Thursday, January 15, 2009

Busting My Tables

I don't know how many of you are involved in hiring but I've finally decided to hire another barista at The Spro. In the past, I've done lengthy posts on CraigsList on the qualities we're looking for and what we offer. Some have included exciting language, others have included images and I think we've done pretty well on CraigsList - we've found some great people who became excellent baristas.

The one thing about the historic CraigsList postings is that they never turn out a lot of applicants. A few here, a few there. And while the field wasn't large, we found some gems.

Following my M.O., I decided to post another CL (that's CraigsList folks) posting looking for one barista. Unlike my previous hiring notices, this one was quite benign, it read:

"Spro Coffee is looking for one individual who is ready to become quite simply one of the best baristas in the nation. Must have an interest in coffee, quality and people. Our methods are exacting and our customers are varied. If you have an interest in coffee and a passion fro people then we would like to hear from you. That's our simple criteria. Forward your resumes to the email in this post or feel free to drop a resume off at our espresso bar inside the Public Library in Towson - no phones calls, resumes only."

Pretty simple, I think. Now, maybe things have changed at CL, maybe The Spro enjoys a higher profile or maybe the economic environment is so bad out there that people are getting desperate. Whatever the case may be, in the past three days, I have been hit by a never-ending stream of resumes. In the past, I may have received eight. Now I've got thirty. I only need one barista.

Not that I'm complaining. Back in the Jay's Shave Ice days, I would pour through a hundred applications at a time to find the one or two new people we would hire for the season. Add to that our vetting and hiring process and it was a large task. Our system at The Spro is tame by comparison.

As we were reviewing some of the resumes last night, I was reminded of some of the folly I saw quite a bit of "back in the day." Resumes from people who clearly didn't really read the criteria we were looking for. Resumes that looked like form letters. Resumes that were tailored for other jobs with other companies - one resume said the applicants' objective was to secure a job at a specific clothing retailer. You wonder if this person read their resume before sending it.

Then there were the sad but obvious errors in spelling and grammar. I would expect that if you worked for J.C. Penney then you would not spell it: "JC Pennys." Another applicants' previous experience at a restaurant included "bust tables." As an owner, I don't think I would be too happy if one of my staff starting busting my tables...

Even in the rough, you'll find some promising applicants. The ones with varied interests and hobbies seem like they might be a good fit. While many of my contemporaries insist on a love of and for coffee as a prerequisite, I don't. I'm interested in people with a passion for something. People with an open mind willing to try new and different things. To my mind, it's okay if someone isn't "into" coffee, they just have to be open and committed to learning about coffee. And if they're passionate about their interests then I believe there's something there to work with. What I don't want are people who just don't care about anything except their own self-interest, they're a recipe for disaster.

Some applicants come with past coffeeshop history. This can be a mixed bag. Some can transition well, as the case is with one of my baristas who was formerly a Starbucks trainer. Others have habits and beliefs that are too ingrained as "the only right way" to do things and are unable to adapt. Our methods and standards are quite exacting, and quite frankly, most other shops just aren't up to muster. In cases like that, I'd rather take someone with no experience, spend more time and money on training and develop a barista to our standards instead of attempting to unwind years of previous experience and rebuild.

As I've been writing this, another six resumes have landed in my mailbox. I need to delete that CL entry. I've already got more applicants than necessary. Sadly, in this batch of applicants, quite a lot of them will not make the grade right off the bat because of their resumes. Some will make it to the meeting stage. Fewer will get an actual interview and only one will be hired.

Time to get to work.