Home > Brewing, Orange County > Getting Hired at a Brewery: The Interview

Getting Hired at a Brewery: The Interview

So you found a brewing gig you think you want. You applied. They even called you back and you’re heading off to visit in a couple days. Naturally, you’re wondering what to expect from the interview and how best to prepare.

Well, today’s your lucky day because I just went through this process three months ago and I seem to have done alright, what with getting hired and all that.

Back in December I noticed that The Bruery had posted an entry-level position on Probrewer. I wasn’t so sure how I felt about moving to Orange County (at that time I was living with friends in East San Diego County) but I knew that if a brewery that close by was hiring I had to apply.  I whipped up a cover letter and resume that night and sent them off.   Twenty-four hours later I was scheduling the interview and at the end of the week I found myself in the Sensory Analysis Room face to face with all three brewers.

I did a couple things in the 48 hours between scheduling and fielding the interview that certainly helped land me this job.  First, I had never had a Bruery beer before.  I was able to rectify that situation with the help of a Whole Foods, who happened to have 3 French Hens and Saison de Lente.  I took my time when tasting them and jotted down notes on both beers; I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about them if asked.  The second — and considerably more time consuming — task I undertook was to absorb all the information I could find about The Bruery on a little thing called the internet.  This included their own website, a handful of interviews, webcasts, and beer rating sites.  The most interesting material I found was from the early years of The Bruery’s own blog, which details the creation of the brewery starting all the way back with their search for a proper location.  It took a long time to sort through, but by the time I drove up to O.C. I had a much better sense of who the major players were, where they were coming from and what they valued.  If it accomplished nothing else, I felt much more comfortable walking into that room armed with some contextual info.

Two final pieces of preparation were ensuring that I knew my resume and cover letter by heart (I also brought copies in case they needed one, though they were well on top of that) and to have drawn up a list of questions I thought they might ask me.  I wanted to minimize the number of times I got caught off guard in the interview, so I thought abut each of those questions until I was positive I could successfully answer without faltering.  I think it’s important not to have fully-formulated, memorized responses as those would be likely to come off as robotic and flat, however, you definitely should have your central ideas sorted out.

Here are some of the questions I came prepared to answer that we did cover during the interview:

What’s your favorite style of beer?  Least favorite?  Favorite beer ever?

Well, they didn’t ask me those particular questions but they did ask me…

What did you think of our (The Bruery’s) beers that you’ve had?  Which was your favorite?  Least favorite?  Why?

I got lucky and had a sample of Rugbrød in the tasting room right before going in, so I had tried three of their beers (Saison De Lente, 3 French Hens, Rugbrød) and had clear answers to this question.  It probably didn’t hurt that my least favorite happened to be the Head Brewer’s as well. It’s very important that you communicate an ability to form strong opinions about beer, whether it be theirs or another brewery’s.  It doesn’t matter if your taste for beer is the opposite of the interviewer’s.   Defending your opinion in a detailed, intelligent manner is what counts.

Why do you enjoy brewing?  Why do you want to do it professionally?

If you truly haven’t thought about this already you should ask yourself why you are looking for a poorly-paid job in this industry.

What are you currently doing (and planning on doing in the next year) to improve your brewing?

This seemed to be about checking my commitment to the craft.  Even though the gig is washing kegs, they want to know that you’ll be inspired to do the best job possible and eager to learn all that you can.  If you have plans for your brewing future regardless of any job possibilities that’s a pretty good sign.  In my case, I talked about homebrewing clubs, competitions, BJCP exam preparation, etc.

And here are a sampling of the more unexpected questions that they asked:

Can you lift 165 pounds?   Pretty sure they were messing with me.  I was fully expecting 55 lbs, as most job postings include that figure.  I was floored by 165 and (honestly) answered that I really didn’t know, but that I knew I could lift 150.  I think they were looking to weed out the liars.

What brewing books have you read? The brewing materials you’ve worked through give a pretty good idea of your interests and level of sophistication as a brewer.  Study up. 

What do you know about our brewery?   I was well prepared to answer this; I simply wasn’t expecting them to be so blunt.  This proves that they want to know you’ve prepared for the interview and are taking the job seriously.

Would you clean the toilets if that’s what we needed you to do? Again, they were sort of messing with me here.  The obvious gist was, “How badly do you want this?  Do you understand that it’s not a glorious job?  Are you willing to do whatever we need?”  And no, in two months they haven’t yet had me clean any toilets.

Ever volunteer at a brewery? It’s hard to believe I wasn’t expecting this.  As I’ve written before, I guess I was operating under the assumption that craft brewing had reached the point where no one used volunteers anymore.  Very wrong. Go out and find someplace to volunteer.  I did that the very next week, before I had even heard back from The Bruery.  

The Take-Away

I walked away from the interview thinking I probably wouldn’t get hired.  They had mentioned that some folks were flying in to interview, which didn’t make me feel particularly good about my chances.  However, I felt great about the whole process because I learned a lot and felt that, flawed as I may be, they had gotten a realistic snapshot of who I was during our short conversation.  That has to be the single most important goal of the interview.  Be yourself.  Be honest.  Both parties will end up unhappy if they hire you while operating with a poor understanding of who you really are.  During my interview I was frank and, thanks to some preparation, at ease.  I might have even managed some quirky brand of charm.  I’m not sure about that, but I did get the job.  And so will you. 

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  1. jgp
    March 6, 2011 at 06:46

    OK, so what is the most you have actually had to lift?

  2. March 7, 2011 at 15:32

    I wish I had a good answer for you. When I said that they were messing with me about lifting 165, that is not to say that you don’t occasionally have to move something that heavy. What I really meant was that the day-in, day-out lifting maxes out at 55 lb bags of grain. There are, however, plenty of tasks that require more strength than that. Full 1/2 barrel kegs are at least 130 lbs and it’s not unusual to have to schlep them short distances. Full drums of chemicals and spent grain are supposedly about 400 lbs and they have to be moved from place to place on a dolly. Rotating full wooden barrels 180 degrees to drain them takes some serious leg muscles in order to do it without hurting oneself.

    So to clarify: I’m not sure where the number 165 came from. You don’t repeatedly lift 165 pounds every day as a matter of course. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some less frequent brewery tasks require that much strength. I hope that helps.

  3. May 21, 2011 at 18:49

    Very interesting post. I wish my interview experiences had been this fun. I still have a couple posts on them that I’m trying to work out. For the interview I was actually hired from, they barely asked me anything at all which was pretty odd.

  4. June 24, 2011 at 09:49

    Thanks for writing this! It is helping me prep for my interview!

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