Human Resources | July 2010 | By Robin Van Tan

Your Top 40 Hiring Questions

Answered in 40 words or less.

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Between tracking food costs, trying to bring in more cash-strapped customers, and abiding by the new health care requirements, proper hiring practices can fall by the wayside on the list of day-to-day tasks operators face. But one wrong hire can have devastating consequences. Best-case scenario: They quit in a week, wasting your time and money. Worst-case scenario: They mistreat a customer and damage your brand’s reputation.

Between tracking food costs, trying to bring in more cash-strapped customers, and abiding by the new health care requirements, proper hiring practices can fall by the wayside on the list of day-to-day tasks operators face. But one wrong hire can have devastating consequences. Best-case scenario: They quit in a week, wasting your time and money. Worst-case scenario: They mistreat a customer and damage your brand’s reputation.

1 What’s a quick and effective way to weed through a flood of applications?

Behavioral-based assessments. They let you know very quickly who a person really is and what motivates them—more so than interviews do. Kronos.com has a good one for quick service.

2 What traits are most important in an employee?

It’s great to have employees who are smart and ambitious, but being humble is just as—if not more—important. If they don’t have that humility factor, employees will think they know best and won’t be as teachable.

3 What’s a common hiring mistake that operators make?

Rushing through the hiring process. Sometimes operators get too busy or just want to have a body in place, and that can lead to a host of problems—both for you and for customers—down the road.

4 What steps should the hiring process involve?

Good hiring requires at least two interviews, phone reference checks, and background checks. That should take at least two or three days, but all of that due diligence will pay off.

5 Is it better for company culture to promote from within or to hire from outside the company?

Hiring from within. It shows people who want to move up that they should stick around, and you assume less risk since you already know the candidate. That said, outside hires can bring a fresh perspective to your concept.

6 What are the advantages of hiring students?

When you get people early, they’re more likely to stick around long-term. If you’d waited until those people got out of college to hire them, they might not have even considered working for a quick serve.

7 What are the advantages of hiring nonstudents?

Nonstudents can be easier to schedule. If you hire only teenagers, finding someone to work the Saturday night shift will be next to impossible. Also, older employees can be fantastic mentors to the younger ones. A good mix is ideal.

8 What age requirements should I keep in mind?

There are company and state requirements, and both can vary based on the position. Minors can also have additional legal considerations such as special paperwork, restricted hours, and prohibited duties. Learn more at the Department of Labor website, dol.gov.

9What’s the most important qualification I should be looking for when hiring?

Attitude. If you get a weird feeling about someone’s attitude during the interview—when they should be on their best behavior—you don’t want to find out how that person might come off to your customers.

10 What’s the one interview question I should be asking?

“ Why did you leave your last job?” It gives a clear indication of what is important to them in an employer and in a job. It will also help you see if they’ll be a good fit for your concept.

11 Which step do most operators skip in the hiring process that they shouldn’t?

Allowing people to meet with other members of your team during the interview. They might act differently around you than they would around your cashier, especially if they think that person won’t have a say in their getting hired.

12 What’s the best way to do that?

Have an employee you trust meet with the applicant to answer questions about the job. Give them a couple of interview questions to ask during this conversation, and then get his impression of the person.

13 What should I be paying attention to in an interview—besides interview answers?

Whether the applicant is smiling and making eye contact. Everyone who works for a quick serve needs to have good people skills, and wearing a smile right off the bat is the best indication you’re dealing with someone who does.

14 Is there another effective way I can gauge customer-service skills?

Ask for examples of how the applicant has helped other people in the past. Even if they don’t have industry experience, things like volunteering or donating to charity are proof of a sense of service to others.

15 What’s an inexpensive way to offer employees incentives and make them feel valued?

Recognition (either verbal or in the form of something like a gift card) is always appreciated. Celebrating people’s birthdays or anniversaries with your concept also lets them know you value them as an individual, not just as an employee.

16 Is there anything I can do to get employees to care about the store’s sales?

Build a culture that rewards sales success. If your employees get a portion of what they upsell at the register or receive a bonus for helping the store meet sales goals, they’ll feel more invested in the restaurant’s financial success.

17 What can I do to ensure I hire trustworthy employees who won’t steal from me?

Conduct background checks. They’re so cheap and easy to do, there’s no excuse not to. Even just letting applicants know you’re going to do one can cause ones who would be untrustworthy to eliminate themselves from the running.

18 Is it possible to monitor employees without making them feel like I don’t trust them?

Yes, by being a visible presence in the store. If you’re engaged and know people on an individual basis, they’ll feel more accountable—and more valued. If you can’t get to your stores every day, hire a supervisor who can.

19 Is video monitoring a bad idea?

No, our experts recommend it. Just make sure your employees understand that they were installed to keep the employees safe from potentially dangerous customers, not just to help you keep an eye on them.

20 How often should I award employees raises? And should they be merit-based?

You should be giving annual raises that cover at least the cost of living increase. If you choose to keep an employee that long, they should be someone who’s doing a good enough job to warrant the pay bump.

21 How often should I be doing reviews?

Brief quarterly reviews are ideal, along with a more thorough annual review. These should also be used to get feedback from employees about what they want from their job and how you can help improve their experience with your concept.

22 How should I conduct reviews?

All employees should have a hard copy of their job-specific responsibilities. Refer to this during your review and discuss which areas team members excelled in and which ones they still need some improvement in.

23 If I can’t afford to give employees raises, how can I keep them with my store?

Talk to them about where they want to be in three years or five years. That will turn you into a career mentor for them, not just an employer. As a result, they’ll be less likely to quit.

24 What’s a hiring practice I can implement that will boost my bottom line?

Train employees. You can lose a new hire quickly if they’re overwhelmed, underwelcomed, and undertrained. Since the average cost to hire someone is $1,000, lowering your turnover rate even slightly can reduce your expenses drastically each year.

25 How important is it to check references?

It’s essential. People often skip this step because so many companies can only verify employment dates, but even just knowing someone didn’t lie about that information is helpful. Plus, it’s a chance to speak to a potential customer.

26 Should I give my employees scholarship benefits?

It can be pricey, and it doesn’t produce immediate benefits for anyone. For that reason, some of QSR’s experts discouraged it. If you’re going to offer them, study somebody who’s done it well first (Chik-fil-A, for example).

27 How important is industry experience?

Don’t let that be your only criterion. Sometimes operators get so excited by similar experience on a résumé that they’ll hire the applicant immediately. Call their former employer first to ask, “Why doesn’t this person work for you anymore?”

28 What’s a reliable labor force that is untapped by quick serves?

Stay-at-home spouses who like to get out while their kids are in school are perfect for lunch shifts. Retired military personnel are often educated, disciplined, and mature hires. Retirees also work well because they’re generally good with customer service.

29 What resources should—and shouldn’t—I use to advertise job openings?

Websites like SnagAJob.com or FohBoh.com that are targeted toward hourly workers or restaurant job-seekers are helpful. Job fairs, though, can be a hassle and will introduce you to people who aren’t necessarily interested in working in the hospitality industry.

30 What really matters to employees in terms of company culture?

Camaraderie and teamwork. If an environment is friendly and welcoming but competitive at the same time, that’s going to attract employees who love when the store is busy.

31 How can I be a better boss to my employees?

Practice servant leadership. Get to know each employee and do what you can to help them maximize their potential and reach their goals. That involves asking for their opinions, which can lead to a lot of great ideas.

32 What’s an unusual hiring practice I might want to consider?

Pay attention to how you’re treated at other restaurants. The best way to find people with great customer-service skills is to be a customer. If somebody really impresses you, tell them you’d like them to consider working for you.

33 What is a common hiring practice you would recommend against?

Taking applications and résumés at face value. Don’t let being busy get in the way of doing a real interview and getting to know somebody. That’s a short-sighted strategy that won’t serve you well in the long run.

34 Is there any way I can reduce my training costs?

Put two people in identical or similar positions, and hire them at the same time. That system cuts training costs in half and saves a tremendous amount of money if one of them should decide to quit shortly afterward.

35 What can I do to promote employee safety?

Let staff know their safety trumps your profit. At Domino’s, drivers don’t have to deliver to dark houses. They call the customer from outside and again from the store but won’t be chastised for returning with the order.

36 What’s a common mistake operators make when it comes to I-9 compliance?

They combine the I-9 forms with the employee files. Immigration and Naturalization Service and ICE are two different government agencies, so doing that reveals confidential documents to an organization that doesn’t need to see them.

37 What do I need to know about minimum wage laws?

Some states have a higher minimum wage than the national standard of $7.25. That said, higher wages can mean higher-caliber employees. Paying 50 percent more per hour actually saves you money if the employee can do twice the work.

38 What are my responsibilities to employees in terms of health care?

Right now, that depends entirely on your company’s policies.

39 How could that change as a result of the new health care bill?

Employers with more than 50 full-time equivalents will have to provide coverage starting in 2014. What that entails hasn’t yet been fully defined. Alternatively, employers can opt to pay a penalty for not providing coverage.

40 How can I stay up-to-date about the health care bill and any changes that affect my restaurant?

Join your state restaurant association or keep an eye on the National Restaurant Association website, restaurant.org.

Our Experts

Shawn Boyer is founder and CEO of SnagAJob.com, the nation’s largest hourly job site, and author of Help Wanted & Help Found: The insiders’ guide to recruiting & hiring hourly workers. His hourly insights have appeared in places such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Good Morning America, CNN, and in daily newspapers throughout the nation.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., is charged with the development and management of the company’s Information Services division, where he also serves as a restaurant industry analyst and subject matter expert specializing in major national restaurant concepts and menu development, and smaller emerging regional chains.

Kevin Moll is CEO of National Restaurant Consultants Inc., the International Restaurant Startup, and Troubleshooting Experts as featured in SmartMoney magazine and ABC News’ Nightline.

Michelle Reinke, the National Restaurant Association’s senior policy analyst, works on a wide portfolio of issues and is a key player in several business alliances, including the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition, the Food Trade Alliance, the Travel and Tourism Coalition, and the Discover America Partnership.

Tim McIntyre is vice president of communications for Domino’s Pizza and is co-author of Hire the American Dream, How to Build Your Minimum-Wage Workforce into a High-Performance, Customer-Focused Team.