Pittsburgh's ever-burgeoning restaurant scene offers no shortage of employment in the hospitality field. However, service professionals are finding it more difficult to make a living. The increase in establishments, concurrent with stagnant population growth, has led to a thinning of the diner pool, leaving many restaurants struggling to fill seats on weekdays. With most restaurants still operating under a tip-based structure, every night standing around an empty bar or dining room comes as a real financial blow. The struggle to make rent can be demeaning and all too common. By taking some easy, actionable steps, you can ensure that you stay ahead of the crowd, get noticed by hiring managers, and get the shifts you deserve.
Your resume should now be updated (Haven't yet? Learn how it's done here.), making you look like the star your grandma thinks you are. Now it's time to nail the interview. Interviewing has the potential to panic a lot of people, and reasonably so. Nobody likes having to sell themselves, all the while walking the line where confidence meets bluster. The good news is, acing an interview is shockingly easy and only requires a few simple tweaks.
You Should Not Have Woken Up Like This
If you don't need an article to school you on the basics of dressing for an interview, then I applaud your common sense. As I've now twice held a straight face while sitting across from someone bathed in body glitter like some middle-aged unicorn, it seems some of the class could use a review. The good news is with the exception of applying for a manager position at a corporate establishment, there is no need to wear a suit or tie. It's actually beneficial to be comfortable in what you're wearing. Not only does it allow you to better focus on the conversation, but being relaxed will allow you to be more genuinely engaging and yourself (not a terrible thing to advertise for a position dealing with the public).
That said, there are some non-negotiables. The conversation about personal hygiene is hands down the most awkward one a manager has with an employee. If it seems like it might be a problem for you, you're not getting the job.This is a situation where less is more. Clean thyself and refrain from using scent. If you smoke, don't do so immediately before and wash your hands. Keep hair, makeup, and jewelry unfussy. Things like nail polish and open-toed shoes, which aren't legally allowed to be worn by anyone handling food, should be avoided. Wear something freshly laundered and free of wrinkles, holes, and stains. Shorts are for the beach, participating in athletics, and children. Be a neat, slightly conservative version of yourself and you'll be just fine.
Prepping Yourself For Success
Bring a copy of your resume, a pen, and a pad to keep your questions handy and take notes. Any decent interviewer will have printed out a copy of the resume you emailed, but restaurants have lots of moving parts. Having a copy on hand will make you look like a polished, thoughtful, problem-solver when your interviewer confides that the printer is being vindictive. Most office supply stores have addresses specifically for emailing documents you want to be printed. Have them print you twenty copies on white paper (now is not the time to get creative), and for $2 you'll have trhem waiting for you when you get there. No pleading with a printer required.
Where's Your Head At?
A little prep can go a long way towards mitigating pre-interview anxiety. If you're jittery or feeling some butterflies, physical exercise can work out that adrenaline. Meditation and deep breathing are both excellent for stilling circular thinking. Standing in a power pose for just two minutes has been proven to imbue people with confidence and make them more likable. It may sound silly but even saying aloud that you feel excited (instead of nervous) has the ability to reframe the way you perceive the situation.
"Question Everything. Learn Something. Answer Nothing." - Euripides
After basic formalities have occurred, offer them the copy of your resume you brought and relax. If they offer you a beverage, water is the acceptable reply. You should be prepared to answer a few questions about yourself. Have a short bio prepped. Where you are from, what you've spent the last year doing, and why you want to be employed there are a good start. If you have hobbies outside of drinking, feel free to include them as well. I have often been shocked by how quick people are to damn themselves. An innocuous inquiry about where a candidate is from has been known to elicit tears, stories about custody battles, and the trashing of exes (bosses and lovers). I promise the stranger in charge of hiring you doesn't need to know any of that. Much like with new love, you initially want to reign all the crazy in (at least until you're out of training).
Know the skills you possess that make you an asset and play them up. Have a positive service experience, one you have either facilitated or witnessed, at the ready to use as an example. Think about the best meal you've had recently and be cognizant of what made it enjoyable. If asked why you left a previous position, be gracious. Allow them to lead the conversation.
Come prepared with questions of your own. Most applicants don't ask any, to a great disservice to themselves. This is your chance to find out about what the culture is like, if you will need to cover your tattoos, what your manager anticipates for the business moving forward, what they view as the biggest challenges to the position you're applying for. Ask your interviewer what the one thing they are most looking for from the person who fills the role is. You now have a blueprint to success once hired.
Following Up Is An Untapped Resource
Follow up is almost entirely neglected, but when done well, speaks volumes. It shows consideration and leaves people with a positive impression of you. Send a brief email that day to thank your interviewer for their time. Even more beneficial is sending a second email two to three weeks later. Sometimes there are two equally qualified candidates, in which case it could come down to something as inconsequential as who can begin training earlier. After a few weeks, it may become apparent the new hire isn't the right fit. Following up lets them know to keep you in mind as a potential option.
An interview doesn't have to be daunting. Keep in mind you're there because someone needs a position filled. Showing them why you're a good fit is all you need to nail it.
Yvette Benhamou is a twenty year veteran of the New Orleans, New York, and Pittsburgh hospitality industries. She enjoys mezcal, sandwiches, and making misogynists uncomfortable. She is a contributing editor at twobytour.com and currently lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.