Workforce

What questions should I be asking prospective restaurant employees?

job interview
It can be challenging to predict how an interviewee will perform on the job. | Photo: Shutterstock

Question:

I read your article about still having to pay employees for training if it doesn’t work out. In that article, you mention that I should be asking better interview questions. I do the standard ones like “Tell me about yourself,” and “Where have you worked previously and why did you leave?” What kind of questions can I ask that would be a better predictor of someone actually being able to do the job?

– Owner/Manager

Answer:

It can be challenging to predict how someone will perform on the job from an interview.

I’ve heard about and have seen lots of examples—both from the front and back of house—of people talking a big game about their experience in an interview, touting the big name restaurants on their resumes, only to reveal that they don’t know how to perform basic tasks like make a Manhattan or shuck oysters when put to work.

Historically, more restaurants were open to hosting unpaid stages or training periods where these types of deficiencies can be identified. Ideally, the employee would be guided and trained and/or fitted to a position where they could excel. Less ideally, they’d be asked to leave. These days, as discussed in my column about paying employees for training, even if it does not go well, training is generally paid, so you will need to discern as much as you can about a person’s abilities from the interview.

While general questions can unveil a lot about people in terms of their personalities and interpersonal skills, there are focused ones you can ask to try to discern how transferable the candidate’s skill set will be to your operation.

Here are a few:

  • Tell me how you prioritize tasks to set up and organize your station when you come into work at your current position.
  • Do you ever feel pulled to address competing priorities at the same time? How do you decide what to do first?
  • Tell me about the places you’ve previously worked. Given what I’ve told you about our operation, which of your skills and experiences do you think will be applicable to our operation?
  • Given what I’ve told you about our operation, what skills will we need to help you develop so you can succeed here?
  • Tell me about a bad day at work. What went wrong and what, if anything, could you have done to prevent it? What will you do differently next time?
  • How do you see yourself best contributing to our team?

Ultimately, there is no substitute for seeing for yourself how an employee will fit, but the more practical the questions, the better for your best judgement. Within reason, consider adding a mock service or tasting to have more confidence in your hire.

More on interviews here.

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