Job interviews are stressful experiences for everyone. This holds true for restaurant hiring, too. Think about it. Do you feel comfortable talking about yourself for half an hour to convince someone you don’t even know that you’re competent, intelligent and a good risk? Probably not. Contrary to popular belief, interviews need not be high-stress situations. In fact, you’ll find out more about an applicant if you’re able to put them at ease. As the interviewer, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to reduce a candidate’s tension and establish a comfortable rapport.

The first rule of restaurant hiring is to treat applicants as first-class citizens. If you aren’t the first person the candidate will see, let everyone on your staff know that you’ll be interviewing candidates. Train them to say: “Hi, great to see you — we’ve been expecting you,” instead of “Do you have an appointment?” Acknowledge the candidate quickly. Greet them with a smile.

Interview them as soon as possible — don’t make them wait until you finish lunch or place an order with a supplier. If you positively can’t avoid a delay, greet the candidate personally, apologize and give your best estimate of how long the wait will be. If it’s going to be longer than 15 minutes, reschedule the interview.

Make applicants feel more comfortable. You’re hiring for your restaurant so be friendly, just as you would with a customer. Hold doors open. Hang up their coats. Offer them a cola, bottled water or a cup of coffee. Never, ever make them pay for it! Make them feel wanted by being hospitable. Maintain eye contact, nod your head up and down, don’t interrupt. And try not to act surprised by something an interviewee might say.

There are two very good reasons for going to all this effort. First, it’s difficult to maintain a conversation with a candidate who is uncomfortable or nervous — and that means you’re not getting the information you need to make an informed decision. Unless you can get the candidate to relax, you’ll never get an accurate picture of the candidate. There is validity to the argument that if people can’t handle the stress of a job interview, how will they handle the stress of the restaurant industry? But that’s no excuse for intentionally treating people poorly. Which brings up reason number two: What if, even after a particularly unpleasant interview experience, the candidate maintains composure and turns out to be the best person for the job? You could have trouble convincing the applicant to accept the position if he or she feels mistreated.

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