What Does a Retired Airman Wear to a Marriott Interview? One Veteran's Transition to Civilian Life
Name: David R.
Position: Director of Engineering
Hotel: Sheraton Grand Sacramento
Dream destination: Bora Bora and stay in those overwater bungalows, or move back to Italy — but I’d have to brush up on my Italian first.
Drink or treat of choice: A smoky old fashioned
When David R. made it to the next round of interviews for the Director of Engineering position with the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel, he was excited to tell his wife about the next step — a four-hour site visit, complete with property tour. Except for one tiny wrinkle.
“What am I supposed to wear?” David recalls asking his wife at the time. “I’ve been wearing the same uniform for 20 years.”
David, a veteran, dedicated 23 years to the United States Air Force, beginning his career in the early ‘90s as an HVAC Technician, and moving up the ranks and through the fields of engineering, combat communication and project management — and through the countries of South Korea, the Middle East, and Italy — to eventually become Superintendent several times over, when he retired in 2018.
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David and his wife picked out one of his suits for the occasion, and despite feeling “completely overdressed” in his full suit and tie, he was offered the position just a week later. Fast-forward five years and change, and David is thriving as the hotel’s engineering leader, overseeing a team of nine and the general welfare of a 500-room California hotel.
Below, learn what it looks like to move from the Air Force to a role in engineering at Marriott, in David’s own words.
What drew you to Marriott as you transitioned your career?
I knew I wanted to do something else, and I knew I wanted something different than what I had experienced for the last 20 years in the Air Force. I was perusing LinkedIn and saw the description for the job I have now, and in reading it I saw that I qualified for every line — it was a no brainer.
But specifically, I wanted to stay put. I traveled so much in the military and wasn’t home that often. What I liked most about this position was the opportunity to stay put — I pull into a garage and come into a building, and the building doesn’t move.
I also really wanted to work for a Fortune 500 company. The fact that Marriott is a huge, global company feels familiar, and we have the infrastructure and support to rely on our counterparts and learn from their best practices, like I did in the military.
How has your military experience served you in your Marriott career?
In my role as the hotel’s Director of Engineering, I oversee the fire and life safety, the infrastructure and the security of the 422,000 square foot building — all 29 floors. I serve as the strategic leader of my nine-person team, which manages and maintains the building’s heating, cooling, guest rooms, etc.
A lot of people think the team is light bulbs and toilets, but it’s so much more than that, which is what the military taught me. In the Air Force, we actually oversee and maintain all of the facilities throughout the air bases. I was the Infrastructure Superintendent for 550 buildings, making sure everything was operational — that’s a big, big undertaking in the military, which made overseeing one building (as I do now) a task I can get behind and be successful.
It’s also about soft skills: Teamwork, team building, conflict resolution and communication. Those are critical skills, and ones I developed while serving in the Air Force.
What of Marriott’s core values resonate most with you?
The Air Force’s core values are Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do. And two of Marriott’s core values are really similar to those: Pursue Excellence and Act with Integrity. I depend on both those values the most, in both life and in my career.
If you have integrity, that means you’re always poised to do the right thing. Then excellence, to me that’s about striving to be the best, understanding that knowledge is power, having emotional intelligence, and really working hard to learn and adapt.
I mean, we’re the largest hospitality corporation in the world, and what better place than that to be excellent?
What are your interview tips for candidates who want a role like yours?
If you’re applying for a senior level position, you have to be confident — confident in your skill set, and confident that you’re the right fit for the team. You also need to display emotional intelligence, vulnerability, compassion and you have to know who your audience is, so don’t be overly technical. Focus on answering the question: How are you going to meet this company’s core values?
What’s surprised you most about Marriott?
I just graduated from Marriott’s Advanced Engineering Program. About 20-30 associates, typically directors of engineering and other engineers around the world, are selected by leadership to participate in this months-long program, and most people who get chosen have been with Marriott for 10+ years. However, I got picked up for the course after being here a little over a year — which was pretty surprising!
What’s surprised you most about your job?
How much my position touches everybody in the building. People are always coming to me for advice, guidance, or help because I have an open-door policy and an open dialogue with my coworkers. Everybody in the building is my customer.
I saw this in the military a lot, but in this position it’s a bit more personal. I thought this role would be a bit more like running a maintenance shop, a bit more disconnected. But no —everyone is so appreciative for what we do, which is enabling our team to give the best service possible.
And your favorite part of the job?
Being a part of the strategic vision for our hotel. As a senior leader, I have an impact, and my voice is heard.
How have you used the Marriott Explore Rate?
I’m a big skier, so we travel for skiing, and I’ve been able to use it in both Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado.
What is your dream travel destination?
To go to Bora Bora and stay in those overwater bungalows. Or, move back to Italy — but I’d have to brush up on my Italian first.
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