I was a server for 15 years, and I worked in food service for over twenty years.
Despite the fact that these numbers show how close I am to forty, they also show a tremendous amount of resiliency. Let me say, I trained a lot of servers and I can tell you first hand that there are skills you can teach and skills you can’t. I trained college graduates who had no ability to multi-task, couldn’t recite the specials without a cheat sheet, and had illegible hand-writing to boot. I trained stay-at-home-moms who could handle more tables than two of those fumbling college graduates combined! No matter how hard I worked to show some wide-eyed newbie the ropes, there were some that were just never going to get the hang of waiting tables. However, there is no doubt in my mind that everyone should at least try to wait tables, just so they understand how resilient, focused, and quick on your feet you have to be to attend to the needs of thirty people at one time. It is a learning experience every single day.
One of the things that always bothered me about being a server was how so many customers couldn’t see the real me. When someone looked at me like I was stupid, I wanted to tell them I graduated summa cum laude. When they asked me if I had been to college, I wanted to show them how I drew the customers in my down time, having studied anatomy at a classical drawing school post grad. To so many patrons I was “just a waitress,” and if I wasn’t so darn stubborn, I might have let that be then end of who I had become. But my greatest assets are curiosity and a love of learning. For over twenty years, I was not the obvious choice for recruitment to another field of work, but my skills as a waitress translated to many other types of work environments in which I could succeed.
In Eric Herrenkohl’s book, How to Hire A-Players, he recommends looking for a “large pool of people who already have the fundamental skills you want, interview a lot of them, and hire the best of them” (100). Based on the type of business you are trying to hire for, it helps to write out the kinds of skills needed for the position. Consider the skills you can teach, and reflect on the skills that are less concrete or difficult to teach. Then, go out and look for positions that have skills which overlap with your requirements. Ask them questions that draw out their history, personal drive, passions, and strengths. Interviewing potential employees from outside your industry may just reveal someone like me. Someone looking for more than a job, who will work hard, who is open to learning new things, someone waiting to be appreciated for all that they are, not just the stereotype they have been given.