Interview Questions That Limit Employee Turnover

QUESTION From Marcey in IA:

I’m trying to limit turnover at my restaurant but I am unable to conduct every single interview. Most of the people who end up quitting or being fired are people I probably wouldn’t have hired anyway but I really want my managers to be able to take over the hiring process.

I’m sure that we have a good culture, treat our employees fairly and have a lot of fun at work. Our staff makes great money and We are never in short supply of people who want to work here.

Do you have any suggestions for probing interview questions that my managers might be able to use in the interview process? Maybe The [questions] we’re asking and what we’re looking for in resumes could be better.



Instead of a long interview filled with standard/stock questions that applicants can Easily detect what it is you’re trying to glean… I prefer observation of some key details.

Actions speak louder than words so I first hold what I call “The 30sec Screening” before I decide whether I want to spend 10 minutes asking them questions and listening to their answers.

The 3O Sec. Screening requires simply taking note of whether or not the most basic details that ALL staff must possess in order to make them successful in the hospitality industry. Namely: professionalism, attractive and tasteful presentation, good hygiene, self-confidence, emotional intelligence and excellent communication skills. 


Is the prospective employee clean and well groomed? Is their hair neat and clean?


Do they make direct eye contact or smile naturally and frequently?


Do they have a noticeably positive energy level?


Do they have a comfortable/polite handshake? Is it frail? Is it overly aggressive?


Are they well spoken (using proper grammar) and articulate (coherent) with their answers? (e.g., how do they respond to your greeting, introduction and answers to “Where are you working now/did you work before?" and  "Where would you like to sit down?”


Are their clothes clean, pressed and presentable? Shoes polished? (does the prospective employee meet the establishment's same level of sophistication?)


Are there nails clean and clipped?


Do they have stuff hanging off their teeth/fresh breath?


Do they smell like smoke?


If they pass the 30sec Screening - I will pass them off to a manager who may ask any questions they want so long as the interview includes the following five questions and takes no longer than 15-20 minutes.


1.What kind of music do you listen to?


This not only might provide some insight into the person but it allows them to talk freely about a topic they’re comfortable with and that is the main goal… Get them comfortable talking. After every question or every statement you make posit least 15 to 20 seconds and see how they handle the uncomfortable silence if there is any. Most people end up giving born formation and they even want to because they prefer simply to fill the silence.


2. What are your three favorite places to eat and why?

I’m more impressed with someone who recognizes great hospitality over “great food” or “cool scene”.


3. Where do you live and how did you get here?

If they can’t get there easily they are likely not going to be on time – ever.


4. What do you do for fun/hobby/work/school? & Are you able to meet the physical requirements necessary time commitments for this job? 

Knowing the demands of their other activities will give you a really good idea as to physical capability and whether or not their availability sheet makes sense and is reflective of their other commitments.

I don’t care how great someone might be - if they’re not available when I need them it’s pointless.

 5. “Can you describe your prior work experience"? & "If I call your former employers and ask if they would hire you back, what do you think they would say?” (And then actually call-that’s a question you should be able to actually ask).

The last “question” is more of a test that could be quite revealing if the candidate isn’t on to you:

Offer to have your own follow-up / 2nd interview, over breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a drink (think diet instead of regular coke) and see how much (or how little) tact they exhibit. I call this move the “Bettienger” after Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger who takes candidates out to breakfast interviews. He arrives early and asks the restaurant to intentionally screw-up their order to see how the candidate handles it.

Ask your managers to record every response a candidate offers to their questions and have all applicants complete both an application and an availability sheet with days AND dayparts indicated before they’re even considered as a candidate worth interviewing (Be sure to have management explain the demands and duration of the orientation and training schedule as well).

If they think someone would be a solid culture fit and a smart hire - They should then code the application (with a number, letter or symbol) and attach any additional documents before passing it off to another manager or owner to schedule a 20-30min follow-up or "second opinion" Interview. I always like having the manager conducting the 2nd interview to offer the candidate something from the menu before sitting down with them - and then asking the candidate to sell it back to them during this interview. (Bettinger Not Required).


Another way to limit turnover is by ensuring expectations are clearly articulated in a handbook, properly disseminated with a signature that confirms receipt & understanding and strictly enforcing every employees meeting those expectations via a standard of accountability / corrective action procedure . (See this entry for more info)


Please Note: There are some questions that are inappropriate and others that are illegal and constitute a form of discrimination. We recommend you consult with legal counsel to determine which questions can and can not be asked. Although we are not lawyers, educated in law nor licensed to practice law, we can provide you with a list of questions we agree are inappropriate and/or possibly illegal to ask.

-Josh Sapienza

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