Anybody who has worked in the hospitality business understands the importance of populating their operation with the right staff. As managers, we spend inordinate time and money trying to attract and identify candidates who will be great employees — and we often swing and miss, failing to attract the outstanding performers we crave.
The problem isn’t in our effort, but our approach. We have a flawed strategy that includes bad questions designed to elicit information with limited usefulness. We need a new construct, one that identifies the characteristics of excellent performers, and a method for identifying them in potential hires. According to experts, the concept of emotional intelligence provides that construct.
Put simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your own emotions and those of others. It has proven to be a predictor of excellence for many front-line employees —especially those in the service industry, whose jobs include significant customer contact. For years, IQ tests, SATs, GPAs, and other measures of aptitude have been used to predict future success. However, research repeatedly indicates that while a high IQ is an exceptional indicator of competence at a particular task, it does not describe excellence itself.
Asking a candidate for a bar position to regurgitate drink recipes, proving that he has a high bar IQ, will only illuminate his ability to be a good employee. In reality, it provides no insight into his ability to be great. Instead, asking that same candidate a series of behavioral questions designed to determine his “emotion quotient,” or his skill in the five emotional competencies on which emotional intelligence is based, is the best way to predict whether or not that candidate will be a star. To give yourself a chance of putting together a crew capable of greatness, you need to understand these competencies and ask questions that will reveal them in an individual.
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The Five Emotional Competencies
Emotional intelligence is based on five competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. The better an individual is at mastering these skills, the more likely they are to be considered excellent at what they do.
This refers to an individual’s ability to recognize and understand his own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. Individuals who are weak in this competency often underestimate their abilities to their own detriment. They might complain about having too many covers, even though you know they can handle them, which puts excessive pressure on other members of the team who must now pick up their slack. On the other hand, they might repeatedly take on too many tasks they have no hope of completing sufficiently, thus putting your operation at a disadvantage. Individuals skilled at this competency will read their own abilities, understanding what they are and are not capable of, leading to the appropriate convergence of responsibility and result. An employee possessing this competency might anticipate a busy night and recognize the impacts it could have. In anticipation, they might do some extra side work to make themselves more comfortable and better able to cope before the shift begins.
What to ask:
If you’re trying to gauge a person’s self-awareness, be sure to ask questions that focus on the characteristics of emotional awareness, self-assessment, and self-confidence. For example:
“How would your co-workers describe you?
“How would your supervisors describe you?”
“Tell me about a time when you made a big mistake and how you handled it”
“What is your greatest single strength? Weakness?”
Look for answers that indicate the candidate has honest insight into his or her character, is self-confident, and is not timid or arrogant.
This refers to a person’s ability to control impulses and moods. The beverage industry is stressful and usually fast paced, and the products we offer can be highly customizable. Therefore, the flow of customers through the operation is difficult to predict and dealing with customers can sometimes be challenging. In this industry, there is zero tolerance for error. Studies actually indicate that keeping your cool in this kind of an environment can be the most important predictor of a long and successful career.
What to ask:
Questions designed to evaluate self-regulation focus on the characteristics of self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation. Specific questions can include:
“Tell me about a time when you got angry with a co-worker and how you handled it.”
“Tell me about a time you got angry with a difficult customer and how you handled it.”
“In general, how do you deal with stressful situations?”
“Tell me about how you handle uncertainty at work and in life.”
Look for answers that indicate the candidate recognizes difficult situations and has had no problem handling them.
This concept refers to the internal satisfaction you get from doing your job well. Motivated individuals are driven to achieve and will take the initiative. They are informed by the philosophy that any job worth doing is worth doing well. While external rewards will motivate these individuals to perform, their efforts are fueled by an internally-located conscientiousness. This is the team member who will not only take good care of their own customers when things get hairy, but will also help out co-workers who are in the weeds. This person will smile the whole time they are doing it, too, because it’s their job.
What to ask:
Ask questions that are designed to evaluate motivation, and focus on whether they have the following characteristics: drive to achieve, willingness to commit, initiative, and optimism. For example:
“What do you consider a successful night behind the bar?”
“What are your career goals?”
“How do you overcome obstacles that you encounter?”
“Why do you work as a bartender?”
Look for answers that indicate they will always show these characteristics no matter what the circumstance. In general, the individual should project a positive outlook.
4. Social Skills
This refers to a candidate’s ability to manage relationships, particularly in the long term, but also in the short term. Someone with good social skills has the ability to nurture relationships with the boss, among co-workers, and with the customer. Individuals who demonstrate this characteristic are skilled persuaders, have excellent communication skills, and are adept at managing conflict between themselves and others. These people are skilled at collaborating and cooperating, and are often looked upon as leaders among their co-workers.
What to ask:
Ask candidates questions that evaluate their social skills. Focus on the characteristics of influence, communication, conflict management, leadership, cooperation, and collaboration. Ask the following:
“Tell me about how you think a new manager can gain respect.”
“How do you build relationships with your regular customers?”
“Have you ever had to influence someone, including a co-worker?”
“How do you handle it when your co-workers ask you for help?”
Look for answers that indicate a strong preference for working as part of a team and indications that this individual has been influential in this capacity.
This is the most important of the emotional competencies for customer service providers. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of others and to treat them accordingly – to deliver appropriate customer service based on what you perceive the customer needs. Friendliness can often be mistaken for empathy. Sometimes when I sit at a bar alone, I want to be alone. Sometimes when I sit at a bar with a friend, I mean to spend my time talking to that friend. Sometimes the bartender interrupts and at other times I do want to socialize with my server. If the server was highly empathetic he would know the difference.
What to ask:
When you’re interviewing a candidate for a position, focus on whether or not that person is understanding, service-oriented, and has political awareness. Ask the following questions:
“Describe a time when understanding someone’s perspective helped you to better understand their behavior.”
“How do you understand what your team members are feeling?”
“Describe a time when you had to give someone bad news.”
“Describe some of your co-workers to me.”
Look for answers that indicate that the feelings of others are important to this candidate, and that identifying those feelings seems to come naturally.
Ultimately, different positions require different characteristics and skills. Exceptional servers and bartenders possess many of the same characteristics, but the bartender must possess more extensive technical skills. Kitchen staff members are a different animal altogether, because the technical skills required to work the line are arguably more involved and more important to the job. The emotional competencies you should focus on when hiring for these positions are different than those for the front.
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