Management Team

Eleven Tips for Being a Better Interviewer

Author Image
Written by Eli Feldman

Interviewing prospective employees is hard.  That’s the best place to start if you want to improve your interviewing skills.  Bringing in a new team member is one of the most impactful things a back or front of house manager will do, and it’s really difficult to do well.  Part of the challenge is, as an industry, we spend very little time training interviewers.  Generally training goes something like this:

Step 1:  Sit with a boss or co-manager while they’re interviewing someone, observe and listen.  Maybe have a 5 minute recap following interview, maybe.

Step 2: Lead your own interview, solo.

That first interview is usually foisted on a new manager because something came up, an interview got scheduled on someone’s day off, or maybe just because you have to start somewhere.  The conversation with the candidate is often disjointed, light on insight, and really short.  Nobody likes feeling uncomfortable, especially when they are supposed to be the one who’s confident and in command.  This discomfort makes the challenge of interviewing self-reinforcing.  Many managers dread the 2nd interview based on how awkward the first one went and the cycle continues.  It’s also self-perpetuating because that same manager, down the road, is likely to put a young manager in the same situation and history repeats.  Over time, interviewing candidates becomes the dreaded thing that gets passed around like a hot potato.

There is another way.  Not everyone will come to love interviewing but they don’t have to dread it either.  Here are 10 ‘do’s and don’ts’  that will hopefully make interviewing a little more enjoyable, or at least a little less awkward.

    1. 86 ‘Bodies’: ’I just need a body’ and ‘We need some bodies’.  As the labor market supply and demand get more out of whack with each other, this is an increasingly common utterance but it’s not a harmless phrase.  Few people want to be hired as ‘just a body’ and those who do may not be the best hire.  The right candidate does not want to work for someone who might be inclined to view them this way. This language has really got to go.
    2. Prepare Well:  This starts with scheduling.  Leave yourself a full hour for an interview whenever possible.  This allows for time to really review a resume and have a meaningful conversation.  Read the resume fully, making either a mental or actual note: anything where you find yourself thinking ‘Huh’ or ‘Ugh’.  If you aren’t familiar with the places a candidate has worked, look them up.  It takes 1-2 minutes but is likely to spark a few questions.
    3. Use a Custom Job Application Specific to the Restaurant:  Seriously, there are a million reasons to do this.  There are certain things you want to know and it’s hard to make sure you hit them all in the interview.  A custom application also allows you to start comparing apples to apples from one candidate to the next.  A completed application offers infinitely more information to fuel an interview than a resume alone.
    4. Know the Position: What are you looking for in terms of ability and temperament for a given position.  Some roles are well suited for someone looking for ‘a’ job, others require someone looking for a specific position at a specific restaurant.  Which type of position are you interviewing for
    5. Ease In:  People open up and talk more when they are relaxed and comfortable.  Don’t come out swinging in an interview; early questions should be very conversational and allow the candidate to tell their story how they’re most comfortable.  Many interviews start with some version of ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself’ for good reason.
    6. DON’T TALK TOO MUCH: If you remember just one thing from this list, make it be this ratio- 80/20.  The candidate should talk 80% of the time and the interviewer should talk 20% (70/30 is cool but no more!).  It’s natural to want to fill awkward silence or convey what’s awesome about the job but if you’re talking all the time, what are you learning about the candidate?
    7. Mix Up the Types of Questions: There are bunch of different types of questions to ask during interviews.  Mix it up between different types of questions to get a fuller sense of the candidate and keep everyone on their toes.This Cornell Article is a TIP favorite and covers a few of them but here’s simple rundown of a few popular ones:
      a. Behavioural Questions:  ‘Tell me about a specific time when…’.  They ask a candidate to go over something they’ve done in the past.
      b. Situational Questions:  ‘How would you handle it if…’  These push a candidate to predict how they’d handle something in future.
      c. Embedded Interest:  ‘What do you like to do outside of work?’
    8. Beware the Halo and Reverse Halo Effects:  Face it, when you really need someone, any candidate can start to look good.  This is a version of the halo effect- taking a single thing irrationally and positively clouds your judgement.  Just because you both played soccer in high school does not mean a candidate will be a good fit.  The reverse halo effect is the exact opposite- taking a single thing irrationally and negatively.
    9. Assess Competency and Compatibility:  There are specific skills a candidate needs to have for any given role. However, you cannot simply asses a person’s skills to ensure their success on the team. Whether they can perfectly dice celery is completely distinct from whether or not someone might want to stand next to them while they dice a case of it. Consider making a short list of both necessary skills and compatible characteristics you are looking for prior to interviewing.
    10. Trust Your Instincts, But Don’t Rely On Them Solely:  Initial instincts are important in the interview process but they are not the only thing.  If you form an impression quickly, positive or negative, dig deeper with more questions as a way either confirming or invalidating that instinct.
    11. Aim to be Impressive:  Leading and managing team members starts during the interview process.  You’re selling the position, and yourself as a leader, in a way. Should you go forward and hire the person, the types of questions and conversation from the interview can help answer the question of ‘why should I work for you’ and lay the groundwork for down the road.

About the author

Author Image

Eli Feldman

Eli Feldman is the founder of Three Princes Consulting and Clothbound and has worked in restaurants for over a decade. He is most excited about raising the dialogue around the hospitality industry. He often dances in the morning to start the day off right.