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Bartenders, Servers, Baristas—and Other Awesome Hires


As business owners know, it’s hard to find good people to hire.

Traditional hiring methods rely heavily on reviewing candidates’ experience to assess whether or not they fit the job description. At Software Advice, however, we focus more on candidates’ talents when they don’t have much experience. In fact, some of our top performers in sales, marketing and service functions got their jobs without having any “relevant” work history. We found that one way to hire good people is to look for “diamonds in the rough”: intelligent, passionate and driven individuals who may not be immediately recognizable as the right fit.

By looking for diamonds in the rough, we’ve opened up our talent pool to a great deal of people who, otherwise, we might never have even met: bartenders, servers, baristas and other awesome hires. This approach really works for us, so we wanted to share it with other companies whose hiring managers might be looking to expand.

From Pouring the Shots to Calling Them

Even our Manager of Recruiting and Human Resources, Bethany Perkins, was once a diamond in the rough. Before joining Software Advice two years ago, she’d been working behind a bar (at Sandra Bullock’s Bess Bistro!).

Bethany Perkins

Bethany is smart: She graduated from Long Island University with a 3.82 grade point average (GPA) in Theater Production and Design. Her passion for the stage is evidenced by the production company she co-owns, Poison Apple Initiative. However, her passion wasn’t exactly paying the bills, and she was bartending on the side to make ends meet. Juggling two jobs and getting off work at 2 a.m. eventually became untenable. She realized it was time for a “real job”— in a professional environment, with professional hours and with health insurance, too.

That’s when her application for a customer service position came across our desk. While she didn’t get that job, our former recruiting manager resigned shortly thereafter. Don, our CEO, called personally to offer her the newly-vacant position, despite the fact that she’d never worked in recruiting or human services before. He knew a diamond in the rough when he saw one!

Finding Diamonds in the Rough

Let’s be honest, it’s not the service industry role that makes these hidden gems a great hire. It actually takes a lot of work and detailed criteria to sort the wheat from the chaff with this hiring strategy.

When looking for diamonds in the rough amidst the dozens of applications we get each month from retail or service industry candidates, there are certain key signals we look for:

  • History of hard work and achievement. We look for candidates who see the value of hard work, and recognize that hard work leads to achievement. That’s why we include long-form application questions, such as “what are your top three accomplishments?” The answer can be anything from working to buy your first car in high school to being your office’s top-ranking salesperson—as long as it shows dedication, goal-setting and a willingness to sacrifice.
  • Strong academic performance. Awards, achievements and a high GPA are all good signals. And again, we’re interested in applicants who did something difficult and saw it pay off. For example, someone who worked all through college and still got good grades stands out more than someone who got good grades and didn’t work. And someone who got a 3.7 GPA while in college, but had a pressing reason they didn’t graduate, might impress us more than someone who graduated with mediocre grades.
  • Demonstrated passion in some area of life. Just like Bethany, many service and retail industry applicants have been working to pay the bills while pursuing another passion. Now they’re ready to make that passion a hobby and focus on a professional career. However, the fact that they devoted such energy and effort to their passion demonstrates drive and ambition—and that can be applied to the office as well as the tour bus. People who have demonstrated a passion for something in the past are more likely to develop a passion for what they will do here at Software Advice.
  • Optimism and positive attitude. Anyone who’s worked in the service industry knows that no matter how well you do your job, there will always be angry and even rude customers. What’s more, the back-of-house energy is often very negative. Those who can get through a service industry job with a good attitude can probably flourish in our company! We gauge how applicants will deal with difficult customers and workplace situations, using interview questions or techniques like the coffee scenario.
  • Advancement or progression in past roles. Even if the applicant’s dream wasn’t to manage the restaurant or own the bar, advancement is a good sign. Was she trusted to lock up at night? Did he go out of his way to satisfy customers or improve relationships with vendors? Demonstrating leadership, responsibility and assertiveness is always a good sign, and can be applied to any industry.
  • Pride in a job well done. We look for applicants who take pride in their work, no matter what the position: the server who suggests his favorite entree, the barista who always remembers your name, the bartender who knows how you like your martini. We look for applicants who volunteer their accomplishments in interviews—even if selling the most mozzarella sticks doesn’t seem directly relevant to business development.

A Few of Our Other Awesome Hires

We’ve been lucky to find many diamonds in the rough who today are valuable members of the Software Advice team.

One employee was pursuing her passion as a dancer before joining us; nearly two years later, she’s worked her way up the ranks to become a Business Development Associate. Three of our employees were waiting tables before they came on board. Today, one is an Analyst, one is a Client Success Coordinator and one is an Associate Recruiter. And that’s just scratching the surface: We also have employees who left the retail and hospitality industries to join Software Advice.

Great Talent is Everywhere

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned since starting Software Advice is that great talent is everywhere—you just have to know how to spot it. By looking for key signals, regardless of the applicant’s background, we’ve been able to make some great hires that other companies might have passed by.

Last month, we hired our 56th full-time employee… and Bethany’s theater production company still puts on three shows a year.

CL Society 203: Cuban bartender” created by Francisco Osorio Used under CC BY / Resized

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About the Author

Austin Merritt is COO of Software Advice. He has performed a number of roles at the company, ranging from marketing and research to taking out the garbage. Austin is an avid outdoorsman and can often be found running the Town Lake trail in Austin, TX or exploring the mountains of Southwest Montana with his wife, Melissa.

Connect with Austin Merritt via: 
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