Questions to ask before signing up for Private Service Education

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School is more than a piece of paper

It’s no secret that as a career coach, I believe in the value of education. This is one of the reasons why we believe in letting our readers know about upcoming classes and workshops from professional educators in the private service industry.

Education is more than just getting a certificate to feature on your resume. It is a serious investment – both in time and money – and should be carefully considered before registering for any school.

Here’s some tips of what to look for in your private service education:

1. What is the curriculum?

A school or workshop should be able to provide a detailed list of the curriculum and/ or learning objectives. In some cases, such as state-regulated schools, the curriculum must be made available to prospective students to maintain their access to financial aid.

When looking at the curriculum, consider the topics covered.  Does it relate to the career that you want?  Since most schools in private service are not college programs, the classes tend to focus specifically on job skills.  No philosophy or college algebra!  Unfortunately, that also means that many times you can’t “test out” of prerequisites – you have to complete all of the courses, just as they are laid out.

One exception to this rule is the Charles MacPherson Academy in Toronto, Canada.  While all courses are required, it is possible to attend the classes one week at a time – a unique advantage, especially if attending a continuous 4- or 8- week class is not feasible with your work or life.

Additionally, both Starkey International and PDI offer correspondence courses.


2. Who are the instructors?

Finding out who is teaching you and his or her credentials is your responsibility.  Go beyond just reading their profile on the school’s website. Research their background, including their LinkedIn profile or other social media. Is this person “walking the talk?”

Within the private service industry, there is a strong tradition of experienced teachers leading the classes.  It is not uncommon to see instructors with 20 years of experience in the field.  This is what you want – but also look at the type of experience.  Has it all been for one family or principal?  Were they always doing the same job, or did they have frequent promotions?  Did they work with multiple properties, or just one?  What kind of service environment were they in – military, the home, yachts or attached to the principal?

Schools also employ specialists who are experts in their field.  For example, Starkey International Institute for Household Management in Denver, Colorado has used Lucia Miltenberger, a recognized master of fine dining, wines and wine cellar management.


3. What is the school’s reputation?

Be sure to take a look at the world’s view of this school. Regardless of how hard you work, the value of your education to employers has to do with image – and that is managed by the school.

Fortunately, in this digital age, it doesn’t take long to find out more about a school than just their own website.  Of course, a basic Google search will reveal reviews and news, but don’t limit yourself to just these sources.  Consider social media; in particular, search for graduates from the school and ask them about their experience.  Create a questionnaire that you can send, to make sure that you get consistent answers.

Some of these questions can include:

  • How large was the class?
  • Were the classes well planned?
  • What was the most helpful thing you learned?
  • What was the least helpful?
  • What was your impression of the instructors?
  • Was the work load reasonable?
  • Do you feel that you retained a lot of the information presented?
  • Did they help you with placement?
  • Would you recommend this school?


4. Is this something I need to learn?

When choosing a school, you need to do a strong self-assessment first.  As a coach, I hear people say that they feel they can manage a luxury property because they managed their own home for years.  Unfortunately, while that experience is relevant, there is a world of difference between a 25,000 sf luxury home on 5 acres and the average American’s suburban 3,000 sf home on the corner lot.

Do you need a system of management, strong technical skills or more etiquette? Different schools focus on different specialties. Make sure your choice teaches you what you need to learn the most.

Again, reputation can give some indication of expertise.  Starkey International is known for its management system.  Professional Domestics Institute (PDI) in Ohio is known for their technical skills.  Charles MacPherson is known for technical skills and personal dynamics.  And one of the newest schools, the Bespoke Institute in New York, is known for one of the best Personal Assistant programs in North America.

Outside of a full certification, new workshops and intensive weekends are springing up across the county, such as Marta Perrone’s courses for Nannies and Housekeepers – in 2012, this will be expanded into some Household Management classes as well.

If you aren’t sure what kind of schooling you may need, talk to other people in the industry – especially those who transitioned from a different industry.  Ask them how different it was from the way that they envisioned it.  Ask them what they wished they had known before taking that first job.  And of course, ask them what they would have done differently.

Call Us!

Of course, please feel free to call us at the Personal Touch Career Services as well – as one of the few coaching services that understands the private service industry, we would be happy to help you do a self-assessment to determine your education needs – and come up with a plan to land that dream job.

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