I was recently in New York City walking through the Meatpacking District on a Sunday morning and encountered a perfect example of how important it is to hire people who are passionate about their work.
I was out the previous night for cocktails and had a really good gin & tonic, a favorite summer drink of mine. The drink was actually so good, I asked the bartender what kind of gin he had used because it didn’t taste like Bombay or Hendricks, which I’m used to drinking.
The bartender told me that the gin came from a local distillery called Greenhook Ginsmiths in Brooklyn. He was super busy so he couldn’t go into more detail but I could tell he knew more. I made up my mind that I was going to find a liquor store the next day and pick up a bottle.
So the next morning I happened to stroll by a shop in Tribeca called Chambers Street Wines. Not knowing if they sold liquor, I decided to pop in and ask if they knew where I could find some of this local gin. I didn’t remember the brand name but I could recognize the bottle if I had to.
What happened next was what prompted me to write this article.
There must have been a couple thousand bottles of wine and liquor in this store. It was everywhere. So when I asked the young lady behind the counter if they had any local gin, I was expecting her to tell me what I’m used to hearing when I go shopping in Pennsylvania (where I’m originally from):
“Uhhhhh, I think it’s in aisle six. Over there.” They point in that general direction and go back to texting or playing with their hair or whatever — completely unconcerned about what you’re looking for.
To my surprise, however, what actually happened was quite different, and it’s an experience that I’ve repeatedly noticed when I shop or dine in big cities.
This young lady walked right over to a narrow wooden shelf stocked with brands of gin I had never seen before, and she started telling me about each one. Where they were made, what they tasted like, how they were different from each other and most shocking of all… she was even able to tell me where some of the ingredients were sourced, what time of year they were harvested and how the distiller mashed them up to create a distinct flavor.
I was floored.
I thanked the young lady on the spot. When she said, “Oh, you’re welcome.” — as if it was just a general “thank you” for helping me, I said “No…thank you for knowing your gin and being a student of your craft.” She blushed a little bit, maybe because other New Yorkers take her knowledge for granted, but I truly appreciated the fact that she cared enough to learn a few details about the products in her store.
And the value is clear to the store owner, too.
I went into that store by chance to buy 1 bottle of local gin and I walked out with 2 bottles of Greenhook, 3 other local gin varieties, stories about each one that I can tell my friends and a blog post relevant to my profession.
Bottom line result for the store owner = $165 for 5 bottles versus $33 for 1 bottle — all because this employee knew her sh*t.
Think about this in terms of a waiter or bartender — how many more appetizers, bottles of wine or specials could they sell if they knew their menu inside and out and had a passion for food and wine? And what about a car salesman who loves cars, or a carpet installer who views flooring as a canvas or an HVAC technician who…..well, you get the point.
It doesn’t matter what you’re hiring for — if you’re not hiring someone passionate about their craft with a great attitude, it’s hurting your team, your department and your company.
So how do you find these people? How do you screen for them? This blog is all about mastering the art of interviewing, so here are 5 great interview questions that will help you identify someone who is passionate about their work:
1. What reading or training have you initiated for yourself in the last 6 months to make you better at what you do?
You want to look for people who are educating themselves…not being forced to learn by their employer.
2. What do you read to ensure that you stay on the cutting edge of your profession? How often? Tell me about the last 3 articles you read in the last two weeks.
Probe to find out if they just know what the industry blogs and publications are OR if they’re reading them regularly.
3. Tell me what you would tell a customer about [blank].
Pick 3 products that they should know something about if they’re keeping up with their profession and ask them to brief you on them. Probe on the depth of their knowledge.
4. Who are some of the top people in your industry that you follow. Why do you follow them, how do you interact with them and what have they taught you?
If someone is truly into their profession, they know who the gurus are and they know who is the expert for different types of knowledge.
5. Tell me about a time when you wrote a training program on your own to educate other people about your specialty. Why did you do it, what were the components and what did you achieve by doing it?
This is advanced, but if someone is a true student of their craft, they might be on a speaking circuit or they’re known for doing internal training at their company.
As I usually say, being a student of a particular craft is just one dimension of a top tier employee…but it’s incredibly important, especially in the services sector. For some of our best interview questions no matter what industry you’re hiring for, click here.
In the end, I don’t know if the lady in the liquor shop was the owner or an employee. I don’t know if she comes in late for work every day, can’t balance her register to save her life or quit the next morning. But what I do know is that one of the reasons I love shopping in New York, is because people know what the hell they’re talking about. They know their jobs. They know their products inside and out. And they’re highly trained, in most cases, in how to address customer needs.
As a result, I spent 5x more than I expected to spend in that store and the next time I’m in need of replenishing my bar, where do you think I’m going to go???