How to hire for heart

retirement foodservice

At least two dining team members have cried during their in-person interviews for The Mather, a senior living facility in Evanston, Ill. However, the tearful employees didn’t get the jobs despite the waterworks, but because of them.

\When asked why they wanted to care for older adults, the interviewees called upon their experience caring for elderly loved ones. Their emotional responses helped convince The Mather’s hiring managers the applicants had compassion—a core qualification the facility’s culinary arts and services department looks for in an employee. But gauging compassion can be slippery. Here’s what to know when hiring for the softest of skills.

Ask the right questions

interview question

Besides sussing out potential hires’ experience caring for seniors, The Mather’s team asks questions that drill down to motivation. “I like to ask interviewees who their favorite co-worker is at their current position,” says Katherine Newton, director of culinary arts and services for The Mather. The question reflects the traits they admire and strive toward, and whether empathy and care are among those, she says.

Candidates’ hobbies can also serve as a solid indicator of compassion, says Kevin Toole, director of dining services at Cloverwood Senior Living in Pittsford, N.Y. “If they talk about materialistic things, that’s a bit of a turn off for me,” Toole says. “If they say, ‘On my time off, I like experiencing nature, volunteering or spending time with family,’ that shows that they are mindful.”

Go for a walk

walking interview

A tour of the operation can tell managers a good deal about a potential team member, Newton says. In the more relaxed setting, Newton listens for candidates’ off-the-cuff comments and watches how they interact with staff and guests. Toole brings other members of the team into interviews as much as possible, even if it slows down the process. “It helps to invite team members to spend time, because they understand the culture and the expectations,” he says.

Give it time

waitress plates

Even with all the best interview techniques, it’s hard to be sure potential employees have the necessary disposition. “They can interview really well and use the tag lines, but some of it is crossing your fingers,” says Josh Hasson, director of food and nutrition services for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The department’s best defense against indifferent employees is a six-month probationary period, Hasson says. 

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