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need help with interviewing a future employee
April 25, 2006 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I run a chain of internet cafes and appear to have a high turnover of staff. I am now about to start a round of interviews of prospects. Could someone help me out with a list of potential questions
posted by patphelan to Work & Money (12 answers total)
 
I think we need to ask you some questions first: do you know why you have high turnover? What kind of people are applying: young, old, college students, young adults, men, women? What level of technical knowledge do you need your staff to have? Etc...

A little more info would be really helpful.
posted by jedrek at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2006


Why is staff turnover high? Sounds like a nosy question, but if there's a pattern to why you're losing employees, you need to screen prospects- if you keep hiring people with bad time management, you could do some questions on that topic, and so on.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


Do you have any idea why people are leaving? Are they going to other jobs with similar pay/hours? Are you hiring people with no food experience who are using this position to get enough experience to become a waiter/waitress? Are you hiring students who are going back to school and/or graduating and moving on? Are you firing people or has everyone quit on their own volition? etc...
posted by mullacc at 2:48 PM on April 25, 2006


I pay very well and am probably considered a good employer but in Ireland people tend to change jobs a lot due to the economic boom going on at the moment.I suppose my main intentention is to find people who will stay at least 1-2 years.A an american employee who worked for me last year on summer break is flying back next month to start with us again so I presume we are doing something right.
posted by patphelan at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2006


Just by nature cafe jobs are temporary. No one starts at a cafe thinking, "I'm going to spend 10 years here." A pay scale based on length of time on the job would be one way to retain staff.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:34 PM on April 25, 2006


A great one for the interviewing process is "tell me about a time when you, for professional reasons, had to lie to someone."

i like this question not for the answer (though those can also be interesting) but because it lets you see how quickly someone can respond to a non-standard interview question.
posted by quin at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2006


Ah yes, the eternal paradox of cafe work. I've been on both sides of the cafe-work hiring desk. I've managed a cafe before, and done joe-job barista work.

The paradox is this: generally speaking, the people who are able to commit to a cafe job in the medium to long-term are precisely the sort of people you don't want working for you.

Just by nature cafe jobs are temporary. No one starts at a cafe thinking, "I'm going to spend 10 years here." A pay scale based on length of time on the job would be one way to retain staff.

Devilsbrigade is quite right. The ambitious bright sparks, the honest ones who are kind to customers, don't steal, have professional attitudes and all that good stuff don't stick around in cafe jobs. They go back to school, move on to greener pastures, etc. It's important to note: this is not a reflection on you as an employer. You may be paying a highly competitive wage for the cafe sector and be a very nice guy. But, unless you can really afford to pay these kids (I assume they're kids) like pros, they're eventually going to take off. It does sound like you're doing something right if you can attract staff back from season to season, though.

So, you have a few interview or restructuring options.

1. You can pay more. Like, a lot more. It doesn't matter how good your wage level is for the cafe industry. Unless you can compete with the general boom around you, the turnover problem may persist.

2. You can have a sliding pay scale, weighted to those who stay longer, as mentioned above.

3. You can offer some kind of benefit that makes you stand out. Make it idiot-proof to go to work. You don't have to pay for education, but could you spring for a bus-pass? Movie tickets? A pint once in a while?

4. In your interview, screen for medium-term plans. Are they going back to school? Are in they taking a gap year? If so, they might stay, or they might bail on you to go traveling at any moment. You want predictability. You want a smart kid who hates school and is afraid of airplanes.

5. This is a possible solution to the paradox. You hire the ones who you know can stick around, because they don't have a lot of other prospects, and you try to turn them into the kick-ass workers you deserve. Seriously. Hire the dim kid from down the street who doesn't want to go to school, and just wants an easy job close to home. He might not be the fireplug who your customers will love, but as long as he doesn't steal, he's a warm body behind the counter who you can train over the long-haul.
posted by generichuman at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2006


I forgot my favourite solution!

6. Hire the smart fireplugs who will eventually leave, but idiot-proof and compartmentalize your training process. This can mean hiring one good training manager, or just making sure your training process is effective and short. Then, you can drop skilled people in as needed.
posted by generichuman at 4:19 PM on April 25, 2006


I'm trying to think back to my part-time job days. Here are a few things that would have made me stick around a job like this (aside from pay, which has already been addressed and doesn't seem to be the problem anyway):

- Flexible schedules. With school and various extracurricular activities, nothing would bum me out about my job more than having to choose work over something for school and/or fun. I could always do, for example, three nights a week, but if I could choose which nights and switch it up within a week or so notice, that helped a ton. Ability to swap with co-workers always helped in this regard.

- Working with friends. This can be dangerous - if you get a few friends together it could backfire. But, if handled correctly, this is a great motivator. I stayed with a few jobs longer than I would have otherwise because I got to hang out with my friends at work. Even when my friends and I worked different shifts, it was still fun to have the same thing to joke about after hours. And it also helped with the flexibility thing. If you offer referals bonuses, you might find a group of kids that are constantly feeding you new employees from within the social group - if one leaves, maybe he'll replace himself.

- Opportunities for tips. Is there anyway to earn tips at the cafe? Even if you allow something as simple as taking coffee orders from people's tables rather than just at the counter, it could generate some tips. If you add the ability to earn tips, even a minimal amount, you might spark a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit.

- Hand over some minor responsibility. Once you find a trustworthy employee, make her feel appreciated. This doesn't mean handing over more cash necessarily or actually promoting someone to manager. Let her work on some random project or solve a problem. Even something as trivial as opening or closing the cafe may create a sense of loyalty and satisfaction. I worked in telemarketing during my high school summers - it was awful, but every once in a while the floor manager would let me run the "game" for an hour or so (if someone made a sale, they got play a hand of blackjack or answer a trivial pursuit question and got a dollar if they won). The games were silly, but I loved the chance to get off the phone for an hour and it made me look good in front of the other phone-monkeys.
posted by mullacc at 4:44 PM on April 25, 2006



I've recently discussed a similar issue with a friend (my friend hires techs to assist at the pharmacy, and there is a very high turn over). We tried to brainstorm a bit, although he ultimately can't make these changes but we thought - wouldn't it be great if someone offered an alternative model? I don't know who you have work for you, but (mind you, brainstorming, some of these ideas may not be practical)

-What if you offered employees the opportunity to buy or have a small portion of the business (i.e., a share or shares? Such and such percent of the profit will be shared and not just a paycheck? It could be linked to staying for a particular length of time.
-What if the top employee or employees were provided with a partial tuition waiver (one free college class). That may cost too much
-Similar to the idea that mullacc proposes, what if you let an employee or employees have the freedom to create a small project? If someone enters who really enjoys hands on/art - let them be in charge of decorating wall A for a month. Does someone enter who really loves books? Offer them the chance to run a book club/night a week - pay them for it too. I think you could tap into the creativity and you would not be treating someone like a robot.
-Is there the possibility of employing non-traditional employees? A senior citizen? A mother with 3 children? Is there something you could offer to keep them around? (i.e., high flexibility for the mother, or partial subsidized child care? This may cost too much).
posted by Wolfster at 5:28 PM on April 25, 2006


Are you doing exit interviews when these people leave? It's amazing what hints people will give you about how you can do a better job. Do you have a suggestions box where employees and patrons can leave, well, suggestions? Also, have you joined a local business group? Here in the states we have Chamber of Commerce, which allows us to get together and smooze with other business owners/managers, which can be very helpful, if you go. Do you attend any trade conferences, or receive a subscription to a trade magazine?

I know these questions don't help directly, but they will help with not just this one aspect of your job, but the whole thing, i hope. Best of luck. The world needs more comfortable cafes with bright kind employees.
posted by bilabial at 6:28 PM on April 25, 2006


How about offering a "bounty" for having departing employees find their own replacement? Something like, when you leave, if you bring me someone to fill your position within 2 weeks, I'll give you an extra week's pay/$100/free cuppa.

Alternatively, offer hefty bonuses at a person's 1 year anniversary, and lesser bonuses every 6 months thereafter.

Also, just be honest in the hiring process. "We're seeing a lot of turnover for people leaving for school/other jobs. What are your plans for the next year? At what salary would staying here for 2+ years be possible?"

Oh, one other idea. Find a lot of people to work very few hours (around their other job/school). If you have a bunch of good people working one or two shifts a week for extra cash, that can provide a lot of longevity/traning benefit.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:04 PM on April 25, 2006


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