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So you want to work in the fantastic food and drink world of Portland? You’re not alone. Restaurant, bar and café work is huge in Portland. The industry appeals to a variety of people spanning all ages and backgrounds. Competition...
So you want to work in the fantastic food and drink world of Portland? You’re not alone. Restaurant, bar and café work is huge in Portland. The industry appeals to a variety of people spanning all ages and backgrounds. Competition is stiff so if you want to stand out from the crowd you’d be wise to understand the expectations and landscape. If you are new to the city or the industry and are trying to break in, there are a few simple rules to follow to dramatically increase your odds of getting an interview and getting hired.
“I can’t take that (greenhorn), ‘I can be a waiter’ line. No, it takes a lot of skill. It’s a highly skilled job in a lot of ways.”
- James Beard Nominated Chef Chris Israel, Gruner
Just like any job, the expectation when you apply for a position in the service biz is that you will actually know something about the industry and the specific business with which you apply. Sound simple? You’d be amazed at how few applicants heed this simple tip and subsequently eliminate themselves from consideration. If your goal is not to endlessly apply for industry jobs but instead to actually get hired, sharpen your pencils and follow our lead.
Basics: Do your homework or don’t bother showing up.
- Do your research. Know with whom you’re applying: where is it, who are their regular clientele, menu, pace – go ahead and stalk online and in person.
- Know the playing field before you try to play: The restaurant or café is known as ‘the house’. Front of the house = servers (waiters), bartenders, barbacks, bussers, food runners and floor managers. Back of the house = cooks, chefs, expos and dishwashers. Know what you are capable of and apply accordingly. Often, saying you can do both will sound like you can’t do either.
- Have your permits in hand and up-to-date – OLCC and food handler’s permit (see Poachedjobs.com’s Handy Links page). They take very little time to obtain and not having them up-to-date is a really silly reason to get passed over for a job.
- Your experience must meet the job requirements. Experience required? Don’t apply if you don’t have any. If you have worked in casual dining for 6 months and the posting asks for 3+ years fine dining experience, you’d better have some pretty compelling reasons as to why you think you can make the leap (aside from “fast learner and great people skills” – you’re not the first to use that line).
- Dropping off a résumé in person? Do it just before or within the first hour of opening. Never attempt when the staff is obviously busy – if you do you’re basically proving that you don’t understand the work and you’re insensitive to your potential co-workers. Your résumé will get circular-filed in no time flat.
Resumes: keep it simple.
- Make one and always have at least one in tow when applying for a job or going in to an interview.
- Time is of the essence: A manager will initially read a résumé for at most 30 seconds. Use one nice, unwrinkled sheet of paper, one side. Hiring managers have very little time to turn pages. It is important to make an impact quickly.
- Be clear and concise.
- State your place of employment and the amount of time you worked there followed by a list of 3 – 4 bullet points with action words that explain clearly what skills you developed in your past experiences.
- Run a grammar and spell check and ask someone to proofread. Typos can be fatal to your prospects.
- If you are applying for a position that does not require experience (they do exist), highlight past experiences that are relative to a service-based industry. Multi-tasking, interacting with different types of personalities and time management are necessary in any part of a restaurant.
Interviews: If you want the job, behave like it matters to you.
- Be on time. Be on time. Be on time.
- You will be judged on your appearance so dress to impress at all meetings including résumé drop-offs. Wear clean, wrinkle-free clothes that speak of your professionalism. It is typically safer to over-dress than under-dress but it will sometimes depend on where you apply. Always think about what the people hiring you will be looking for. If it’s fine dining, consider a suit. If it’s more casual, look smart but never dumb it down.
- Give a hearty handshake to all managers you meet. Note their names when you meet them and then use their names to address them. Restaurants are all about knowing people and making people feel comfortable. Learn this skill quickly; when someone introduces themselves to you, repeat their name back to them followed by “nice to meet you.”
- Look the people you speak with in the eye when you talk with them. Speak clearly and with confidence. This is another essential skill for restaurant work. When it’s busy there is no time to repeat yourself.
- Above all, remain calm and personable. Never talk badly about any previous jobs. Spinning a bad experience at a previous job is an easy art to master and can go a long way in getting hired.
Service industry work is neither easy nor easy to attain: For every job opening in the Portland food industry, there are roughly 100 applicants. Of those 100, maybe 10 are qualified and of those 10, only 1 will get the job. If you want to be that 1 in 100, it’s going to take more than just showing up on time. Preparation and presentation are powerful weapons in your job hunt and developing these skills will help push your résumé to the top of the stack. Being smart and educating yourself on what people’s needs are will increase your odds for a callback and ultimately getting those golden slots on the schedule. Know the house, know the needs, know the expectations. Good luck, be safe, and we’ll see you on the floor.