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What's this? Let me explain.

As some of you probably know, for the last couple of years I've been part of the interview process at my place of employment. Specifically, every Wednesday between two and four in the afternoon, I do walk-in interviews. Show up, fill out an app, and then you get a few minutes of my time for an initial interview. Ace that and you may get a call from me or one of the managers to set up a second interview with one of them. It's a job I enjoy, but at times it drives me crazier than my actual job for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons is that there are times where I can interview fifteen, even twenty people, and they all look and sound more or less the same. Like they've all read the same "How To Ace Job Interviews" book, or they all took the same class on the subject, or they all had the same mentor about it. As someone who has taken that advice, and someone who has given it, I have a feeling that not every piece of advice applies to the restaurant business, or at least not to mine in particular. So one day I got bored and decided to write down all the mistakes people made in their interviews and how they could correct them for use in a future blog post.

Then I lost that list, and made a new one. Then again. This time, I'm just shooting from the hip in insomniatic rambling mode. Hey, if a friend could say I'm eloquent in that respect, and if I can conduct interviews half-asleep, I can do this. As for the bland title, it's just temporary. I figure "How To Interview Without Sounding Like An Asshole" wouldn't be very constructive.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this post and any I may make like this one are based solely on my own unprofessional experience. I am not a licensed consultant or whatever. They only directly apply to interviewing with me. Your mileage may vary with other interviewers, managers, or businesses.


PART ONE: FAILING TO PREPARE IS PREPARING TO (EPIC) FAIL

So you want a job. You decided you want to come apply at my restaurant. Good for you, because I always like meeting new people and hearing what they have to say. You probably even know about our Wednesday walk-ins, and you figure we're all a very cool bunch. You think it's cool that I interviewed that one guy in a T-shirt and shorts, smiled and nodded at everything he said, and shook his hand all friendly like as he walked away.

Don't ever emulate that guy, because he (and probably everyone else you saw waiting that day) won't be called back.

Getting a job, even at my restaurant, requires more than simply showing up and telling me how much you want to work there. As I tell everyone I interview, I'm usually interviewing around fifteen to twenty people a day, and that doesn't count the handful that bypass me completely and go directly to the managers for whatever reason. All of them showed up and communicated how much they wanted to work there. The ones that got hired, the ones my co-workers and my managers loved, didn't get hired just because they -really- wanted to work here. Among other things they had in common, they all came prepared. They knew what they wanted to do, and they knew they were coming to be interviewed. They may also have known that they needed to stand apart from the other ten or twenty people in the lobby that day, that there were hundreds of applications sitting in the office doomed never to be called back outside of some dire staffing emergency, and hundreds more doomed never to be called back, -ever-.

They knew that everybody "really wants to work here" and that they had to be better than that.

YOU CAN'T JUST SHOW UP

This is something I've wondered a lot lately: because the interviews are walk-in, does that make some people think it's okay to just show up, without doing any prior planning and probably wearing whatever, and think that they have a chance to get a job? Because that's been happening a lot lately. Case in point: on more than one occasion, there were a bunch of kids in the restaurant who had been eating and carousing and saw me going back and forth with people. They asked what was going on, and when they were told, all decided to fill out applications and be interviewed. It was even suggested to them to fill out their applications and come back next week, prepared, but they decided it would be better to go in completely cold with stained T-shirts and shorts. The manager on duty specifically told me not to waste time on them, because while he knew I would interview them because I believed in being fair and keeping a reasonably open mind, he had already decided they wouldn't be worth his time.

Now, that was a worst-case example, and you might think that showing up cold and not dressed for the part means you might not get hired no matter how awesome of an interview you are. You would be mostly right, but that's only because I have -never- had someone show up cold and be an awesome interview. Not once in two years and close to 1500 people interviewed. I find that those who just show up tend to either tell me what they think I want to hear, which is always wrong, or simply fail to communicate effectively at all and fall into rambling, overuse of slang, or outright digression.

Why am I mentioning a mistake that could seemingly be avoided by common sense? -Because that mistake is still being made!-

You might think that dressing up and knowing how to interview might mean you have a better chance. It does, in the sense that you're not going to raise any immediate red flags in myself or the managers. However, if you come across the wrong way, it's not going to matter how you sound. Just as a great interview can be sabotaged by a poor appearance, a great appearance can be sabotaged by a poor interview. A good balance is needed.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

This is an age where there are oodles of information quite literally at your fingertips. High school graduates today are from an era where the internet has been the norm rather than some spectacular new technology, and there are telephones that are more powerful than some of the computers I've had. I think there may even be a few that are more powerful than the computer I'm typing this entry on. So when I ask you if you have questions, and you're asking me things that you could have easily found out on your own with a little exploration, I'm going to deduce one of two things; that you read in a book or were told by a coach to ask that question, or you were disinclined or simply too lazy to find out for yourself before talking to me. Neither deduction is one you want me to make.

The great fictional martial artist, Mr. Miyagi, once said "Answer not important if ask right question." This is very true. I've adopted a sort of inverse of that. "The question is not important if someone other than me could have answered it." For example:

- "What time do you open?"
It's on the door, on our website, and I think it's even on the managers' business cards up at the front. Beyond that, every single other worker in the restaurant could have told you.
- "What positions do you have open?"
You should have figured this out before you showed up, even if you'll take anything. Granted, there's a good chance that whoever else you'd ask might not know, in which case you should tell me as such. If you saw an ad on Craigslist, then you shouldn't need to ask me this question (yet some people do)
- "Are you guys hiring?"
The question is half-valid because we do interviews on Wednesdays whether we're hiring or not and if someone really awesome shows up then we sign them, but it's still a dumb question that someone else could have answered.
- "What does [position] do?" or "What's a normal day like here?"
These you could find out from observation, or asking other people. Especially if you've been waiting in line because someone else decided to talk my head off, you could have chatted up the host to figure this out.
- Any question that's more like "small talk," like "Do you like working here?" or "How long have you worked here?"
These we'll cover another time, but these aren't relevant to your interview or your hiring chances, so while they might be nice questions, they're also wasting time.

This also applies to other points that might be lesser to you, but may be more important than you might think to myself or the managers. For example, my interviews are scheduled between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM. Think about that, and think about what your chances might be showing up at 1:55 versus showing up at 3:55. Also, I might actually still be doing interviews after four, but I cut the line off around there. If I still have more than a handful of people to interview, I may even cut the line off at 3:45, simply because I know that the people I have will make me go far enough beyond four that my managers will be a bit unhappy that I'm still at it. Now think about what would happen if you showed up at 3:55 and insisted that, since it wasn't four yet, I should interview you. The ones who know better show up early. The ones who don't but insist to be on equal footing with the ones who do will simply be thanked for their time and either promptly forgotten, or remembered in a way that wouldn't be conducive to employment.

It's always good to figure out as much as you can before you talk to me. Even among the questions that only I can answer, there are plenty that aren't the best idea to ask, which we'll cover another time, but more than that, the more information you get, the better you will know whether the job is right for you or not. Even if you still don't know, at least it will -look- like you do, and that's better than pretty much proving outright that you don't. Effort is respected, while lack of it is scorned.

YOU NEED A BASE TO CALL YOUR OWN

Interviewing is not something you should do on the fly. Certainly, the restaurant business tends to hire more for personality than skill, and I'll take an average freewheeling irreverent over an above-average rigid stiff. However, people who just talk at me as if I'm a friend on the street are just as likely to lose out as someone who talks like a corporate drone. As I said above, the ones who got hired tended to know what they wanted to do, knew they had to interview for it, so they went for it. There was a method to their madness, so to speak.

A trap that many people fall into when interviewing with me is that they tell me what they think I may want to hear. What many people think I want to hear usually translates as a string of interview buzzwords (like telling me they're a "fast learner" or a "team player" or "always on time") and statements like "I want to work hard for the company," or "I'll be an asset to the company," or "I want to help the company grow." This is both opposite of and similar to the "just looking for a job" type, in the sense while the statements are completely different, the driving force behind it is more or less the same. It's more or less the same screenplay, just translated into a different dialect. 

The ones who made it told me why they should be hired, in their own words. They didn't try to have a conversation with me, it just happened. They didn't just list qualifications, they demonstrated them. What they had was a foundation a build off of, a game plan they decided to work with. What strengths they wanted to show, what weaknesses they wanted to hide, and the thoughts and experiences that went with them. To support that, some asked my co-workers questions about the process, what they did, and what they thought it would take to work there. Some came by multiple times and observed. A couple even asked specifically about me, though they were correctly told that I didn't have a large impact on hiring. They engaged the team before they ever engaged me and showed that while they might have just been looking for a job, they really did want to work with us, and that buy-in can get your foot in the door better than years of restaurant experience and being referred by one of my co-workers ever could.

This is meaty for a first part, but in later ones we'll cover some more specific things to do or not do. I just felt like rambling this all out because ... well, I'll be going in to do interviews today. Perhaps it can also help me if and when I decide to go apply for another job. We shall see.
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jkmoreno

May 2012

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