Fall Application Questions Explained, Part II

Most applicants describe themselves, in their resume and application, as a “hard worker.” Business owners and hiring managers tell me that most are lazy, that the youth especially are soft and don’t have the work ethic to be productive.  Someone is either lying or deluded.  Job of hiring manager is to figure out who is the real deal.

Don’t think most are lying when they describe themselves as a “hard worker.”  Some think they “work hard” because they define “working hard” subjectively, according to their own standards and sense of pressure, effort, and stress when working.  Those who think this way need to realize that nobody of importance cares about their standards, that the moment they get a job, they are evaluated based on someone else’s standards.

Others define “working hard” according to the standards of their social circle — those surrounded by people who work 40 hours a week will think working 60 hours a week is “working hard,” and thus likely feel overworked and become unproductive and depressed when they work such hours.  Those surrounded by people who work 80 hours a week are more likely to feel lazy if they work 60 hours a week.  Peer pressure.

Then there are those who define “working hard” as something abstract, as the impossible.  These people think there’s no limit to amount of productivity one can achieve in a day.

Anyway, to figure out who can adapt to our standards, we came up with questions that reveal how “hard working” (whatever that means) someone really is.

Your child comes home with a “B” on a Math test. You:
a) Congratulate him for doing a good job.
b) Berate him for not doing better because “B” is for Bitch.
c) Call teacher to ask why her tests are so hard.

All applicants picked A.  Which may reveal something about candidate’s standards and work ethic and worldview.  They’re likely satisfied with being a bit above average (which usually means they’ll be perceived by those above them as a bit below average).  I’ve had parents brag that their kid scored above the average on the SAT, not realizing that there are those who look down on any score that’s not perfect (I’m not one of those, I have low standards).  Standards vary greatly, don’t assume everyone shares your standards.

Nobody picked B, which surprises and saddens me because elsewhere applicants tell me that they want to do something extraordinary, something special. But they have no idea what it takes to do so.  And they’ll likely never appreciate the effort and dedication of those who are extraordinary.

Nobody picked C, but teachers tell me that it happens.


I’m getting the feeling that parents and teachers don’t tell their kids that they’re lazy enough.  Because when asked if they’re lazy, they all declare “NO.”  But I don’t think they recognize the connection between pointless day dreaming about becoming wealthy and famous and loved by everyone and being lazy.  Or that they’re lazy because they have few responsibilities and make a lot of excuses.  They declare “No” because they’ve been taught that that’s the right answer, not because they’ve actually reflected on what it means to be lazy or hard working.  I’m growing weary of kids telling me that they have “great social skills” (nope, they suck once they’re out of their comfort zone and encounter different standards and values), that they work hard (then why have you achieved so little in life?), that they can handle pressure (I only see low stress jobs and classes on your resume).  These kids are impossible to manage and should only be placed in low-stress jobs, limited interaction with customers.

Why are you so lazy?
a) I’m not lazy.
b) I don’t have enough responsibilities.
c) I have chronic fatigue syndrome.

Most picked A.  Usually means they’re lazy according to our standards.

A few picked B.  Means they’re self-reflective, may have a sense that there’s a world outside of themselves.

Two people picked C.  Likely low stress tolerance, may have tendency to play victim.   Hey, someone once asked me to hire her because she has Bipolar disease and is a recovering meth addict.  She was trying to make me feel sorry for her.

So we ask the question again, hoping that those who didn’t reflect on what it means to be “lazy” will do so and maybe realize that they’re asking to enter a world with vastly different standards from theirs.

Why are you so lazy?
a) I get stressed out easily.
b) I’m self-centered and self-absorbed, so I don’t like making sacrifices for others. It’s too much work.
c) I like having fun. I need rest and relaxation.

A few people picked A, the same ones who picked A for earthquake question.
Only 2 ppl picked B.  It’s troubling that so few people have realistic understanding of themselves.  Has the self-esteem movement distorted reality for so many people?  Most picked C.  Hoping they start to get the connection between one’s need for “rest and relaxation” (kids seem to need a lot of that these days) and being perceived as “lazy.”  Your employer’s perception of you is your reality.  

So we’ve finally managed to get applicants to admit that they’re lazy, at least compared to CEO of Walmart and Eminem.  Now we want to get them to think about what compels people to “work hard.”

Why do you work so hard?
a) I have a lot of responsibilities
b) I’m ambitious, I want to do something special
c) I don’t work hard, I’m lazy.

Nearly all picked B.  Good to know people are so ambitious, far more so than we are at Alive.  Very few picked A and C, what I would’ve picked.

Part III coming soon.

Application Questions Explained, Part I

We use these questions to gain insight into candidate’s mindset, attitude, and worldview.  We generally seek employees who are coachable and will ultimately express our values (we are in the business of selling our values).  We think responses will give us some idea how someone will turn out not only as an employee, but also as a citizen.

Review of questions:

Earthquake during math class! Big enough to topple bookshelves. Nobody is hurt, everyone is okay, just jittery. What do you, as teacher, do?
a) Stop class, act jittery and anxious because that’s how you feel.
b) Have students clean up mess and continue class as if nothing happened. Assign double amount of homework and quizzes for rest of the week.
c) Stop class, bring in school psychologist to discuss how everyone is handling the event and “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Question inspired by how famed Math teacher Jaime Escalante (one who built an AP Calculus “dynasty” at low income Mexican American high school). dealt with an earthquake after class.

Two years ago our class was surprised for a few minutes by an earthquake. While I am as afraid of earthquakes as the next person, common sense tells me that it is unwise to scurry around in their aftermath frightening impressionable young people by asking if they are still worried about them. Thus, I refused to allow a solicitous psychologist, who was part of a team sent in to lecture our students on “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” to speak to my kids. I imagined the “lesson” which children lectured on “post-traumatic stress” would take away from such incidents. What a hopeless state of mind it must engender in a child; if memories of earthquakes and bad dreams are such formidable opponents, what depths of apathy must engulf a child confronted by the constant specter of drug abuse, gangs, crime, poverty, illiteracy, broken homes and racial prejudice?

Children dealt with in such an indulgent fashion soon learn that it is impossible to change or improve in the face of so many enormous obstacles that are out of their control. I believe that the recuperative power of young people is great if they are given a little boost in the right direction. So I devised a more workable (and less expensive) remedy – an educational remedy. After the quake I gave my students extra homework and doubled their quiz load. Soon “earthquake stress” was no more than a faint remembrance and my students were moving toward their goal, far too preoccupied with the challenge of math to find time to dive into complexes or other excuses.

Question helps us assess mental toughness, drive, competitiveness, focus, and confidence.

Roughly 40 percent picked “A.”  We’re concerned about their ability to survive a day at Alive, because there are  random “earthquakes” there all the time.   Like fires, power outages, line of customers who have 30 minutes for lunch and need their food NOW, and creepers (not many, but they appear).  May suggest self-centered behavior and self-absorbed mindset.  Poor leadership skills.

Ten percent picked B.  Identified these as possibly or potentially  mentally tough and intensely competitive, may be capable of showing extraordinary amount of compassion. Potential leader, highly focused on completing task regardless of obstacles and distractions.

Fifty percent picked C.  Concerned and compassionate person.  Likely to be polite and friendly.  Soft, nice, not intensely competitive.

Those who picked A should keep in mind that the “glamorous” jobs involve immense amount of pressure.  Like the lead engineer building a bridge used by millions.  Vascular surgeon sowing arteries so person can live.  Plumber who installs infrastructure so hospital can do its job.  If you’re rattled by an earthquake, then you won’t be able to handle a stressful job.


How many hours a week does the CEO of Walmart work?

On lifestyle of CEOs: http://www.markrosa.com/Stock%20Market%20News/ceo_work_hours.htm

CEO of Walmart likely works what most would consider inhumane hours and he’s probably been working that way his entire life.  Is probably unusually energetic, has extroardinary leadership skills, can handle immense pressure (how many people hate you, how many supply chains are you managing?). That’s why owners of Walmart (stockholders) are willing to pay him millions.  Those who don’t understand this point will likely end up poor and blame others for their lot. Or become ivory tower academics in humanities and social sciences.  How one feels about Walmart should be irrelevant.  Picked Walmart to test how one is distracted by irrelevant facts and feelings.  Can’t let feelings get in the way of thinking.

How many hours a week does Eminem work?
a) 110


Eminem is regarded by industry insiders as a workaholic and perfectionist.  He’s obsessed with perfection, will put in 18 hour days in the studio 7 days a week to achieve it.

Point of these two questions is to assess work ethic and worldview. Those who picked “A” for both questions understand and can probably appreciate how much effort it takes to achieve greatness, that one becomes great not because of luck but due to extraordinary effort.  Doesn’t mean those who choose A have what we consider good work ethic — they may be lazy and shiftless by our standards — only means they know what it takes to accomplish something.  But even if lazy and shiftless, less likely to blame others and circumstances for personal shortcomings.  We have no problems hiring someone who is lazy and shiftless (they’ll fit right in) as long as they have a realistic understanding of how greatness is achieved.  At least these people are less likely to be envious of those above them and are more likely to be psychologically grounded in reality.  We’re not expecting superstars.  We’re not superstars.  Nor do we want to be superstars.  We just want those who can appreciate what superstars do to become who they are.

Those who picked C for both don’t understand the value of grit and effort.  They likely think that greatness is achieved solely by connections (rich parents!) or lucky charms.  When they don’t get what they want, they become resentful, unsure why nobody recognizes their brilliance.  I’ve worked hard, they tell themselves, when in truth, they’ve worked far less than  most.  Despair, depression, and destitute life, they’ll probably live with.

Very few picked “A,” probably because they’ve never been exposed to people who work that many hours, so they can’t imagine how anyone can work that much.

Considerable number picked B, probably because they recognize that there’s a link between amount of effort and ultimate result.  Likely unsure how anyone can realistically work 110 hours.


First three questions don’t tell us if someone is lazy or not.  But we think it gives us a sense if they are or will become envious of others, easily distraught when confronted with difficult circumstances, and frustrated by life in general.  It’s ok to be lazy.  We encourage laziness!  That’s why we’re in business, because our customers are too lazy to do what we do.  But it’s not ok to not understand that we’re responsible for the choices we make, that we ultimately get what we deserve.  Being poor or lazy isn’t what makes people go crazy.  It’s not understanding oneself — how one became oneself — that makes people crazy and unproductive.  It’s the dissonance between expectations — what one thinks one deserves — and results –not getting what one thinks one deserves — that crushes motivation and the will to live.

Part II coming soon.

Why Some Servers (Deserve To) Make More Than Others

Subtitle: How to Make $100,000 a year as a professional restaurant server.

A lawyer once asked me about the fairness of a server getting tipped $2 (20%) for a $10 meal at a diner, while another gets tipped $20 for a $100 meal at another restaurant.

“They do the same work, don’t they?” he asked.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a month,” I snapped.” What’s the difference between a lawyer who charges $100/hour and one who charges $500/hour?

“The $500/hour lawyer is a lot better than the $100/hour lawyer,” he pointed out, “and that’s important when you’re negotiating million dollar deals and settlements.”

“Glad you understand that.  Now what’s the difference between a first baseman who gets paid a million versus counterpart who makes 10 million, assuming same free agency scenario?”

“One is a lot more productive, has a track record of being 10 times more productive. I get your point, but is one server really 10 times more productive than average server?”

“Absolutely,” I replied.


Anyone who thinks servers get paid simply to take orders and bring and clear food either has  limited dining experience or doesn’t pay attention to surroundings, especially other people.

Take a blue-collar fine dining experience at El Gaucho, Seattle’s priciest steakhouse (my favorite).  Many of their customers are spending up to a week’s paycheck to celebrate something, perhaps a 10th anniversary, a kid’s graduation, a promotion.  These folks rarely — maybe twice a year — experience fine dining.  When they’re dropping $100 bucks per person, and total cost may be their week’s paycheck, their experience better be fucking perfect, like once in a lifetime special.  Anyone really think that some friendly, polite, and obedient 20 year old who thinks Red Lobster is fine dining can ensure that their experience will be perfect, that they’ll go home thinking that that was a week’s paycheck well spent?  No fucking way.

Servers at El Gaucho spend many years working and learning their way up to their position, where top servers can make over $100,000 a year.  Not only have they acquired over many years deep and broad knowledge about food and wine so that customers can consult them when building their meal, they have heightened sense of awareness about people.  They can sense when the table of 6 is about to spend a week’s paycheck on dinner to celebrate a special event and will adjust the service accordingly.  They’ll be careful to not embarrass customer by making him feel cheap if he doesn’t order top shelf vodka on his wife’s special day.  They choose their words and phrases carefully.  They can tell when there’s slight dissatisfaction and will resolve the problem without making the customer feel or act like a high maintenance bitch.  They’re in tune with the rhythm and pace of a table and will work with the kitchen to ensure food comes out at just the right time.  They can make or break a million dollar business deal, even a marriage.  Can you imagine how much better sex will be between a couple if server doesn’t inadvertently make him look like a high maintenance princess cheapskate and instead makes him look like the Man?  Could it save a marriage?

When I’m at El Gaucho, I usually let the server pick out the wine.  I word request carefully, using code words like “value,” never any mention of cost limit.  Not once has a server screwed me over with a $2000 bottle of wine (and they have lots of those).  Always under $100, and they preface recommendation by telling us that it’s one of their favorites esp. when paired with yada yada.  They make me look good.  Most men, deep down, are scared little boys.  Once in awhile, we want to appear like men.  Good servers can do that for us.

There are many other little things these top servers do that go unnoticed and unappreciated, maybe because we take the service they provide for granted or we’re just too self-absorbed to notice their dedication to their craft and their deep sense of responsibility for the customer.  Good service has NOTHING to do with being friendly, polite and obedient (we make sure our baristas are neither polite nor obedient).  Good service is about being responsible.  Most servers never make it to a place like El Gaucho, not because they’re not friendly, polite, and obedient enough or because they were never given the chance, it’s because they don’t have the sense of responsibility for customers, the business, and their colleagues necessary to succeed at top establishments.  Sadly, most don’t realize their shortcomings (inflated self-esteem), making it even more difficult for them to acquire the self-confidence, skills, and attitude necessary to advance their career.

I’m not suggesting that the pricier the menu, the better the servers.  Definitely not true.  Eva Restaurant in Tanglewood offers excellent service.  Meal there costs less than one at Outback Steakhouse.  Service at Outback Steakhouse, based on 2 experiences, is amateurish.  But in general, great servers have many more options available to them — from casual bistros like Eva Restaurant to steakhouses like El Gaucho to classical fine dining at a place like Herbfarm.   Servers at Outback Steakhouse have reached their career limit and are rarely able to cross-over to more lucrative positions because good restaurants, regardless of price-level, don’t hire those from bad restaurants.  Too many bad habits to correct.

(Apparently I’m wrong about Outback being more expensive than Eva Restaurant.  But point stands).