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How to Get a Restaurant Job: a Hiring Manager’s Perspective

By Marcus Samuelsson | October 10, 2012

Here’s another one of my posts as part of the LinkedIn INfluencers program.

The restaurant industry is the second largest private sector employer, with a current workforce of 12.9 million that is expected to grow by at least 1.3 million jobs by 2020. While an excellent field for occupational development, the market for restaurant jobs is still just as tough as the wider employment world. As the majority of my expertise is in food and cooking, I asked my colleague and Human Resources guru Randy McNamara, current Vice President at the Samuelsson Group with over forty years of experience in food and hospitality, to share some insights about landing a restaurant job.

Photo: dalbera

1. Experience Matters

Whether you’re applying to be the executive chef or a part-time hostess, your past experiences are incredibly important. The first things hiring managers like Randy look for are (1) who you’ve worked for and (2) how long you stayed in each position. Both are indicators of the past training you’ve recieved, an important factor in determining how to staff an effective restaurant team. If your background is primarily in smaller Mom and Pop venues, hiring managers look less at the name and more for indications of career success, such as growth in the restaurant’s income or an increase in the number of staff you manage.

2. Look in the Right Places

For a restaurant like Red Rooster, each job opening usually recieves around 30 applicants. While some individuals are more qualified than others, the strength of the applicant is usually correlated to where they found the listing. While places like Craigslist generally return the most applicants, the more qualified employees generally apply though more specialized servers such as culintro.com or hcareers.com. If you’re passionate about a career in restaurants, make sure your resources are as serious as you are.

3. Take Pride in Your Presentation

How you present yourself to the world is an important factor in success and what you wear to an interview is even more crucial. As someone inspired by fashion, I believe your personal style should shine through, regardless of circumstance. Randy’s advice on the interview is simple: always over-dress. If you look too professional for the situation, you can always take off a coat or a tie. The same is never true for the opposite; once too casual, always too casual and a casual first impression is not one you want to make.

4. Be Yourself

I know I sound like an inspirational children’s show when I say this, but be as genuine as possible during a job interview. Working in a restaurant is not the same as working in the isolation of a cubicle; you’re part of a dynamic team that is constantly interacting with each other and with patrons. Who you are as a person has a direct impact on how you respond to these dynamics. Managers like Randy typically use the interview to get a feel for a candidate’s personality, asking everything from where they grew up to what they did in high school or college to their favorite hobbies. Being upfront about not only your qualifications but your work style and demeanor might not land you every job you apply to, but will help ensure the ones you do get are a good fit for both you and for the entire team.

The job search is definitely a roller coaster. For people looking to hire, the same is very much true, with each new job posting signifying both an opportunity for growth but also another tall stack of applications to sort through. As someone who has spent a career in restaurants, the most important piece of advice I can give is that each job is what you make of it: managers and chefs can set up hours of training and experiences for their staff, but the real growth and personal development is all up to the employee.

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