Interviewing and Hiring Tips

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Dave writes:

Hey man, You ever post anything about interviewing potential bartenders? I used to think I was pretty good at it but my lack of success in hiring the right people is making me question myself. Cheers.

Dave

Hey Dave!

Funny, I’ve been thinking for a long time that I should probably post something about this, especially considering that I’ve been super fortunate in recent years with the best staff a guy could ask for. So I’ll try to enumerate here the things that I think I’ve done to be successful in that arena. I don’t personally think there’s any one-size-fits-all solution, by any stretch of the imagination. Just FYI.

I’ve been hiring, training, and managing for a very long time. I’ve made some mistakes, and I’ve had a ton of success. After ten years at this job, my staff now is the best team I’ve ever worked with, so the odds of me ever having to tough it out from scratch again are pretty low. But if I did have to start all over again, this is what I’d do:

A. Start with a couple of key people. If you’re working with a full staff, then you have probably already identified who those key people are: they’re the ones you can’t imagine doing without. If you’ve somehow landed in a situation where you can’t think of a single person you enjoy working with, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re either super unlucky, or the problem here is you.

If you’re starting from scratch, then you probably also know which key people you want to work with. And if for some reason you’re new in town and have no idea how to find those people…. good luck lol. I was in that position when I moved to Portland in 2009 and I didn’t really know many people here. I lucked out with a couple of really fantastic bartenders and the rest was history.

B. Okay, so once you’ve identified those key people, this is the trick: Ask them who they would like to work with. It turns out, people who are really good at their job tend to want to work with other people who are really good at their jobs. Crazy, right? So rather than putting ads out on Craigslist or Poached, I just crowdsource the hiring from the people I enjoy working with. Turns out they tend to know other great people.

I’ve found that when I involve my staff in the hiring and training of new people, they take a much greater interest in that person’s professional success. If someone hands me a plant, it’s just a plant I have to take care of. But if I’m involved in the growth and care of that plant, I innately want to watch it do well. It’s called being invested in a place and it really gives us all a sense of ownership.

C. When we’ve all identified who we want to work with next, then it’s inevitably time to bring them in for an interview. And this is another place where I differ wildly from most others in a management position. As you’ve seen in my resume advice post, I think the “traditional” way of doing things is really, really outdated. So I personally don’t find any usefulness in the following sorts of questions:

  1. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. What is your biggest weakness?
  4. Why should we hire you/what makes you the best candidate for the job?

These are just a bunch of canned, bullshit questions that are designed to intimidate prospective employees. And if that’s the sort of culture you’re looking to build at your bar, one built on employee intimidation, then go ahead and stop reading this article now. But I don’t think that’s why you’re here. I think you want to build a really positive culture and a healthy work environment. And that starts the minute you interview someone.

I like to start an interview by telling my story, and the story of the bar. I want to give the person I’m meeting, presumably for the first time, an idea of where I come from, and how I envision the culture I want for the bar. It an opportunity to be honest, open, communicative, and even a little vulnerable. I share some of my successes. I share some of my failures. I paint a very clear picture of what I want my bar to look like.

D. After I’ve shared my story and the bar’s story, I like to offer the person I’m sitting across from the chance to share their story. This makes for a great opportunity to have an actual conversation, rather than a KGB-like questioning session. Here are a few starter questions that I like:

  1. How did you first get into this business?
  2. Assuming you’re like many of us who sort of fell into this line of work accidentally, what made you stick around?
  3. What sort of place are you looking to work in? What are you hoping to get out of your time there, aside from making a living?
  4. What would be your ideal schedule? Often times we’re obligated to take care of the people who we already work with, is your dream schedule compatible with what we have to offer?

Anyway, once I’ve found that perfect person and have them all set up and trained, then it’s just lather-rinse-repeat over the years until you’ve assembled the perfect staff. I know it sounds like a lot of work and certainly can seem kind of touchy-feely at times. But I firmly believe in this method, in particular the piece about getting your best people involved in finding new talent.

I hope this helps. And if any of you have any questions you’d like answered here, just hop on over to the contact page and let me know!

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