July 27

Hiring for Potential, Not Experience


Hiring someone without prior restaurant experience can sometimes be the best option. Here’s what to look for.

When you’re hiring, your first instinct is likely to call up the candidates with the most direct experience. It can save you time, as the learning curve is bound to be quicker, but don’t overlook those candidates without experience — especially when the hiring market is as tight as today. You’ll have to put a little more effort into training someone new, but in the long run, you could end up with a fantastic employee if you know what traits to look for. Here’s a shortlist of soft skills that you just can’t train and are qualities to consider when hiring for potential, not experience.

Do they have a good attitude?
You can train someone to use a POS system or set up their station — but you can’t train someone to have a good attitude, and being an optimistic problem solver is golden in our industry. So if someone doesn’t have the direct skills you are looking for but demonstrates a good attitude through their word choice in a cover letter or the way they present themselves in an interview — you should consider bringing them on to train.

Do they demonstrate integrity?
Anyone that displays integrity is someone you want on your team because you can trust them to do the responsible thing when necessary. This isn’t something you can easily judge in a person based on a resume. Still, you can look for hints through the inclusion of a cover letter, a prompt reply to an interview request, and interview questions you’ve developed to gain insight into the candidate’s understanding of integrity.

Do they have a willingness to learn?
If a candidate displays a willingness to learn, whether through their resume or in an interview, they will likely be great candidates for restaurant work. Someone willing to learn is typically a good listener, asks for clarity when necessary, and retains information. They’re also more likely to take constructive criticism with a good attitude. A willingness to learn should be one of the essential qualities in someone you hire, whether they have years of direct experience or not.

Do they show empathy?
In the hospitality industry, empathy is everything. Being an empathetic person goes a long way in determining whether or not someone’s a good fit for customer service, working under pressure, being a considerate teammate, and being a responsible employee. The best way to get a glimpse at whether a person displays empathy would be through a series of situational questions in an interview.

Are they respectful?
Respect goes a long way in determining if someone is going to work out in the restaurant industry. If someone respects themselves, those around them, and their work — it shows through confidence, compassion, and being a team player. One telling sign if someone is respectful is if they show up on time to an interview and present themselves professionally.

Hiring is more challenging than ever, so try giving those with no experience a shot — especially if they show potential. Setting up a phone interview can give you a feel for a candidate’s character before inviting them in for a more serious interview, and it allows you to delve deeper into why they applied for your job. The technical skills required to work in a restaurant are essential, but those things are trainable; having the soft skills needed to succeed in hospitality are not.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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