Acing the Interview

Job Interview

Get down with what hiring managers want – period.

I’m coming off my 8th or 9th job interview in the last two weeks.  This is after sending out 6 – 12 resumes a day, hitting up past/present co-workers, and pounding the streets seeking those “unadvertised” jobs.  Although I did finally get the job of my liking, I had to front – that is, put on my best, fine tuned stage skills and attempt to craft my appearance, attitude, resume and answers to each individual bar/restaurant and manager on the other side of the table.  This is not an easy thing to to primarily because you have so few clues as to what those in charge of hiring are actually seeking (unless again, you’re a smoking hot 23 year old female with spunk – I again digress).

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned previously, getting a good bartending gig is mostly about 2 things (1) Who you are [i.e., your ability/experience, swagger and personality] and more importantly (2) timing.  No one leaves a great bartending gig – not for years or even decades.  So you really have to be extremely lucky with your timing – self-evident I think.  

You could easily be turned down at the same bar 100 days in a row.  Magically, on day 101, Bernie the long-time bartender has broken his leg or his wife left him the night before leading to his inevitable mental breakdown and subsequent incarceration for going postal on her new love interest. The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to know that kind of detail.  You’ve got to be persistent, extremely observant and detail oriented.  Most importantly, try to get a bit of leverage over the other 672 applicants in your town that are also scanning Craigslist for the same position.  Use the tips herein.

That said, once you are somehow able, by some small miracle, to get a little face-time with the manager/owner responsible for signing off on you getting the job.  There are very, very easy ways to blow your chances.  Shall we review? 

Dos

  • Smile, dumbass.  Smile a whole lot.  Make believe you have permagrin – even if you’re a depressed and miserable sort of individual. I cannot stress this enough.  You don’t have to be a knock’em dead with laughter funny kind of person.  But, no one, not even a shitty dive bar owner, wants an idiot with zero personality, charm, or entertainment value working for them – someone who always seems or looks depressed.  If you’re the somber type, fake it. Fake it during the interview.  Fake it every minute you’re behind the bar.  If not, you will suffer a horrible demise.
  • Hygiene: You’re on stage dirtbag.  Shower, shave (or groom your shade) and fix your hair properly, press your clothes (or not – depends on the establishment).  Clip yoru nails and make sure they’re not full of 5 days of dirt, earwax and cocaine.  Moisturize your skin.  Check your nose for boogies.  Make sure you don’t have a fresh mint leaf on your left canine from lunch.  Brush your fangs and have someone test your breath to ensure it doesn’t smell like ass.  Get your teeth fixed.  This all seems like common sense doesn’t it? You’d be shocked as to how many people overlook this department.
  • Bone up on those obscure cocktails that you learned 10 years ago but haven’t made in your years at McGillicuty’s where you sling Jack & Cokes and Bud Light 99% of the time.  If you want to make big league moo-lah-lah, you’ve got to come correct with dripping off the tongue knowledge, Neon Deon Sanders type of swagger, and that ever important smile.
  • Know your brands. You will likely be asked for examples of this spirit or that one.  Study up.  Commit several of each kind of spirit to memory.
  • The same goes for suds. You don’t have to be a Master Brewer.  However, know the major differences between Top and Bottom Fermenting, Ales, Lagers and Stouts.
  • Whiskey.  Along with brand examples, you must know the key differences between Scotch, Irish, Rye, Sour Mash, Canadian, and Bourbon.  They are not the same! Many interviewers will ask.  If you don’t know jack shit about how they’re made or can’t offer any decent drink suggestions, you’re going to be shit out of luck.
  • Red Wine.  Similarly, you must have a working knowledge of wines – red in particular.  Sommelier level knowledge is way overkill.  However, you should know basic French and Italian varieties and regions.  Most importantly however, is to be able to have some sort of base for a recommendation to a customer.  Know which varieties are full-bodied, light-bodied, semi-sweet, semi-sec and dry.  
  • Wear clothing appropriate for the venue you’re interviewing for – critical.
  • Leverage your references.  If you have or have had friends who worked at said location, drop their names.  Next to your charisma, there is nothing more powerful.  Most jobs I’ve had, bartending or not, have been obtained via references or word-of-mouth.  
  • Use proper (experienced person’s) terminology – not coke-head, Jack and Bud slinging, 22 year old bimbo terminology.  When describing specific drink recipes, use terms like “simple” instead of “simple syrup”  Use “ounce and a half” instead of “shot of.”  Get used to saying “ring” as opposed to “nightly sales.”  Terms like: Front of House, Check Presenter, Store-n-Pour, Z-out, and the like smell of experience and professionalism.  Get it?
  • Come prepared with all of your tools.  I walk into every single interview ready to work behind the bar immediately with my entire kit.  I’m ready for an evaluation shift each and every time.  Your bartending kit should consist of, at a minimum: 3 pens, 1 dual-stage wine key, and a flat bottle-popper.  
  • Elaborate on your answers (again while you smile).  Keep your answer concise but inspiring, interesting and truthful (somewhat).
  • Keep a detailed log of your applications and submissions.  Politely follow up a day or two later with each. 
  • Most of all, be persistent and confident – whether it’s your 1st interview or your 100th.  Keep your chin up and believe you are not only worthy of the job, but that you deserve the job more than anyone else.  Charisma and character are 75% of what will get you hired.  Knowledge, experience and cunning will maintain that attitude.  That confidence can be read like a book all over your face.

Dont’s

  • Don’t look up at the sky or down at the ground when asked about something like a particular drink prep.  Look them straight in the eye with confidence.
  • Do not ask how much money you can expect to make.  This is an instant red flag.  Yeah, we’re all curious – sure.  That’s why you walked into the joint.  Based on your observations, you should already have an idea of how much cabbage you can expect to earn. 
  • Do not communicate extensive restrictions.  For example: your day job, you’re an actor, you’re going to St. Barts in a week, etc.  When you first apply for the gig, you should be as forthcoming, open, and available as humanly possible.  This displays a great sense of eagerness, interest, humility and a “team player” type of attitude.
  • Do not show up unprepared.  First impressions are everything.  Do not forget multiple pens, a recent resume, references with phone numbers, etc.
  • Do not keep your Facebook profile/pics and Tweets public if they contain anything other than generic, non-descript, innocuous content.  No one, not even a bar manager, wants to see you (some 30 year old hairy dude) and your frat boy dipshit friends, in nothing more than a neon-green thong, Aviators, and knee-high socks, drowning in funnels and surrounded by blown chunks from last St. Pattie’s day.
  • Do not keep your hands in your pockets or cross your arms constantly.  That behavior is indicative of someone who is scared and lacks confidence. Speak with your hands/arms and your swagger.  Gesture as your speak.  But, don’t be an over-the-top drama queen either.  
  • Eliminate the following words from your lexicon: good, great, nice, and during the interview at least, any curse/swear words and derogatory, sexist, or other inflammatory language. 
  • Do not shake hands like a limp fish – that goes for girls too.  Grip firmly for God’s sake and shake solidly (and smile) no matter who’s hand your shaking. 
  • Do not ask for a pen under any circumstance.
  • Do not be late
  • Do not chew gum

What You May be Asked on an Interview

  • How long have you been bartending?
  • Why do you like to tend bar?
  • How long have you been at this gig?
  • Why do you think you’d be a good fit here?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • Describe yourself
  • What are your specialty drinks?
  • Sell this [insert drink name here] to me
  • Which wine would you recommend with Tilapia?
  • Which wine would you recommend as an after-dinner drink and why?
  • What are some brands of Chardonnay you’ve served?
  • Which Point of Sale systems do you have familiarity with?
  • What’s your favorite drink?
  • What’s in a Long Island Iced Tea?
  • What’s in a Slippery Nipple?
  • How do you make a Sidecar?
  • How much is your pour for a single shot?
  • How much is your pour for a Martini?
  • What makes a Vodka premium?
  • Name some Aperitifs
  • Name some Digestifs
  • Name 3 single malts
  • Name 3 Tequilas
  • Name 3 Premium or Top-Shelf Vodkas
  • What does “86″ mean?
  • What does “upsell” mean and how do you do it?

The correct answer to everyone of these questions begins and ends with a smile, and is accompanied by confidence.  

If you want a bartending gig in an establishment where you expect to make beaucoup “munny,” you must be prepared to rattle off these answers with poise, excitement and  little perceivable delay.  In an extremely busy/pricey lounge, high-end gentlemen’s club, three or four star hotel bar and the like, your looks alone will barely get you past the front door. 

If you feel uncomfortable with any of these or similar questions, it’s in your best interest to study intently.  It also behooves you to cut your teeth, for a few years at some dive bars, or similar “low expectation” institutions, where your sex appeal and speed are far more important than your speed, quality, consistency, depth/breadth of knowledge, smile, and personality.

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4 thoughts on “Acing the Interview

  1. Awesome blog! Love it. I’m a bartender in the Caribbean, but I pull the busy, tourist daytime shift…so I can run a blender and pop beers like no one’s business but unfortunately I rarely get tested on fancier recipes. I’m jealous of your nighttime city variety, but not the hours :)

    Cheers!

    • Thanks Nicci! I’m actually jealous of you! I’ve often thought of dropping everything and pulling “Cocktail,” running off to a year-round Summer bartending destination in the islands or on a cruise ship. Sigh…. Enjoy yourself!

  2. I know it’s a bit of an old post by now, but I immensely enjoyed reading this. Thanks for taking the time and effort to write such a funny little narrative– gave me a little boost of confidence for future bartending interviews.

  3. Pingback: How to Nail Your Bartending Job Interview - Crafty Bartending

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