August 14: The Application Process

Applying to become a barista is much like applying to college. There are the big state schools, the small liberal arts colleges; the large, international chains, and the local boutique stores. You have your top choice, the coffee shop your heart’s set on; your mom wants you to apply to at least 9 others in case “things don’t work out.” Instead of asking for a resume and a cover letter, each shop has its own highly individualized method for separating the world’s future baristas from a lower order of human existence. Some are fairly basic, asking for the online form equivalent of a cover letter and resume, and remind me of schools like Middlebury which did not require any supplemental essays. Most coffee shops, however, like most colleges, come with their own arsenal of short answer questions. These questions range from the expected, “why do you want to work at (insert name of illustrious coffee shop here)?” to the anecdotal, “describe the best tasting coffee you’ve ever had and what made it so great?” to the cerebral, “how do you define a high-end offering and why?” One place asked me to list any relevant coffee-related experiences I’d had, including “awards, training certifications or other coffee-related accolades” I’d obtained or achieved. I had to leave that section blank. Another company refused to call the people who sell and make the coffee drinks “baristas,” choosing instead to refer to them as “retail associates.”

Of all the applications I’ve gone through (I’ve applied for positions with 6 different companies so far), the application I most enjoyed completing was the one for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf goes a step beyond the short answer questions and asks you to complete two assessments. The first took me right back to junior year of high school. It gives you ten minutes to answer as many questions as possible. Though they’re not exactly the same, many of the questions bear strong resemblance to certain sections of the SAT. I’ve included some visual supplements below for those who wish to relive their glory years:

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Sadly, it has been many years since my standardized testing heyday, and the questions on the test itself were more difficult than the practice problems seemed to promise. Still, having to take a bastardized IQ test made me feel like they really were attempting to hire an elite group of baristas, that if chosen, I (and my resume) would forever more bear the mark of an elite institution.

The second test seemed to be an attempt to understand my character. It was much longer and more difficult.

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As you can see, they were not pulling their punches. I was thrilled by the challenge, but it also made me long for the much simpler character assessment I’d had to complete for a previous application with questions such as:

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I was fairly certain I nailed these questions.

I’m now waiting to hear back from my first round of applications. Some have taken the time to let me down easy in advance:

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