How to hire a great staff

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(CNN) — Editor’s Note: Dan Latimer is the general manager of HUSK Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. HUSK is the second restaurant under the helm of James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock and is often regarded as one of the best restaurants in America.

Hiring a team is one of the most integral points in a restaurant manager’s life; a well-thought-out and executed regiment in hiring can save countless hours of “managing” in the future. I remember waaay back in school learning about the Marriott Management Philosophy on hiring. There were many snippets, but the one that has stayed with me the most is: “If you don’t hire the right people, we can never make anything out of them.”

One of the biggest keys to success in hiring is understanding the culture of your company and finding people who fit that culture. I have encountered many candidates who had plenty of experience and knowledge, but just not the right personality. If we brought that person in, we would be doing ourselves – and that person – a disservice (and this is the service industry after all).

The environment during an interview is important to keep in mind. We all have to remember that every potential team member is also a potential guest. Even if they aren’t the right fit for an employee, they are still the right fit for a guest. We try to make everyone feel welcome and warm; it is hospitality no matter what the outcome might be.

I have highlighted key aspects of this nuanced practice in the following five points. Remember, there was a lot more in the stockpot when I began. And, I am not going to give you all my secrets because then all of my future candidates would have a leg up on me.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This used to be my favorite opening question until I realized that is what interviews are all about. We are trying to get to know the potential team member and, in turn, they are trying to get to know us. I’ve learned this question is too vague and will actually work against your goals.

Most people will tell you what they think you want to hear about their work ethic, etc., but some will tell you they like kittens and clovers. I feel like the questions you ask need to be direct enough to get inside their heads without being leading. This brings me to…

2. Avoid the guided question

Too often interviewers will ask a question that leads the interviewees into the answer we want to hear. “How well do you work with others?” is one example. What in the hell do you think they are going to say?! “No, I hate people and I am a complete introvert, but I will make your guests feel right at home.”

The questions we ask are designed to allow people to answer them in a way that shows their true personality. One of my favorites is to begin a conversation about a previous job and then have the candidate tell me about a manager from that job, then flip the question and find out how they think that manager would describe them.

3. The lead

David Howard, the President of The Neighborhood Dining Group and my esteemed leader, told me once that “in an interview you want to dissect the person’s head, get in there and look around for 45 minutes or so and then sew them back up like nothing ever happened.”

To do this, I like to let one question lead into another, sometimes I feel like a 2-year-old because I just keep asking why, why, why. For example: “I really like working with people.” “Why do you like working with people?” “Well, I like meeting new people.” “What is it about meeting new people that you like so much?” “It gives me an opportunity to learn new things and create new stories.”

This really helps weed out the canned answer, too. For example, if someone tells me they like to read in their free time, I will always ask what they are reading right now. If they don’t have an answer straight away, then they probably don’t like to read as much as they wanted you to think they did. This gives me pause…

4. The pause

Somewhere in the midst of the interview, after we have gotten into a rhythm, I like to have a contemplative pause before the next question. I will break eye contact and “think” for a minute. I already know the next question I want to ask, but the pause will typically cause the person across from me to relax mentally for a minute. As soon as I sense the “mental drop,” if you will, I will come in with one of the deeper questions. Ninety percent of the time the answer I get after the pause is one of the most real and raw answers I get during an interview. It really lets you get inside a person and find a path to the way that they are.

5. Certified organic

At Husk, we cook with the philosophy that the ingredients will lead us into a dish. Chef Sean Brock taught me that the product inspires the execution. I like to approach interviews the same way. Each interview is different in its own way. If you have genetically modified questions that are asked the same way, in the same order, every single time, you wind up with the same interview, and who needs that?

I approach each interview with a common goal, but the means of achieving that goal change with each candidate. Q&As need to have an ebb and flow. I am a firm believer in letting the interview find its own direction. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, it has become a conversation. Conversations allow you to find the person you are looking for; interviews only let you find the answer they think you are looking for.