Which one does a better job preparing you for success? An internship or a restaurant job?
Is waiting tables the key to career success?
The higher the prestige, the better, right? Anthony Lye, CEO of HotSchedules, thinks otherwise. While he's not opposed to internships, he thinks restaurant work is awesome for preparing people for the world of work. I asked him a few questions about his philosophy:
Why look for people with restaurant experience for non-restaurant jobs?
Lye: To survive in the restaurant industry, you need qualities that are rare in job candidates. Restaurant workers are used to an environment that is chaotic, stressful, and physically demanding. They can't sit on Facebook or ESPN.com all day and keep their jobs. They work long hours and deal with challenging customers. Their roles demand both self-reliance and teamwork.
In environments like that, people develop grit and a strong sense of responsibility. With those two qualities, you can excel in most office jobs.
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What's the difference between the internship crowd vs the restaurant workers?
Lye: There isn't necessarily a difference between the two crowds. The difference between internships and restaurants is selection.
College students who are determined to land high-powered internships can game the system. Just take easy classes, inflate your GPA, and watch your resume soar to the top of the stacks. Most likely, no one will let you fail in your internship. You'll do work, but nothing that consequential or painful. If the internship is miserable, current interns will scare away future interns, and the company will struggle to hire entry-level roles. Companies won't risk that.
Now in restaurants, no one cares about your educational pedigree or GPA. You can get hired just for having a good attitude. After a little training, you'll be thrown into real work. You'll have to perform and make decisions on your own. No one will rescue you from a guest who is frustrated, belligerent, or confused, so you'll have to take ownership of thorny situations. If you fail in a restaurant, the manager will fire you and find someone better. How often do interns get fired?
What about someone who did both (for instance, me--I worked for almost 3 years at Burger King and did an internship my senior year in college)?
Lye: Doing both an internship and restaurant job is great! Let me state this clearly: there's nothing bad about interning. I bet many readers have had outstanding internships.
Through internships, students gain awareness. They could develop a passion for a certain industry or begin to practice technical skills they wouldn't use in college. Internships help students understand why they want to pursue certain careers. That is not more or less valuable than restaurant experience. It's just different.
What skills cross over from restaurant work to office work?
Lye: Before I answer, let me say this: restaurant skills do not have to cross over to office work to be valuable. The restaurant business isn't just a stepping stone. Many people work their entire life in the industry and thrive. The business can be as creative, entrepreneurial, and meaningful as you wish to make it. Just ask Chef Jose.
That said, people skills certainly cross over to office work. Servers can be outstanding salespeople because they know how to read customers and develop relationships quickly. Their tips depend on it. Those same people skills would be valuable in account management, customers service, HR, and really any job in which you deal with people.
Restaurant work also teaches you to think on your feet. When a guest makes an odd request or complains you can't say, "Uh...let me think about this." You can't let complaints sit in an inbox for six hours. In restaurants, you have to solve problems immediately. In office work, where your company is probably competing on customer experience, that skill is an edge.
What difference has this hiring technique made in your business?
Lye: We hire many people from the restaurant industry - not only for the skills and qualities it forges but also because we want our team to understand our customers. People from the industry have felt the pain of working in a restaurant without the aid of modern technology. They know, for instance, that scheduling and inventory are nightmarish when you're relying on paper, clipboards, and spreadsheets. Hiring from the restaurant industry makes us empathetic and more able to diagnose our customers' problems.