’s time consuming. I think most people feel very motivated and complete several applications one week, but the next week they’re really hoping to get an interview soon because they’re mentally drained. It was very challenging, especially with the field seeming competitive, more so than normal I’d say because of the pandemic. On top of that, I knew I needed to prove to employers that I could still succeed while changing both industries and roles.

A quote from Cheryl about her career change journey

I really loved doing the job prep course. My career specialist was great to work with and I appreciated how the career tasks were structured; it helped me in the job search process as it broke everything down step-by-step, from preparing your elevator pitch to updating your resume and so on.

You were offered a job at a national insurance company before you finished your studies, which is amazing! Can you tell us about the hiring process?

In terms of the job search itself, I had the best luck with LinkedIn out of all the recruitment websites, and that’s where I found the insurance role. I applied and it was a long process, almost a month and a half, with long and thorough interviews. First, I filled out a Word document and answered questions about my experience, things like: tell us about past data projects you’ve completed, why you want to work for the company, your background, etc… Then I had a phone screening, two different assessments, and then a series of five back-to-back virtual interviews. While it was intense, it gave me a good sense of my future coworkers and a chance to ask a lot of questions.

Could you tell us more about the product and your role?

They mainly provide coverage for automobiles among other items. My official title was a product research and development analyst for the vehicle team. Overall, I handled a lot of automobile and customer data. We organized, segmented and cleaned the data, all to ultimately make the products easier for customers to use. If you’re looking for car insurance and you go online to get a quote, all the projects that we worked on in the background help make that process faster and help the customer get the most competitive price overall. I definitely learned a lot about insurance!

So it sounds like everything was going great and you were learning a lot in your new field, but after a few months things changed. What happened with your role and how did you handle it?

All I know is that a reorganization resulted in the majority of my department being eliminated. My initial thought was, I need to go out and buy a Lotto ticket! That sounds like a bizarre thought, but after having two jobs eliminated within the same calendar year through no fault of my own, I thought to myself, my luck has to change at some point. Of course, I was definitely upset but I’d say I was more exasperated.

However, it had only been a few months since I put out job applications, prepped for interviews, and gone through that entire process, so I still felt prepared to dive right back into the job search. I also now had additional skills and projects from my insurance role to add to my resume that I knew would make me an even more competitive candidate. I prayed that the next wave of applications would be much easier, and it definitely was!

In a fairly sweet twist of fate, you’re now back at Marriott! Tell us about how that came about.

Yes, I’m very glad to come full circle at this point! When my role was eliminated at the insurance company, I definitely pondered about continuing to work in the insurance industry because I found it interesting and I enjoyed many aspects of it. However, a part of me knew I always wanted to return to hospitality at some point in my career. I just didn’t know if this was the right time to do it or if I should take another role in insurance and see where that took me.

So, I applied for roles in both industries. I checked a lot of job postings for hotel roles and was lucky enough to find an analyst role at Marriott Corporate. I read the job description and initially didn’t think that I was qualified for it, but I still applied and I’m so grateful I did because it all worked out! Having extra time on my hands to reflect about it now, I realize my true passion is in hospitality.

A LinkedIn post from Cheryl about her career change journey

That’s amazing. I was wondering if you’d found the job post organically or if you were networking with your friends and colleagues to find the right role.

I did a little bit of both. I found this specific role because I knew former colleagues at Marriott who moved to corporate, so I checked the Marriott Corporate recruitment site because I remembered that they had posted analyst roles in the past. I certainly had a lot of past coworkers reach out and share sales roles with me, which was really appreciated. But, now that I had already pivoted my career to become a data analyst, I wanted to focus solely on analyst roles.

Your new role is a development analyst at Marriott International. Congratulations! I hope you’re enjoying it so far. Could you tell us a bit about your role?

Thanks! So far I love it. My boss seems awesome and my team is amazing. I have my immediate team of five people, and we work a lot on developing data reports on hotel operations all over the world.

Do you feel like the knowledge and skills you learned from CareerFoundry are helping you in your role?

Yes, definitely. CareerFoundry certainly gave me a great foundation and helped me get off to the right start in my first job in the field. In the course I learned the coding languages SQL and Python, and then Tableau, which is a data visualization tool, and Excel, of course. As an insurance analyst, I mainly used SQL and Excel. I haven’t used SQL yet at Marriott, but knowing the foundation of writing code has helped me better understand how existing reports pull hotel data.

I would say Excel is the main skill that’s carried from CareerFoundry, to the insurance company, to Marriott, but there are certainly other applications in the future.

A quote from Cheryl about her career change journey

Do you have any hopes for the future, in terms of other industries you’d like to work in or career progression goals?

Well, I certainly hope not to lose another job through no fault of my own! I’m very grateful I’m back in hospitality and I definitely want to stay in hospitality if I’m fortunate enough to. Marriott Corporate headquarters is similar to my previous roles within the company, in that they promote growth, and focus on learning and development. It’s a great environment to continue learning, adding new skills and trying out different roles at a corporate level. So ideally, I’d love to keep learning in my new role and potentially move up the corporate ladder.

Of course, hospitality has taken a huge hit with Covid. With my role supporting hotel operations, I feel like I’m helping the company recover. That’s another great thing about being on the development team—building the hospitality industry back to where it was a few years ago.

For you personally, what is the most rewarding thing about working in data?

At Marriott, I would say seeing how my analyses affects other departments, hotel owners, and hotel teams. Thinking back to when I was a sales manager, I always felt like the most rewarding part of my job was seeing how my work benefited others in the company.

If I was able to have a sales contract signed, it was obviously great for me in terms of meeting my goals and my team’s goals, but I also knew that if I booked an event at a hotel, it would provide additional work opportunities to the on-site teams. And I feel the same level of reward in my analyst role. My teams’ analyses are helping guide the strategy of hotel owners and our corporate teams in opening more hotels across the globe, which means more jobs throughout the world.

It’s great to hear how much value your work brings now, especially after a tough 12 months. Can you offer any advice for anyone reading this who might have faced a similar setback in their career, like you did?

If you lose two jobs in a year, don’t give up! In terms of the data industry, once you have one analyst role on your resume it will be much easier applying the second time around. Initially, I was changing not only from one industry to another but also changing entirely different roles which was very hard. But if you get your foot in the door in analytics and love it and want to pursue a data analyst career, it certainly gets easier as you gain more experience and can add relevant projects to your resume.

And do you have any advice for anyone reading this article who is thinking about doing an online course to kick off their career in data analytics?

I would recommend doing a lot of research and ultimately enrolling in the program that suits you best. Also, do an intro or taster course if that is available. If you’re looking at CareerFoundry specifically, definitely take the Intro to Data Analytics Course. 

I was hesitant to switch both industries and roles at the same time, but the intro course definitely helped me get a really good sense of what the full course would look like. That helped solidify my decision to study with CareerFoundry; knowing that I really loved the curriculum format, platform, and program structure.

If you’re already studying, stick with it! I feel like most people that study with CareerFoundry are usually going from one industry to another, and it can be a big, scary change with its ups and downs, but it’s worth it in the end. So hang in there!

There are so many resources to help you along the way. There are lots of different articles published by CareerFoundry which I appreciated. I tuned in to a lot of the webinars too, which shared information such as interviewing and networking in a remote environment. Those types of resources were great and reassured me that I was putting my best foot forward.

Great advice to end on! Thank you for sharing your story with us, Cheryl. I’m really pleased to see things have come full circle for you with Marriott, and wishing you all the best with your new role.

Has Cheryl’s story piqued your interest for a career as an analyst? Find out if data analytics is a good fit for you with this free, introductory, short course. If you’d like to learn more about how to retrain for a career in tech, we can recommend speaking with one of our program advisors.

by Alison Lightfoot on 31 August 2022

About the author

Alison Lightfoot

Originally from northern England, Alison’s marketing background ranges from gaming, to sports, to the arts. When she’s not writing about CareerFoundry’s inspiring alumni, she can be found doing yoga, reading a weird book, or exploring new restaurants and cafes around Berlin.