Thursday, April 21, 2011

"The Hunt" - Part 1

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs….It’s the word on everyone’s mind these days.  It seems there just aren’t enough of them to go around.  As a business owner, I have witnessed, firsthand, all of the obstacles that can come between a proprietor and their ability to create jobs.  It can be both a financial and bureaucratic nightmare.  However, if you are lucky enough to defeat “the machine” and get your business open, you will have created at least ONE job.  That’s the mission.  That’s the goal.  After that, it’s just a matter of finding the perfect person to fill the position!

Over the last 7 years, I have posted countless ads on looking for that perfect server, bartender, busser, runner, and on occasion, that enthusiastic and creative General Manager for one of our restaurants.  Before 2007, if we posted a want ad for any of these positions, we could receive anywhere from 25-75 resumes in a 24 hour period.  Now, when we post these ads, we receive anywhere from 200-600 resumes on any given day.  Scary!  The downside to this type of thing is pretty obvious….it’s a sign of a stubbornly inactive economy.  The upside…..I get to be VERY choose-y when selecting our next employee.

In order to efficiently and effectively look at every candidate, I have a way of narrowing down the submissions to find that perfect person.  So, I am going to let you job-seekers in on what exactly an employer like me is, or is NOT, looking for.  My goal in sharing this with you is to help you employment-hunters out there secure a position that will both fulfill your needs and the needs of the business that hires you.  While some folks may find  my criteria shallow or unfair, it has proven to be generally successful for our restaurant company.  It seems that the majority of feedback we receive from our dining guests would support the belief that our staff is professional, fun and, overall, take great pride in their workplace.  In addition, I’ve had the great pleasure of watching our staff grow into a terrific working-family (with all of it‘s quirky dynamics).  In fact, more than half of our staff at Henry’s Hat has been there since the very beginning (the rest joining our team as our business grew), and several members of our staff at Luna Park have been there since it’s conception, nearly eight years ago.  So, with that, I’ve come to believe that hiring people is something I’ve had a little success with, and this criteria has been responsible for much of that.  So, here it goes….every little bit helps.

Whenever I post an ad for a new employee, I have a lot of criteria floating around in my head.  Does the position require someone “more mature” or someone a little “fresher?”….. male or a female?…..someone to work weekends or just day shifts?  Believe it or not, every position is a little different and requires different experience and skill sets.  Lets pretend I’m looking for someone to work behind the bar, full time, mostly nights and weekends (our busiest times), during the height of football season (one of our resto‘s has 17 TV‘s)……Okay, my ideal candidate is going to most likely be female, have at least 3-5 years bartending experience (meaning seasoned, but not a “life-r“), open availability, beautiful (meaning thin and athletic), funny and definitely well-educated.  Why these particular qualities for this particular position???….It’s football season, right? So, a hot girl is going to be most pleasing to our sports fanatic, jock-type, frat-crowd we will most likely be serving.  Next, if this position will require mostly nights and weekend shifts, we will definitely need a skilled (but not jaded or burnt out) bartender.   To put it simply, you need to be eager, enthusiastic, buoyant ….. and in shape!  Physically, bartending when it’s busy is like doing aerobics for 8 hours.  You need stamina, and often, a high tolerance for pain.  Also, when the bar gets busy, the job requires a lot of fast paced movement (mostly dodging other bartenders).  Since bars are generally very narrow, being thin and agile is a must.  It’s just a matter of being able to move around a lot.  See???  Practical…not vein!!!  Now, the “funny” and “well-educated” requirements have to do with conflict resolution.  Problems and mistakes happen all the time in restaurants.  For instance, on any given weekend night, when you have 200 people ordering modified menu items from 15 staff members which are entered into 1 of 4 computers and then sent to 1 of 3 printers and are made by 5 cooks and sent to 1 of 30 tables by 2 or 3 food runners, some things are bound to have been missed or made incorrectly.  It happens.  Everywhere.  When this happens, and you point out our glaring omission, we hope that you are met with both a charming and compassionate server or bartender.  Employees that are quick on their feet can quickly take the edge off, make you feel important, make you laugh, AND fix the problem in the most expedient way possible. These are the staff members that bring joy to my life.  Finding these qualities may seem simple enough, but it’s a rare trait; and one that is nearly impossible to teach.

Now, per the example above, I find that it helps to ask applicants to attach a photo to their resume when submitting them online.  Since two of our three restaurants happen to be located in the headshot capitol of the world, it‘s relatively common for employers to request this.   As I previously touched on, looks sometimes matter!  I think it’s fair to equate the look and feel of the employee to the look and feel of the restaurant in general.  Having attractive staff is part of the one-two punch of  a restaurants very first impression.  Upon entering the establishment, you immediately get the “vibe” of the place by noticing the details like wall color, furniture, décor, music, lighting, etc.  These details, whether you’re immediately conscious of it or not, were carefully chosen by us to design an accurate expectation of the experience you are about to have.  To follow this immediate sensory upload, it’s important to be greeted by someone who, by their look and demeanor, will confirm that expectation.   This is not meant to be an act of vanity…..just an act of wanting consistency.

Now, if I receive 600 resumes, ask that you attach a picture, and you don’t……it’s very possible that I won’t even open your email for fear that either you “don’t want to conform to such nonsense” or that you think adding a photo will exploit some horrible facial defect or something.  Either way, it’s probably not going to be a good fit for either of us.  On the flip side, please ladies…..PAH-LEEEZ…don’t attach your “I wanna get nasty” photo!!  I can’t tell you how many lingerie-clad, inappropriately posed, female “sexy-face,” ridiculous looking photos I’ve gotten.  What the hell are you trying to accomplish??  Waiting tables does not require a lap dance!!  At least not at our restaurants!  Geez!!!  Have some self respect!…..Also, PS…Attaching the weird “one-handed-self-iPhone-picture” just eludes to the fact that you are the kind of person that likes taking pictures of yourself….alone… your room… yourself…..which only gives off the impression that you may be a scary-stalker-ish kind of person and/or that, possibly,  you just don’t have any friends.  Neither is something that will entice me to call you for an interview.

Now, the following are five items of simple advice when emailing a resume:
    1)  Don’t apply through someone else’s email address.  If the example I mentioned above would compel me to look for a female, and you apply with your boyfriend’s email address, I may simply pass over it.  It also makes me wonder if you have yet to figure out how to create your own email account.
    2) “PDF: Please Don’t Fuck-up the format!  Make sure you attach your resume in a format that I can open.  If I can’t open it, I will just frustratedly click “next.”
    3)  Keep it short. Usually the first two sentences of any cover letter are the only two I will read.  I don’t need your whole life story, and I’m not looking for you to woo me with your literary skills….at least not for the restaurant business.  A good opening line would go something like, “I saw your ad, and I think I’m what you’re looking for.  Check out my resume for more information about me. Ps. I have great references!”  With that, I’d be eager to see what you’ve got!
    4)  Sometimes, withholding information can work in your favor.  If you’re applying for a management position, and you say you have 30 years of restaurant experience, I begin to doubt you’re motivation.  Why?  If you’ve ever managed a restaurant, you know that it is, BY FAR, the HARDEST job you can take on in a restaurant.  In my opinion, the only reason anyone should take on such  unrelenting responsibilities is if they have plans to open and own their own restaurant.  If you’ve been managing other people’s places for 30 years, either a) you’re not learning quickly enough, or b) you don’t have the confidence to try it for yourself.  Bottom line, if you’re good enough and know enough about running a business, DO IT!  Just my opinion….
    5)  The "education" section is important.  If you include a college on your resume, and only state what your major was, I know you didn’t graduate.  I don’t particularly care if you went to college or not, but don’t put something on your resume that you didn’t finish.  It just gives the impression that you may be a quitter.
    6)  Don’t show off your “job-hopping".  If I see that you have a string of 3 month jobs (even if they’re in the most notable restaurants in town), I know that you’re either going to quit or I’m going to end up firing you.  It’s clear that these short stints are either a sign of a lack of loyalty, poor work ethic or an inability to work well with others.  None of these traits are attractive to an owner who has to spend precious time and money training you.  It’s only worth it on our end if your work history would dictate that you’re likely to stay. 

The next step is the interview.  After choosing a handful of select applicants, I’ll set aside an hour or so to meet with all of them.  I am a firm believer that you can get a pretty good sense of someone’s personality and skills within the first few minutes of meeting them.  After all, as a server/bartender, you will usually only interact with your guests for a total of roughly 10 minutes on average.  During that limited window of time, we hope as owners, that you will have made the appropriate impression on a guest.  Therefore, this is how much time you’ll have to show me what you’ve got.  When interviewing, I try to let the applicant steer the interview.  While I’ll ask an array of questions, I’ll let the interviewee take me where they want to go.  By doing this, I get an inside look at how you think, speak, and what’s truly at the heart of who you are.  With that, here is some very standard advice when sitting across from a possible future employer:

    1) Know what you’re best AND worst qualities are.  I always ask applicants what they think their previous employer would tell me about them if I were to call them for a reference.  I’ll ask, “How do you think they would respond if I asked them to tell me the best thing about having you as an employee AND on the flip side, what do you think they would say was the one thing you needed to work on?”  In response, applicants usually have no problem listing their positive qualities, however, the response to the other side of that question says A LOT!  It’s not a trick question!  I truly believe that we succeed at the things we’re great at, but we can fail because of the one thing we’re bad at….simply because we don’t know that we’re bad at it.  Knowing your weaknesses means that you’re self-aware, you understand that you’re not perfect, and that because you’re aware, you are always working towards improving.  I’m not looking for “perfect.”  I am looking for someone I can train though., and that starts with knowing where you can improve.
    2)  Don’t rag on your last job!!  I will usually go through your resume and ask what provoked each job change.  When I do this, I’m hoping that each transition was due to some type of promotion, life improvement or geographical move.  However, I can’t tell you how often people use this as an excuse to vent about how much they hated their previous gig.  When folks use this as an opportunity to spill shop secrets about how their former employers “cheated on their taxes” or “they didn’t know what they were doing,” I will seriously want to end the interview right then and there.  First of all, BAD ENERGY=TOXIC!  Second of all, how the hell would you know the in’s and out’s of someone else’s business by serving food to customers 3 days a week?  When an applicant blames their negative experience at a job on everyone but themselves, I tend to believe that the problem most likely lies within.  I don’t EVER hire these people.
    3)  Please don’t show up in your gym clothes…and ladies, put some make up on!  This is pretty straight forward.  Showing that you take pride in yourself is the only reason I would assume you would take pride in your job.  While I know some ladies think they don’t need to wear make-up, I am here to tell you that YES YOU DO!  Everyone looks better when they‘re properly made up, and if you happen to work for me, you’ll learn that I have been known to send people home to “finish getting ready” when they arrive to work with wet hair and no make-up.  Since most of our employees are struggling actors, I tend to gently remind them that anyone in their section that night could be a casting director.  Works like a charm!
    4)  Make eye contact!  While this may seem like a simple idea, you would be surprised at how many people come to an interview and leave their self esteem at home.  Making eye contact is an immediate sign of self confidence.  If you don’t have it, we won’t have it in you.  I think this is generally true in all aspects of life.
    5)  Don’t come to an interview smelling like booze or cigarettes!  I recently interviewed a guy for a General Manager position, and low and behold, it became clear within minutes that he was wasted!  This was quickly confirmed for me when I saw my bartender cutting off his girlfriend at the bar in the other room…..while I was interviewing him!!  Seriously?!!?  So, I guess it just has to be said!  Don’t drink and interview!  Also, while I have been known to smoke a cig or two, don’t come in smelling like an ashtray because A) I know that if I hire you, you’ll be asking for a break every five minutes, and B) I know that it doesn’t bother you to serve delicious food to a table while offending them with your disgusting odor.  I try not to hire smokers, but if I do, they are not allowed to smoke while on our clock!

So, to sum it all up, just as every news reporter, financial analyst and government official has been hammering home for the last three years, it’s simply a new day and age in the job market.  Businesses are being forced to downsize, budgets are getting slashed everywhere, and it has resulted in the largest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression.  It’s a critical time out there.  In this kind of market, there are only a few things that we can all do.  If you’re out there looking for a job, know what you’re strengths are, put together the best package possible to represent yourself, persistently apply to anything and everything within your skill set, and then pray.  If you’re not looking, do what you can to help a friend who is, and then quietly thank your lucky little stars!

Next time, in "The Hunt" - Part 2,  I will discuss my observations and experiences from the other side of the interview table......that all important "audition room".  Stay tuned.....

Happy Hunting! xo

“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” - Oscar Wilde

xo Martha

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Martha. I hope you keep writing!