Master the interviewing process

Did you know that the restaurant industry employs more than 13 million people, making it the nation’s largest employer outside of the government? At the same time, the industry experiences the highest employee turnover of any industry—typically, between 100% and 300%. Statistics like these make the interviewing process vital to the success of your pizzeria. Taking the time to prepare a system for hiring top-notch team members and avoiding hasty decisions will pay off in the long run. Hiring the right employees from the beginning will slash turnover and hiring costs and ultimately stimulate guest loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising. Use these six steps to help guide you through the hiring process:

Step One:

Invest in the up-front work. Set yourself up for success by dedicating the proper amount of time to be organized and structured throughout the entire hiring process. You run the risk of losing a highly qualified employee when you limit yourself to overly restrictive hours. Instead, create an established, organized system that will allow you to conduct interviews throughout the day. Follow these steps at the beginning of the hiring process:

1. Decide which positions need to be filled, ensuring that you’re meeting your budgeted staffing requirements.

2. Establish a job profile with specific criteria. Ask yourself, “What kind of person best fits this job position?” and “What type of experience and background should he possess?”

3. Determine a well-rounded set of questions, and develop the questions based on what information you want to elicit from your candidate in order to meet your hiring goals. Ask open-ended questions that will not provoke a simple “yes” or “no” but instead will initiate conversation. (You will likely formulate additional questions as you begin the interview process.) Get clarification, if necessary, as the interviewee replies to your original questions; when a candidate provides a generic or broad answer, don’t be afraid to dig deeper and ask for examples. Do not ask any illegal questions relating to gender, age, race, disablement, or any other grounds for discrimination.

Here are three types of questions that will help you retrieve the information you require:

The icebreaker question relaxes the candidate and gives him the time to warm up before you ask detailed, job-related questions. These questions are easy to answer and un-intimidating to the candidate, such as: “How is your day going?” or “How was traffic on the way in?”

Patrick Pendola, owner of the Whistle Stop Grill & Bar, located in Safety Harbor, Florida, says, “Helping candidates feel at ease is crucial in the interview process. The more relaxed and comfortable they feel, the more they will speak freely, letting their guard down. This way, we can acquire as much information as possible and take full advantage of the interview process.” Background questions gather more information from the candidate’s work history, such as: “Why did you leave your last employer?” or “How long were you unemployed during that hiatus?”

Behavioral questions identify traits and characteristics about the candidate so you can learn about the way he behaves and what traits he possesses. For example: “Please give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree” or “Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.”

Step Two:

Examine the résumé/application to see if there’s a potential fit. Scrutinizing a candidate’s résumé/application will determine if the candidate warrants an initial screening or interview. Utilize the following practices:

1. Be realistic and fair without being too eager to discard a résumé/application because of a few minor concerns. Being too critical will limit your choices and shrink your pool of candidates. Think about the position’s job responsibilities and necessary education level before eliminating résumés/applications. For example, a few typos shouldn’t justify ruling out a candidate applying for a cook position.

2. Identify/focus on your deal breakers and most important criteria first, keeping in mind your established job profile. For example, if part of your profile requires candidates to have previous experience in the restaurant industry, aim to check this fi rst.

3. On a separate piece of paper or on a copy of the résumé/application, note any red flags or areas that warrant further clarification, and be prepared to discuss them with the candidate. Then prepare questions that will help you probe further and obtain the clarification you need.

Step Three:

Conduct an initial screening. In many situations, conducting an initial screening on the telephone, prior to setting up an interview, is helpful to the employer. This initial screening will help determine if the candidate warrants an in-person interview. This is a good time to inquire about his job history, which is the best indicator of his future job success. Some of the areas to inquire about include: start dates, end dates and reasons for leaving prior companies. Also, the initial screening provides a good opportunity to confirm the number of hours and days the candidate can work. Right after the initial screening phase or later in the interview process, you can call the candidate’s references listed on the résumé/application. Keep in mind that employers are limited by laws regarding the type of information they can release about an employee.

Step Four:

Prepare. Being prepared for the interview will demonstrate to the candidate that you are professional and take the hiring process seriously. Bring the following items with you to the interview:

• Notebook

• Pen

• Interview questions

• A copy of the résumé/application with notes

Step Five:

Conduct the interview. While the previous steps are important to perform during the hiring process, the interview is the most important way of determining if an employee fits well and possesses the ability to be a strong performer in your company. Here are some points to remember:

1. Ensure that your mind is open and without any preconceived notions.

2. Find a quiet location in your restaurant that will provide a relaxed environment where you will not be disturbed.

3. Don’t sit behind a desk, which can create an intimidating situation with you in a power position. Instead, aim to position yourself on even ground with the candidate by sitting side by side.

4. Upon the candidate’s arrival, shake his hand and offer him a beverage.

5. Be prepared to listen, deliver steady eye contact and observe body language. Note if the candidate turns away or looks at the floor when speaking. Also, note if he displays any poor habits, such as chewing gum.

6. Engage in small talk and ask some icebreaker questions to relax the interviewee and get things started.

7. Ask the interviewee to explain any areas of concern or red flags. For example, if the candidate’s application reveals that he left several jobs after a short period of time, make sure he clarifies the reason.

Step Six:

Close the interview. End the interview on a strong, positive note, and only after you have acquired all of the information you need. To save time, shorten the interview if you are 100% certain that a particular candidate is not a good fit. Before concluding the interview:

1. Ask the candidate if he has any questions about the position.

2. Explain the next steps to the candidate. For example, inform the candidate that you will be interviewing several candidates for the position and you will notify him of his status within one week. It is good practice to follow up with all candidates; however, if time does not permit this, you may tell him that you’ll notify him if he receives a second interview or if his credentials/qualifications fi t well enough to move to the next step.

3. Shake the candidate’s hand firmly and thank him for interviewing for the position. Taking the time to interview the right way, the first time, will help you easily and fairly assess job candidates. Hiring employees who fit well with your pizzeria will require less time to manage, train, coach and develop. And, most importantly, assembling a top team will win over your guests and create a memorable experience, resulting in increased profits.

Note: Five-Star Training’s representatives are not employment law specialists. Please confer with a labor attorney in your jurisdiction for employment law and legal matters.

Pam Simos is a keynote speaker and the founder of Five-Star Training in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has more than 20 years of hospitality training experience and a BS degree in hotel/restaurant management. Five-Star Training offers a full line of 20 training services for executives, managers and staff. To learn more, visit www.fi ve-startraining.com, email Pam at contact-us@five-startraining.com or call 800-385-STAR.