Recognizing and Appreciating the (Not So Obvious) A-Player

IMG_5101I 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.

5 thoughts on “Recognizing and Appreciating the (Not So Obvious) A-Player

  1. Hi Joy-
    Thank you for sharing! I really appreciate your personal story!
    I think we all so often look at people, in any industry or situation, and misjudge them and don’t take the time to understand them. I am young comparatively even though I feel 100 sometimes but I often get judged as I’m just a “kid” but that I have so much to bring to the table for a company. I strongly feel that the soft skills are more valuable than the rote memorization and someones ability to regurgitate information.
    Thank you again for sharing!


    • You can always tell who has worked int he service industry. We’re the best tippers. Servers are performers, but so are sales people and anyone trying to make an impression on another person for a variety of reasons. Servers are of course seeking tips. Perhaps you’ve practiced your performance for a job interview. I’ve performed as a musician on stage AND on the street for tips. Now I perform as a consulting professional where I’ve got to convince potential clients that I can help them enough for them to pay me for my services, then continue the performance while working for them. It helps if you actually know what you’re doing, but sometimes we have to stretch ourselves and that’s when the performance really begins.

      Personally, I look at time spent in the service industry as a huge positive when reviewing a resume.
      Great blog!


  2. Hi Joy-
    Your post really resonated with me, for several reasons.
    First, I have a manager who always says that he can teach skills, but he can’t teach personality, meaning that he can teach hard skills like Excel or data analysis, but he can’t teach someone to be adaptable, quick-learning, or hard working. You mention this in your post, and I could not agree more!
    Additionally, I was a server for about six months. I always say that everyone should have to work in the food service industry for some time. It is so humbling and really tests you as a person. I faced similar problems. I worked at a sports bar, so everyone assumed that I fit into a certain mold. However, little did they know, I was studying Statistics, working two jobs, applying to graduate school, and saving up for a semester abroad. I was hard working, dedicated (I had a clear objective), was always on time, and did my work with a smile. I was a favorite among my managers and the lunch rush of business professionals. When I applied to internships, I had no previous work experience to make me look like a valuable candidate. However, I was able to translate the skills I had developed as a server into skills that made me desirable to employers and landed an internship at a multinational company.
    All that to say, I really appreciated your post! Thank you for sharing!


  3. Great post! I love the waitress at the top too. I too have been a waitress and made some great tips because I engaged with the customer and could remember orders without writing it down (this really impressed the 10 tops). This made me think of what my son had brought home from 4th grade and it is a list of “10 Things that Require Zero Talent.” His assignment was to post it somewhere he could read it each day. So we posted it in the bathroom by the toilet. These 10 talents are so easy and they are
    * Being on time
    * Work Ethic
    * Effort
    * Body Language
    * Energy
    * Attitude
    * Passion
    * Being Coachable
    * Doing Extra
    * Being Prepared
    So easy a 4th grader can do it. I hope these brighten your day like it does mine.


  4. Great post, Joy!
    Your server analogy is perfect for this post. I actually could never be a server because there are simply too many parts moving at one time for me to keep up, and I’m one of those folks to whom you can not teach that job. (I have a lot of respect for folks who can do this job well.) I agree that too often people underestimate others because of their jobs, though I’m not sure I understand why because our jobs don’t define who we are. There is so much more to people than their jobs/careers.

    It’s critical for employers to understand which skills needed for their jobs are teachable, and which aren’t. For example, I can commit my focus to a task for a ridiculous amount of time, and there’s very little that can disrupt that focus. My husband often comments on how engrossed I can get when I’m focused. That’s not a skill you can teach to someone – just as you can’t teach someone to deal with the chaos (strictly my perspective) of working in food service.

    Self-awareness is another skill that an employer can’t teach. Not everyone can readily admit when they’ve hit areas where they need improvement, and then work to improve themselves. Then there are the folks who don’t look for improvement areas because they subscribe to the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality.

    So how do employers uncover those unteachable skills? You answered this well in your post. They look beyond the jobs and job titles and explore a candidate’s passion and areas of interest. A strength I like to see is the drive for personal improvement, admitting a failure that’s followed up with the resolution, or a shortcoming that a candidate would like to improve. Founders might even dive into how a candidate would handle certain situations to make sure values are in alignment with the organization. It’s easier to look at jobs and job titles – this is initially the path of least resistance. But if an employer is this shallow when looking for candidates, that path of least resistance can potentially turn into a very challenging road in the future from hiring the wrong people. Founders need to look deeper and beyond the obvious, such as what’s written on a resume, to find the gems hiding in the rough!

    — Blanka


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