When my husband and I were living in Pennsylvania 20 years ago, we made it a weekly tradition to take the bus into New York City for dinner at our favorite restaurant, Union Square Cafe. In the beginning, we tended to sit at the bar out of convenience when we hadn't been able to snag a reservation. But over time, the bar became a favorite spot, not because it was easy, but because of the people. We met dozens of servers, bartenders, and guests who all found a home in the cozy restaurant on 16th Street. They all came back over and over again just like us--not only for the delicious cuisine, but for the camaraderie, for the welcome, for the care.

During that time I often wondered how the owner, Danny Meyer, had hired so many fantastic people to work in his restaurant. It was, at the time, his only restaurant. When he opened Gramercy Tavern a few years later, however, I discovered another restaurant with a very different dining concept that was also filled with talented and immensely thoughtful people. Where did he find these people, and why did the experience feel so different from other restaurants?

In the many years since then, I have come across hundreds of other people who have the same question. Why do the Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants feel so different than others, and how do they find the special people who work there? I'm fortunate in that I have had the unique opportunity to help craft the answer to that question by defining the hiring practices that further USHG's culture of Enlightened Hospitality. These are some of the key lessons we've learned:

  1. Know what you're looking for. It may seem simple, but you need to know what technical skills are necessary to succeed in the role, as well as what emotional qualities you value in your culture. Before you even begin interviewing, name and communicate both sets of qualifications to everyone involved. Clarity around these expectations will streamline your vetting process.
  2. Hire based on emotional skills. Because most technical skills are teachable, it's critical to seek out people who have the emotional capabilities needed for the job. That's everything from the ability to stay cool under pressure, to knowing how to build effective relationships, to just being the kind of person other people want to work with. You can teach someone how to do their job more easily than you can teach them to care about their job.
  3. Build hospitality into your hiring process. The process of applying can often be a candidate's first point of exposure to your company, so build hospitality into it. Make it easy for candidates to apply--online, or in person. Having candidates jump through hoops may send a message about your organization's perceived inefficiency or bureaucracy. Find ways to demonstrate caring and thoughtfulness through your management of the candidate pool.
  4. Use behavioral-based interview questions. Scripted questions will get you scripted answers. Ask the candidates for real examples of how they've navigated situations at work to uncover their genuine qualities. It's the difference between asking someone what their strengths and weaknesses are, and asking them to tell you about a time when they had to overcome a weakness to ensure the whole team would succeed. Also, be attuned to the questions the candidate asks and see if they demonstrate curious intelligence--a hallmark of USHG's culture.
  5. Don't go at it alone. Develop and implement an interviewing system with multiple rounds, to allow various team members to weigh in appropriately. Choose key interviewers to focus on the technical skills and others on the emotional and cultural fit. Be sure to include the team that will work most closely with the candidate, especially when you're hiring at the executive level. The more people you can involve to build buy-in, the better, and the candidate you hire will have had wider exposure to your team.
  6. Trail at every level. At USHG, a critical component of the hiring practice is input from the team based on a candidate's performance during a trail (or shadow) in our businesses. When team members get involved and have a voice, they will be more likely to stand behind the decision that is made, whether it's to hire or not to hire. When you find the right candidate, a team that was included in the process is more likely to help onboard.
  7. Be transparent. Let candidates know where they stand by being honest, clear, and fair throughout the process. Give them candid feedback when they ask for it. And most importantly, offer a realistic job preview so candidates truly understand the company they are joining and the role they will take on.
  8. Take care of the "No's." For every position we hire, we may turn away up to 100 candidates. Make sure that the people who got the 'no' feel as great about their experience with your company as the one who got the job. Not only will they tell others about your company and encourage great candidates to apply, but they are also potential customers and future evangelists for your brand.

They say that applying for a job is like a second job, but hiring the right way takes a lot of work, too. One of our favorite sayings at USHG is, "Hire hard, manage easy." The more effort you put into the hiring process to attract and select the best candidates for the job, the more your culture will benefit and grow stronger with the addition of those great people.

Published on: Oct 15, 2014