How to Interview Millennials — Step by Step Guide


If you are like many restaurants in today’s market, you might have noticed that the pile of applications to work for you are getting smaller. It might even invoke a little panic. Perhaps you have become a little jaded by the younger generation that, to you, appears to be different and lackluster.

Here’s the good news and the bad news.

The good news is, yes they are different. The bad news is that you probably are not asking the right questions during the interview. 

Step One: Have a Culture That Attracts Talent

If you see less application coming your way for job openings then it’s time to ask yourself a very hard question. And, that is: WHY?

We all want to hire “A-level” talent. The issue is that “A” talent  (and many millennials) are not attracted to a restaurant with a “C-level" (or average) culture. Maybe (just maybe), it’s not them... It’s your culture? 

Case in point: Did you know it’s harder to get a job at Zappos (the online shoe retailer) than it is to get into Harvard? It’s true. 

Culture is the secret sauce that separates the outstanding restaurants from the rest of the crowd. You have access to buy the same ingredients as other restaurants. You have access to buy the same equipment. You also have access to the same labor pool in your market. So, why do some seem to get the “A-team” and others are just trying to find a warm body to work a shift?

It’s culture. 

Like it or not, your culture either attracts or repels people from working there. What kind of culture does your restaurant have? What can you do to improve your culture? 


Step Two: Have a Comprehensive Training Program

Another element that millennials look for is learning and growth. Now, don’t confuse growth with money and promotions. For many millennials learning and contributing are more attractive than the dollars on a paycheck. You are looking at a generation that has immediate information available at their fingertips with access to the internet. They like to know the why behind the activity. 

You can tell a person to stand behind the host stand, smile at everyone who comes in, say hello, and seat them promptly for the next six hours and be looking for a new host in less than two months. Or you can teach and train them the soft skills that will make them a better person, such as communication techniques, reading body language, stress management skills, etc. The list goes on. 

If you just train them to do just the job, you’ll just get a temporary employee. If you invest to make them a better person, you develop a loyal team member. Time to take a deep look at your training programs and see where you can improve the system. 

Step 3: Ask Better Questions in the Interview

During the interview, you are probably asking the same questions you have for years and you get the same boring answers. The goal of the interview is to find the best team fit, not job fit. 

Too many times we interview just looking for someone to fill a slot on the schedule. Major mistake. You need to dig deeper and see if this person has the behavioral match to become part of the team machine and not just jam the wheel. 

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Here are a few interview questions that go beyond the normal response:

  1. What do you prefer: working alone or with a small group?
  2. How many people from your last job are your friends today? 
  3. What is your favorite social media platform? 
  4. Is there a charity that you volunteer for or support? 
  5. Have you ever eaten at our restaurant before? How many times? 
  6. Tell me about your friends in high school?
  7. What do you like about living in this town (city)? What would you suggest to improve this town (city)?
  8. What is your favorite thing to eat?
  9. Tell me in your own words what this job position is? 
  10. Why is working here important to you? 
  11. Do you have any “rules” among your friends? 
  12. What kind of relationship do you want to have with your co-workers? Your manager? 

What you are looking for is a good behavioral fit with the team. Hiring millennials is not difficult if your restaurant and culture are attractive to them. Get feedback from current millennial members of your team about what they like and don’t care for in your culture and training. Take action to improve those areas and you will start to see more of the younger generation starting to come to you and ask to join the team. 

When you have a solid culture that fosters learning, appreciation, and professionalism it will become a reference to the world that you are the employer of choice for restaurants in your market. As we all know a referral from someone on your team is more valuable than a cold lead from a want ad on the internet. Aim for more referrals by the culture your restaurant cultivates.