How to Get Experience as a Barista When Everyone's Only Hiring People With Experience
[The following post is intended for people who are looking to establish a career as a barista (regardless of age). It is not intended for people who “just want a job” as a barista.]
“Looking for a skilled barista with minimum 2 years experience in a cafe located in…”. It’s how advertisements looking for barista’s seems to start more often than not. Especially in cities with more developed cafe cultures.
Recently someone asked, ‘How am I meant to get experience as a barista if everyone wants barista’s with a minimum of 2 years experience?’. How indeed.
Knowing how to get started during the first two years (what we at MIF call the Puppy Years) of your career in a way that will have long term, foundational benefits, is underrated in our industry. Most people tend not to take these puppy years seriously. They’re just “fun times in coffee” right?. Sure, and while they should truly be fun times meeting new people who share your passion for this awesome craft that we do, if you’re considering a long term career in coffee, I invite you to consider these puppy years as potentially the defining years of your future success in the industry, if done right.
Here are 6 tips to help you land the right jobs during your puppy years as a barista, when you don’t have the advantage of experience to help you:
Figure Out WHO You Want To Work For and WHY- How and what you learn in your puppy years as a barista will be formative to how you think about coffee long term. If you learn from the right people, you’ll grow to have a deep appreciation for coffee and the people who produce it, supply it, roast it, brew it and drink it. Spend a good amount of time writing down a list of all the cafes in the area you’re hoping to work in, including the ones you don’t think you’ll want to work for, and understand why you would or wouldn’t work for them. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What values do they stand for? (This should be on their website and social media. You’ll also get an idea for this when you go into the shops)
What are their buying and selling philosophies? (You can tell by the products and coffees they offer. e.g. if they offer regular soft drinks vs. whether they offer organic artisan ones)
What do their customers and staff say about them (Social media, Yelp, and being in the cafe to watch first hand are great ways to gather this information).
What do you know and like/dislike about their menu and the way they prepare coffee? (Go drink coffee from each of them and observe everything the baristas are doing.)
Please, treat all the cafes on your list equally. Don’t favour your favourite brands or punish the less popular ones. Approach this objectively and you may be surprised by who you end up wanting (and not wanting) to work for. Resist the urge to apply for jobs in cafes just because the brand is “hot right now”. I’ve often been disappointed when I did this.
Once you’ve gone through this process and have your list of ideal future employers, approach them and ask them if they’re looking for an inexperienced coffee professional to join their team. The better cafes will always hire on passion rather than skill and if they have something available wont be turned off by your lack of experience if they’re ready to train someone new.
Become a Customer of the Places You Want to Work- It doesn’t have to be every day, but visiting a favoured potential future employer regularly enough that the barista’s and managers get to know who you are is a great way to have your hat thrown in the ring when a portion becomes available. I’ve definitely offered puppy barista’s who were customers the opportunity to trial for a position when it became available if I thought they were going to be a good fit, before advertising, because I always hire on passion and enthusiasm rather than skill for baristas.
Start as a Cafe Allrounder- This is a term popularly used in the Australian coffee industry for a cafe employee that will work on the register, do customer service, clean tables, top up pastries etc. This is usually the starting position in a cafe and it’s implied that this position has room to progress to training on coffee. It’s sort of like a “bus-er” here in The States. The reason we start people in this position is usually because we’re trying to get them used to flow of the cafe and familiar with products, customers, systems, language and values in the workplace while also giving customers the opportunity to become accustomed to them. (N.B. In Australia, things are a little different to the way they’re done in the USA simply because of volume. When someone is on bar, they’re not dealing with cash or taking customer orders during the rush times. Barista and register are two different jobs in Australian cafes.)
Start at Starbucks or McCafe - You read that right. Yes, Starbucks and McCafe. This was something I always favoured when looking through resumes submitted by applicants. I still do. Why? Because people who have worked for Starbucks and McCafe understand systems and when you’re doing 12kgs (approx. 24lbs) a day through espresso, it’s going to be a lot more fun when everyone is on the same page regarding the importance of systems in high volume environments. I promise you, this kind of experience will be appreciated by any employer worth working for in the long term. Contrary to what you might think, this will not hurt your future employment prospects, provided you’re open to being taught new coffee brewing skills with every shop you work at.
Be passionate, Open-minded AND humble- I can’t tell you the number of over excited puppy baristas (of all age groups) that are clearly very passionate about brewing and/or roasting coffee, and want to show you everything they know by telling you why what you’re doing wrong based on something they’ve watched or read about on the internet. REAL LIFE CAFE WORK FLOW IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE V60 YOU BREW AT HOME OR FOR YOUR FRIENDS. Your focus as a puppy barista is to keep learning. If you’ve been to any of the MAP IT FORWARD Barista Workshops where we’ve gone through the very detailed Barista Map that we’ve created, you’ll know that the Puppy Years are for learning the fundamentals and the Mid-Career Years are for skill development and challenging the status quo. Passion is a beautiful thing, especially when it’s balanced with open-mindedness and humility.
Network Your Way into Work- Start by joining social media groups to find out where different public cuppings and industry events are happening and attend them or volunteer for them. This is a great way to meet people already in the industry and get a feel for who you gravitate towards and who you don’t want to be around. You’ll learn a lot just from observing. If you’re attending Coffeefest in LA or PNW (#notanad) this year, you’ll get a great opportunity to network with people in the industry. Remember, being star struck in these environments is not going to help you be objective when making important choices about your career so resist the urge to fan boy/girl (and whatever the non-binary version of that is) over anyone, and be professional.
If you have any question, comments or stories about landing the right first job as a barista when you have no experience, go ahead and leave them in the comments section below.
[Watch an episode of the podcast on this subject here: The Daily Coffee Pro | #110 How To Land Your First Job as a Barista
This article was written by Lee Safar @leesafar - Founder of MAP IT FORWARD and Elixir Specialty Coffee, and host of The MAP IT FORWARD Podcast. If you’re considering becoming a barista, checkout the webinar “Barista & Beyond - Mapping a Successful 10 Year Career in the Coffee Industry” Click here for more details.