Hiring Employees Who Will Contribute to Your Coffee Business Success

When hiring employees for your coffee business, it is important to select individuals that will be able to contribute to your success. In reality, you will be dependent upon your employees to generate the profits you desire, and to provide you with the freedom of time to enjoy your life. Strive to hire reasonably mature, intelligent, dynamic, energetic people, who possess a positive attitude. You can always teach someone how to make coffee drinks or work a cash register, but it is next to impossible to teach them how to have a strong work ethic or a good personality!


First, it is important to identify the qualities that will be essential when considering someone for a particular employment position. For example, if you are looking for a cashier, realize that this will be the person who will have the first, and perhaps only interaction with your customers. In essence, they will be the “face” of your business. So, some important things to look for in an interview with candidates for this position are: Do they make eye contact? Are they pleasant? Do they smile? Do they like people? Are they articulate, do they converse well? How is their appearance? Do they put their attention on others before themselves?


What about if you are looking to hire a barista? Because this person will also be in view of, and have interaction with your customers, you certainly won’t want them to wear a “lemon face.” However, their sociability probably won’t be as important as their ability to make perfect drinks in rapid succession. Are they detail oriented? Do they have good eye-hand coordination? Are they quick thinkers, and do they have good mental retention? Are they neat and organized? Can they handle stress? These are the traits that will typically be necessary for someone to be a good barista.


So, before we discuss how you might go about determining if an employment candidate possesses the desirable characteristics you’re seeking, let’s talk about the hiring process in general. The first thing to do is to place an advertisement. “Craig’s List,” local employment websites, and the “help wanted” section of your local newspaper are probably the most viable places to advertise for potential employees.


Word your ad so that it appears to present an “opportunity,” as opposed to a plea for bodies! Consider titling your ad with something like, “Learn a New Culinary Art, Be an Espresso Professional,” or “Get into the Hottest Segment of Food Service, Learn the Specialty Coffee Business;” as opposed to, “Wanted – Cashiers.” This enhanced terminology should be appealing to the type of person who is looking for something new, different, or better; (instead of someone who is merely satisfied to work at a minimum wage fast food job).


Next, try to weed out the people that do not posses the desirable qualities you’re looking for, by writing an ad that will discourage them from applying in the first place. You can accomplish this by including in your ad all the characteristics you are seeking in the ideal candidate, such as: “must have an immaculate appearance, must love people, must be a perfectionist, must love work, must thrive under pressure.” If someone who is reading your ad finds some of these requirements to be intimidating, or undesirable, it may lead them to conclude that your job opportunity doesn’t sound very appealing. That’s Good! After all, why waste their time or yours if they are not going to be a good fit to what will be required to help you succeed?


Finally, I like to conclude my ad text by including an instruction like, “please call for an interview appointment between 3PM and 5PM on Friday, April 29th.” The reason for doing this is twofold. First, it will prevent interested persons from calling you during all hours of the day and night, for days or weeks to come. It will also allow you to dedicate a limited block of time to take phone calls, set up appointments, and conduct some preliminary screening. Most important, it provides a test to see if potential candidates can follow instructions. For example, if someone calls you at noon to make an interview appointment, you will immediately understand that they can’t follow instructions; (be sure get their name and make a note so you will remember this person when they show up for their interview).


When you set up your appointment sheet for your first day of interviews, allow only 5 minute increments between each candidate. I know this doesn’t sound like much time, but the only purpose of this first interview is to conduct some basic, preliminary screening to see if you desire to have a more in depth interview with each candidate.


My first experience in conducting a mass hiring was when I worked in the corporate restaurant industry many years ago. I’ll never forget when the the director of human resources from the corporate office came to help me with the employee hiring for a new store opening. He told me that this first interview’s purpose was to determine only one thing: “animal, mineral, or vegetable.” I thought this was a rather harsh and rude way of referring to potential employment candidates, until I experienced the mass of humanity that came for interviews over the following days. After all, if someone has a tattoo of a swastika on their forehead, a lime green Mohawk, a safety pin through their nose, and they reek of body odor, how much time do you really need to spend with that person?


When candidates come for this first interview, you would be wise to have a receptionist to greet them, and hand them an employment application to fill out. I give the receptionist the appointment sheet, and instruct them to write the letter “L” behind anyone’s name who arrives late (after their assigned appointment time). This will allow me to review the appointment sheet at the end of the day to see who didn’t arrive on time, and to make a note of it on their application. I also instruct the receptionist to keep a supply of ball point pens out of sight. If a candidate asks the receptionist for a pen after they have received their application, I instruct the receptionist to say: “yes, I think I have a pen, hand me your application, I want to make sure this pen writes,” then they scribble in the upper right hand corner of the application. When a candidate sits down in front of me, and I see there is a scribble on their application, I immediately know they didn’t bring a pen.


While many of these actions may seem petty or insignificant, in reality they can tell you a lot about a person. If they couldn’t show up on time for their first interview, and they were not prepared enough to bring a pen to fill out an application, will they show up on time and be prepared to work each day if you hire them? I think not.


During this first interview, I typically only ask each candidate the following questions:


1. Are you looking for full time or part time work?


2. Do you prefer to work days or evenings?


3. Does transportation to and from work present any challenges for you?


4. Do you participate in any outside activities that might conflict with a work schedule?


5. Are you at least 16 (18, 21) years old? (you may want employees to be at least 16 years old so as to not have to deal with work permits or evening scheduling restrictions, or if serving beer and wine, your servers may need to be at least 18 or 21 years of age)


(There are reasons I have worded each of the aforementioned questions in the way that I have, we will discuss those reasons later in this article.)


The sole purpose of this first interview is to meet each person face to face. How is their appearance, and cleanliness? Did you find the person to be articulate? Did they make eye contact, answer your questions? Do you like the person enough to bring them back for a second interview of 15 or 20 minutes?


At the end of the first interview I’ll usually say to the person: “I want you to understand these are strictly screening interviews, I won’t be doing any hiring today. I will be calling some people back for a second interview. Truthfully I have so many applicants that I probably won’t be able to call everyone back. Therefore, if I would like you to come in for the second interview, you will be hearing from me within the next 24 hours. But, I want to thank you for coming in, and it’s been a pleasure meeting you.” This will save you from the awkward task of having to call people back who you are not interested in, and having to explain why they didn’t qualify for a second interview.


Even if you are not at all interested in hiring a person, it’s important to treat them with respect. After all, he or she might be a potential customer in the future! So make sure you treat everyone with dignity, politeness and respect. Even if you’re mortified by how they looked, or what they said during the interview.


Now, if there are people you are immediately interested in, tell them so right then, and set up an appointment time for a second interview. You don’t want to let them leave without doing this, or you might risk losing them to someone else! As for the rest of the people you are interested in, call them back and set up an appointment for a 15 to 20 minute interview.


When you get to the second interview, be sure to review candidates’ applications in detail. If their employment history indicates that they have changed jobs often, spent short periods of time at each job, or had prolonged periods of unemployment between jobs, ask questions. “I see you have changed jobs often, and spent minimal time with each employer, explain to me what was going on here.” They might be able to give you a satisfactory explanation for this, like: “my father is in the military, and he kept getting transferred, so I had to quit when we moved, and then it took me a couple of months to get settled into our new community and my new school before I felt like I could get another job.” But, if they give you an answer similar to this: “well, my first boss was a real jerk, so I quit, and then at my next job they promised me full time work, but I never got more than 15 hours a week,” then ask them to explain why they didn’t like their fist boss, and if anyone else at their second job was also having problems getting the hours they wanted? Beware, often people who seem to constantly have challenges with their jobs (and life), never see themselves as part of the problem!


You’ll want to ask more in depth type questions at this second interview. Ask multiple part questions that require lengthy answers. Will they remember the multiple questions you’ve asked and provide you with answers to each, or will you have to keep prompting them by asking the questions again? You’d like to know that if you put a person behind your espresso machine, that they will be able to remember multiple orders.


It will be important for you to say little and listen carefully during this interview process! This is the time for employment candidates to convince you that they can be an asset to your business, not a time for you to promote all the reasons they should want to come to work for you. Your not recruiting, you’re interviewing. It’s important to be a good listener, so that you can identify whether or not you have a good potential employee in front of you. You would be wise to be more cognizant of things they say that send up your “red flags,” than to be impressed by the things they say that you like.


Here are a few of the typical questions that I like to ask during the second interview:


1. Tell me about the most hectic or traumatic situation you have ever faced at a job, what happened, how you got through it, and what you learned from it. (Do they have good mental retention, will they answer all the parts to the question? And, how traumatic were the situations they have had to face, and did they prevail?)


2. Tell me about the most demanding physical work you have ever had to do. (Has this person ever had to do any physically demanding work? Will they be able to endure standing on their feet and working at high speed for hours on end?)


3. A customer comes up to the counter and tells you the drink they just received is terrible, no manager is in the store, how would you handle this situation? (Do they use good common sense, and more important, will they try to satisfy the complaint and ultimately send away a happy customer?)


4. As a person, what would you say are your three greatest attributes or qualities, and then give me three areas in which you would like to make some self improvements? (Has this person given any thought as to what their positive attributes and shortcomings are? Also, what might their self-admitted shortcomings reveal, i.e. “I know I need to work on being on time, because I got fired from my last two jobs for being late.” )


5. Finally, if you are impressed with the person you are interviewing, and you are leaning towards hiring them, ask them to tell you exactly when they will be available to work, and write this information down on an employee schedule form. In this way you will be able to assess how they might fit into a weekly employee schedule. More important, by attempting to write a schedule at the end of the day’s interviewing, you will immediately understand if you have enough potential employees yet, or if you need to keep interviewing. You’ll need to hire enough employees to fill all the shifts that will be on your schedule, and then I suggest you hire at least a few more.


It is important to understand that of the new people you’ll hire, some won’t work out. Unbelievably, some won’t even show up to the first day of training. Undoubtedly, it will become apparent within the first week or two that a few others can’t grasp the fundamentals of the job, or just aren’t right for your business. Having a few extra employees hired will be important for maintaining a full staff, as these others quit or are let go. Remember, if you have shifts on your employee schedule, but no employees to fill them, guess who will end up having to work them? That’s right, you will. So, be sure to over hire!


It is during this second interview process that you might want to present some special challenges to your candidates that will be specific to their job. For example, an important quality for a cashier will be their ability to suggest items for your customers to purchase, and then to be able to make change accurately upon payment. So, have them role play by giving you the sales pitch they would use to inspire a customer to buy a pastry to go with their coffee. Also, set a cash register drawer in front of them stocked with change, hand them a $20 bill, and ask them to make change for a transaction costing $3.87. If you are considering someone to be your barista, take them behind your bar and provide a detailed explanation and demonstration of how to grind, dose, tamp, and extract a shot of espresso. Then see how well they can remember what you have just explained and demonstrated by having them do it. A few simple tests like this can reveal a lot about a person’s ability to learn quickly, and handle stressful situations.


At the end of the second interview, once again, I tell them it’s been a pleasure talking with them, and that I’d like to check out some of their references before I make a final decision. I’ll also let them know that I will be calling them in the next day or so to let them know if I’d like to put them to work.” If the person has made it to the 2nd interview, I always give them the courtesy of calling them back to tell them they weren’t hired, and why, but only if they ask. Be careful as to what you say about why you didn’t hire them. You certainly don’t want to say anything that will get you into trouble with the department of labor. You may not discriminate because of things like purple hair, nose rings, or having children. To play it safe, you might say: “I’m really sorry. It was a tough decision, you looked great, but I had other people that had more experience, or could work more flexible hours.”


These legal concerns are also the reason I’m careful in how I phrase interview questions. During my first interview, you may have noticed that I asked things like: “is transportation a challenge for you?” and not, “do you own a car?” You can’t discriminate against hiring someone just because they don’t own a car. I also asked: “are there any outside activities you are involved that might conflict with a work schedule,” and not, “do you have young children?” Don’t ask questions that might leave you vulnerable to being accused of discriminating against someone because they use public transportation, can’t work on Sunday because of church, or are over 70 years old! A well designed question that is not specific in details can still reveal the information you are looking for.


Getting references is a very important aspect to the hiring process. It’s like the old saying by President Reagan: “trust, but verify”. Even though someone looks great on paper and interviewed well, I always call a few previous employers to ask for a reference. Some will be very forthcoming with that information, and others, especially if they work for a major corporation, may have been told not to answer any questions for fear of being sued for statements made. You may have to get creative to get anything out of a previous employer. One way might be to say to them, “I’m not going to ask you anything about their performance, but if you had the opportunity, would you rehire this person today?” Many times they will answer a simple yes or no. If they say no, it’s usually a pretty good indication that you probably don’t want to hire that person either!


I like to do a multiple interview process with people. Usually I will interview a person twice, and possibly three times. The reason for this is that anyone can come to one interview and give it their all. They will be on time, dress well, be well groomed, and give a great effort to impress me. My question is, will they do it a second and a third time?


If you are really unsure of a person, or you have many applicants, you may want to bring them back for even a third interview. This is especially true if you have a person that seems extremely confident, forceful, or has a powerful personality. I like to see if I can push their buttons a little bit. Sometimes a person may seem great on their first and second interviews, but when I tell them I’d like a third interview, they develop an attitude and become upset at being asked to come back again. This immediately tells me something about this person’s level of tolerance. If this person doesn’t get things exactly as he or she expects or wants, are they going to have an attitude problem? This is another reason why you might bring someone back several times.


Now, up to this point I have been discussing the procedure you would follow to do a mass hiring; an entire staff just prior to opening a store. However, after you have opened for business, the need for hiring additional employees will continue. Employees who were once assets can develop into problems, and some will leave you because they’ve graduated from school, are moving out of the area, or found a different job. When hiring to replace an existing employee, the process will once again start with advertising, and then the reapplication of the interviewing and hiring procedures.


One way to minimize the anxiety and work when hiring additional employees when they are needed, is to always be on the look out for potentially good new employees. Like with any sports team, having qualified backup players is essential. The more talent a team has on hand, the better! Depth on their roster insures the team’s ability to perform at a high level, even if one or two primary player are lost. You would be wise to develop that same type of depth with your employee roster.


My suggestion is to always be on the look out for a good new recruit. As you travel through your daily life, take note of those exceptional people who seem to possess wonderful personalities, strong work ethics, and are service oriented. Whenever you experience an exceptional person, whether it is the clerk at the convenience store, the waitress you had last Saturday night when you went out to dinner, or someone who helped you at the home improvement emporium, ask yourself, would I like to have that person working for me? Would my operation benefit from this person? If the answer is yes, “plant a seed.”


Now, I don’t blatantly ask someone if they would like to come to work for me, after all, they are already employed. I wouldn’t want someone coming into my business and asking my employees if they would like to go to work for them. So rather than asking them if they would be interested in working for me, I’ll say something like the following upon the conclusion of our interaction: “I want to thank you very much for all your help, and tell you honestly, that you are an exceptional employee! Great employees are a rare these days, and believe me, I know because I own a business. You employer is very luck to have you, and I’m sure they are very appreciative of everything you do. But, if you ever find yourself in need of job, or looking for something else, call me, I’d be very interested in talking to you.” I hand them my business card as I am making this final statement.


When I have actively recruited dynamic individuals in the past, I can truthfully tell you that in about 50% of cases, these people have given me a call within a week. Upon interviewing those, half ended coming to work for me. Too often employers don’t recognize those employees who are doing an exceptional job for them, and their supreme efforts become expected, instead of appreciate. In many cases they are not compensated with any extra income or accolades for their hard work. If this is the case, these great employees can become disgruntled. Being the person who recognizes their worth, and complements them on their performance, can inspire them to want to join your team!


The advantage to recruiting is that your become interested in a person based upon seeing them actually work. They don’t know that you are watching them in consideration for an employment position. This means their dynamic performance is not meant to impress you, it’s just they way they work. You can pretty safely assume that if someone is is a “dynamo” at their present job, they would probably be a “dynamo” if they come to work for you as well. Seeing how someone works can be far more revealing than multiple interviews!


If someone is a highly dynamic worker, and they want to come to work for you, hire them, whether you need another employee or not! Once again, pro sports team don’t pass up the opportunity to acquire a new superstar, merely because they already have a full roster. This may mean that your weakest performer may be one step closer to the door, but remember, this is business, and you are the one who will benefit most from a stronger team.


Finally, and above of all, don’t forget to trust your feelings when selecting people to work with you! We are, after all, animals. We really do have instincts. We notice little facial expressions that last only a microsecond, or grouping of words on a subconscious level that give us clues as to a person’s character. These perceptions may not even be on a conscious level, but you’ll find the feeling they create to be valid most of the time.


I have hired people before who have answered all the questions right and looked absolutely great! Their references all checked out, but somehow I still had a bad feeling. I figured maybe it was just a clashing of personalities, but low and behold, down the road whether it was a month or a year, I’d find that my suspicions were usually right. This person would either be steeling from me, saying bad things to the customers about the business, or might quit without notice! On the other hand, I have hired people who didn’t seem quite as sharp. Maybe they switched jobs more often than I like to see on an application, but for some reason I had strong good feelings about them, and they turned out to be great employees!

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