Saturday, April 10, 2010

Be Vewwy, Vewwy Quiet; I'm Hunting Jobs...

I see by the old date stamp on the blog page that it's been awhile since I shared my thoughts with you. I'm sure you've awakened in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, perhaps even shaking uncontrollably, and wondering what caused it. Now you know. For the past two weeks, I've spent my time looking for work, because despite President Obama's best efforts to turn us into a socialist country, I can't sit around smoking gauloises and discussing Sartre and collecting welfare (like all of France). Mostly because you can't afford strip clubs on what unemployment pays you.

I'd briefly considered writing about the television of my youth. I recently had a discussion about television in the '70s in New York City, and how great it was. Yes, we had TVs back then. They even broadcast good shows. But I'm going to have to save that subject for a different time, and instead discuss what's going on in my life now. Which is the job search.

Looking for work as a waiter is very different from your standard job search. It's not often that your typical IT worker or regional sales director can go door-to-door looking for work. Imagine walking up and down the street, stopping into every office you find and saying "hi, I'd like to drop off a resume for the manager just in case you're hiring." But that's exactly how it works in the service industry.

Certainly, you can go on-line and search for server positions; "server" is the politically correct, non-gender way of saying "waiter" or "waitress." Sort of like how we can't call stewardesses stewardesses. Honestly, most places like to hire women because they're curvy and look better than men do in low-cut tops. But if they say "waitress wanted" in the ad, you can bet your ass someone (namely me) will try to sue them for reverse discrimination. Hence the use of the word "server."

(On a completely unrelated note, good restaurants, ones concerned with actually serving customers efficiently, will hire only men for their dining rooms. Because men come to work and make money, so managers don't have to worry about a) cat fights over the hot bartender, b) waitresses crying because they had a fight with their boyfriends, c) waitresses leaving in the middle of the shift because of "that time of the month", and d) sexual harassment suits.)

The problem with on-line searches is that every other waiter in the city is doing the same damn thing. So for every "open call", which is basically a casting call for servers, 80 people show up. Then the manager asks two or three silly questions, trying to weed out the Russian chicks who've never waited on a table in their lives, and are lying on their resumes. When I was a manager, I asked one to name two types of wine, she said "red" and "white." Gee, thanks. Another one couldn't name three kinds of red wine, even though three different magnums of red wine were sitting right in front of her. But I digress. So the manager sees some 80 people, asks them silly questions, never really gets to distinguish one person from another, and throws your resume on a pile. What happens next? He pretty much pulls one out at random and gives the person a call.

It's much better, in general, to wander the streets ducking into every restaurant you see and dropping off a resume. First, you never know when that's the day a waitress gets into a fight with her boyfriend and tearfully runs out of the restaurant, leaving the manager holding the bag. Now he's got few options and a shift to fill, but has your resume staring him in the face. And gives you a call. Second, you don't have to compete with 80 other servers-hopefuls showing up at the same time. That is to say, unless you're being followed by 80 other unemployed servers, chances are that you're the only person the manager's seen that day. It's much easier to make an impression, so that when he does need to fill a position you're more likely to get a call.

There are some things I've learned about this kind of job search, however:

1) Managers give your resume a shelf-life of about two days. Even with the open calls posted on Craigslist. Everyone knows you're looking for a job, and don't have job security, and need to find a job pronto. So the assumption is that you'll find a position in a couple of days, and there's no point in calling you after that. Also, after two days, even if you make a great impression, the manager really won't remember you. He's likely to take the first person standing in front of him when he needs to hire. Which is why it's better to pound the pavement and be that person. It also means even though you've been to Pastis three times already, it's a good idea to pop in again (because they don't remember seeing you the previous times anyway).

2) You can tell who's serious about hiring by the questions you get asked. In The Boiler Room, a movie about chop shop stock brokerages starring Giovanni Ribisi, they talk about a "sales question" like "what's the minimum buy for your firm?" That's a sale question; you know the guy's interested. For the restaurant business, you want the manager to ask you a sales question, like "what is your availability?" That tells me he's looking to hire someone, and not just wasting my time. "When can you start?" is another good one. Even better if the manager subtly bitches about his problem to you, such as "I expect everyone to be on time and show up for their shift." That tells me someone has been consistently late, or didn't show up to work, and the manager wants to fire them. That's good.

3) Conversely, you can tell instantly that you've completely wasted one of your resumes when you leave it with the hostess or another server. You have no proof that they'll actually pass it on to the manager, for one. Typically, it just goes into a pile that you know the manager won't wade through. And even if the manager looks at it, he has no face (or personality) to put to the information on your resume. But you've still got to leave the resume so a) you don't look like an ass, and b) maybe, by some miracle, the manager will give you a call (often, because he's desperate).

4) There is a time to leave a resume. All other times are a waste of your time (see point #3). The dinner shift starts at 4pm. That's when the servers show up to start their sidework (polishing silverware, steaming glasses, checking tables, filling salt shakers...), and the managers show up to supervise them. A lot of restaurants close their dining rooms from 4pm to 5pm for just this purpose. So showing up at noon isn't going to help you get a resume into the manager's hands (which is what you want); he's not even in the building. Similarly, showing up at 8pm is just plain stupid. The manager is in the middle of his dinner rush (even on a tuesday night), and is thinking about supervising his floor; he doesn't want to interview you. He's got servers to chew out and customers to grease. Also, weekends are a bust. Either the weekend manager is working (the assistant manager or floor manager) and not the guy responsible for hiring. Even if the general manager is there, Saturday is the busiest day of the week and Sunday is definitely the B-team's day. The best time to go door-to-door is weekdays between 3pm (just in case the manager gets in early) and 6pm (the dinner rush hasn't started yet, and he may be frantic to fill a hole in his staff).

Thus, finding a job in the service industry can be pretty hit-or-miss. You've got to hope to be in the right place at the right time, and talk to the right person, and hope to make a positive impression. If you can't do these things, then you've got to try again. Personally, I have one of those restaurant guidebooks, complete with maps. I highlight the streets I've walked down, so I know where I've been. I'll usually wake up in the morning and plot where I'm going next. For example, tomorrow it's TriBeCa. Eventually, I'll get a call back.

And there, gentle readers, is more than you ever wanted to know about finding a server position in NYC. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for a Hostess apple turnover and a bottle of fortified wine.

1 comment:

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