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Dave Ostrander operated Big Dave's Pizza for nearly 30 years before becoming a consultant to the pizza industry. He lives in Oscoda, Mich., and works with independent and chain operators all over the U.S.
Traditionally, job interviews are one-on-one meetings that take 30 to 60 minutes. The interviewer is somber and the interviewee is nervous -- appropriate postures for both since each knows that the final decision likely will be made on the spot.
Several years back, I borrowed a job interviewing strategy from the airlines. Those companies interview literally thousands of people per year in an attempt to find the same Eagles we're hunting for. Here's my version of how they do it.
Gather five to eight of your top job applications, contact those applicants and arrange for all of them to come in at the same time, say, Saturday at 2 p.m. You may choose to use your restaurant dining room or, if you don't have one or yours is too small, I would suggest a motel conference room. (Barter out the cost of that with free pizzas.)
Arrange the tables and chairs in a square; you occupy the head of the table and your manager sits at the other end. You do all the talking and your manager remains friendly, but silent. His or her job is to observe and take notes. Also, have paper, pencils and water available.
When the applicants arrive, give them name tags. Then explain that, for the sake of time and comparison, your restaurant does group interviews and your goal is to select one or two new hires from the group.
Thank them warmly for showing up and begin by introducing yourself, your manager, a description and history of your restaurant and then they introduce themselves. Break the ice by asking a humorous question. Everyone around the table will answer this same question.
As you move on to more questions -- about their feelings about work, employee responsibilities, employer responsibility, training, customer relations, team playing and meeting goals -- select the respondent at random.
Then play "I say . . . you say." Set up a scene that would likely happen in your restaurant and then probe for their responses as to how they'd handle it. Remain completely in character as you portray the customer, and start by saying, "Can you tell me why your prices are the highest in town?"
All the applicants around the table will answer the question, and your manager will rate each respondent's answer from one to 10, the highest number given for the best answer. Continue the "I say, you say" exercise for about 10 questions, after which time, one person will generally emerge from the field as possessing the most people skills and best demeanor with the public.
As you conclude the interview, let the applicants know that you will make the final selection within 24 hours and notify them by mail. Provide them a stamped envelope on which they can write their addresses, and then let them know how much you appreciate their flexibility.
If you have them, it would be nice to give them a ball cap with your store's name on it, just for showing up. That will help ensure they'll feel good about you, your restaurant and the interview (which really is more a competitive audition than an interview). They'll probably tell their friends how you conduct weird interviews, but it's even more likely they'll become regular customers -- even if they're not hired at that time.
Also, when you notify them by mail, enclose a gift certificate for a free meal for two, just to extend that goodwill.
Finally, right before you adjourn, pass everyone a piece of paper and pen and ask this crucial question: "Besides yourself, if you were me, and you'd heard all the answers to the questions I've asked, and you'd closely observed everyone at this table, who, besides yourself, would you offer a job to?"
Invariably they all write down the same person's name. You see, one person will have that special manner that can influence a group of strangers -- even in a competitive situation -- and that's your Eagle.
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