When it comes to the job hunt, stick to what you know

Photo by: Danielle Golds
Photo by: Danielle Golds
Photo by: Danielle Golds

Last week I interviewed for a waitress position at one of the fancier, more expensive restaurants in St Andrews. I had sent over my CV and received a response asking me to come in the next day. When I arrived, I waited around while the bartender tracked down the woman who was meant to be interviewing me (we’ll call her Jen), and asked me to have a seat at one of the tables and poured me a glass of water in a wine glass. I felt like I belonged, I had actually put on a little make up and a necklace so I would look presentable and professional. I left the interview thinking that it had gone well, that I hadn’t said anything wrong, and that I was qualified for the job and would probably get it. I didn’t.

As a fourth year soon to be looking for a serious career-starting job, of course my first question was “If I can’t get a job as a waitress, how am I ever going to get a salaried, full time job?” Which led to my second question, “Why hadn’t I gotten the waitressing job?” The answer was simple: I have no experience waitressing. Which made the answer to my first question simple as well: I need to focus on looking for jobs (both part time and full) that align with what I have experience in and allow me to follow my interests.

Now, the advert said that experience was not required for the job and Jen told me that there would be training for all new hires. However, in the end, it is likely that someone with experience had also applied and they had chosen them over me for the sake of simplicity and economy. I did say that I had worked in sales so I had experience with customer service, but perhaps someone else had worked at The Glass House for two years as a waitress. Who would you pick?

When Jen asked me about why I was interested in working at a restaurant, I made a mistake. I told her that I had always loved to cook and try new foods, but then I trapped myself by trying to explain why I had never worked in a restaurant before. I started to stutter a little and had a hard time saying what I meant. I ended up just saying that I had not yet had a chance to work in a restaurant, so I would be excited for the opportunity, but it was too late. I had made it look like there was a reason I had never worked in a restaurant before, like I had failed at a trial shift, but that wasn’t the case. The truth was that I had never cared about restaurants enough to apply to work at one until now. My answer made it clear that I only wanted the job for the money, and not because I was interested in the food service industry.

A second error on my part was not having knowledge specific to the restaurant itself.

This is one of the most common mistakes people make during job interviews. When asked about why they want the job, people often neglect to emphasize their interest in the company they are applying to work for. I made a similar mistake once when interviewing for an internship at O! Magazine (The Oprah Magazine). They asked me what I liked about the most recent issue and I had not done enough research to give a comprehensive answer. Jen asked me if I had eaten at the restaurant before and unfortunately I had to say “no.” The fact that I had never eaten there before showed that I had not cared about the restaurant or job until I decided to apply for a position there. Even though I expressed how much I love food, it was not enough. I was not able to say that I loved a certain dish I had tried at the restaurant, or speak about the ambiance of the restaurant the night I ate there.

Of course there is a very simple answer to all of these mistakes; I could have just lied. But, as we all know lying is bad, especially when it is during a job interview and there is a very simple way for your potential employer to figure out your lie. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t phrase your answers in a way that they help you make an impression. For example, when Jen asked me about waitressing experience I mentioned that I had worked in sales and customer service before so the concept of service was not alien to me. However, sometimes people have a hard time seeing different experiences directly translate to what they are looking for. Jen scanned my CV looking for waitressing experience, but she didn’t find it. As hard as I tried to explain how the skills I did have would relate to the job, the fact that I go to a good university and have some semi-related experience was not enough.

The main thing I learned from the mistakes I made is that it is important to apply for jobs that you are actually interested in and have the proper experience for. So, instead of taking my rejection as failure, I am going to look at it as an opportunity to make sure I seek full time graduate jobs that are more within my field. If I were to apply for a job with a publishing company, for example, I would know a lot more about editing and books because the jobs I’ve had and the work I have done at university have given me the experience and knowledge I would need for such a job.

So, the lesson I learned is: apply for jobs you genuinely care about. People always told me that and I said “yeah, yeah sure,” but now I think it may actually be true. While this may be hard when looking for a part time job in a small town like St Andrews, it is important to keep in mind that your genuine interest is what makes you a good candidate. So, if you like fashion, apply to Jack Wills, if you like books, apply to Waterstones.

So, after a week or so of pondering the question of “how I will get a full time job if I can’t even get a job like waitressing,” my answer is: it’s time for me to come back to what I know. Instead of branching out to things I do not feel confident in, I need to return to what I’m good at and what I’m trained for. When I apply for jobs for after I graduate I need to be able to explain to people that I am qualified because of my degree and because of the experience I’ve had that directly relates to the job. In the meantime, maybe I can use my experience in sales and customer service to get a job at a store instead of a restaurant. I know people always say try new things, but when it comes to jobs, maybe we need to keep a little closer to what we know.


  1. Sorry about your lack of success. That’s really unfortunate! You are such an inspiration, and so many people can learn from your experiences….


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