Candidate Experience is Everything

Knife skills are life skills! Join us as we talk interviews, culture, and candidate experience with Head of Talent at Dig, Alyson Basso.



We're back and excited to be joined by Alyson Basso, Head of Talent at Dig. Dig is an American chain of locally farm sourced restaurants (did we mention their delicious sweet potatoes?)

Alyson helps Dig hire chefs-in-training, restaurant leaders, support (office) staff, and more for across multiple cities and 20+ restaurants. Listen in to hear:

  • How candidate experience should be like a customer experience
  • How to create an interview process that evaluates people QUICKLY so that Dig can hire great people at scale (spoiler alert: it involves Legos).
  • How to ensure a healthy, unified culture across many locations
  • Grace fangirl about how much she loves ALL the food at Dig!

Thanks for listening to Start with Who: The Interview Intelligence Podcast! This podcast is presented by Pillar—where we're on a mission to make hiring and interviewing more efficient and equitable. Come check out what we're building, or connect with Grace and Ben on LinkedIn! See you next time!


(Transcribed by robots...pardon the errors!)

Alyson: At the end of the day, for every person interviewing with dig candidate experience is everything. And so to make sure that we are providing people with a great experience, we're offering them glasses of water, we're shaking their hands. You know, we are really treating them as though they were current employees in our restaurants or guests in a restaurant is really, really crucial to our philosophy and to just how we want to present ourselves in the restaurant space.

Hosts: Welcome to start with you, the interview intelligence podcast, I'm your host, grace taison and identity baglio. Join us on our journey as we learn about talent acquisition, hiring and tackle the challenge of building an amazing team. One interview at a time. We've invited ceos, innovative people, leaders, talent acquisition experts and DIY movers and shakers as our guides. We thought to have you join us. Welcome to start with you.

Ben: Welcome to another episode of start with who so excited for our guest today, Allison, will you tell us a little about yourself?

Alyson: Yeah, thank you guys so much for having me. My name is Allison baso and I am the current head of talent for dig. Dig is a fast casual farm to table restaurant group based out of New York City. But we also have locations in Boston and in Philadelphia. People short story has always been my passion. I am a restaurant individual myself, was a sous chef for a while, working in fast casual Kitchens as well as some fine dining. I've always loved the fast paced kitchen atmosphere, always loved interacting with people, learning everyone's stories. And so naturally, why not work for a restaurant group. And why not work in talent, which is all about learning and exploring and celebrating everyone's stories?

Ben: That's so fun. I'm really excited about this episode because it's just different than a lot of people who we talked to. We talked to a lot of people who work in office environments. And so just really excited to dive in to your background and some of the differences that show up in hiring for roles that don't sit behind a computer all day. So for those who don't know what dig is, could you share a little bit about that to get people caught up. And what type of roles that means you end up hiring for?

Alyson: Yeah, absolutely. So as previously mentioned, dig is a farm to table fast casual restaurant group. So I'll break that down a little bit more farm to table. We are all about sustainability. And so for us, going into opening restaurants in New York City and Boston and Philadelphia and really any place that dig will eventually go, it is important that we build community through food. And so we are dedicated to getting all of our food from as many local farmers as possible. So right now, we work with over 100 plus independent farmers, which is amazing, really supporting them. Small farms, large farms to get the best product into our Kitchens. Fast casual really means that it's pretty quick. We have a market line, of course, is a little bit different with COVID. Our business has, of course shifted to be delivery and pickup, but still very much an assembly line structure. As far as you get a base, you get a protein and a couple of sides in your bowl. Another big thing, which I think really differentiates us, is we are from scratch Kitchens. And so when you are a chef or when you work in our restaurants, there is no freezers, there are no microwaves, there are no canned openers, there's nothing canned or processed. You just get crates of vegetables every single day. And you are chopping, you are cooking from scratch day in and day out. And that's why our food is delicious. It's homey. It's unique. It's all because we have some really amazing people cooking up the food in our Kitchens.

Grace: I got so excited and was beaming ear to ear. As you described the Kitchens at dig Alison, because the reason I initially even connected with you is because I'm a huge fan of dig. So just shouting out dig for being absolutely delicious. And doing amazing work with food. So big fan. Tell us a little more, Alison, about, first of all, the types of roles that you're hiring for. So obviously, there's a combination between the corporate roles and hiring for restaurants. So I'm curious how that works. And how does it look different, if at all, between those two different areas of the business?

Alyson: So I'll start with our restaurants, because at the end of the day, the restaurants are a business or restaurant structure that's changed over time. But as of right now, we typically have one to two salaried leaders in a restaurant role or in a restaurant leadership role. And then from there, we have a pretty significant size. Hourly staff and not hourly staff looks as hourly sous chefs as well as our biggest population. And dig is what we call the role of a chef in training. So a chef and training is an hourly role. Think of them as the people that keep the operation running. They are working all the stations, prepping our food and instilling that delicious goodness, that passion in how they operate on a day to day basis. The restaurant roles are pretty nuanced for the hourly roles in particular. At our largest, the beginning of 2020 we were about 35 restaurant strong and continuing to hire really quickly to sustain growth. Our model is centered around. We were hiring not only, of course, to sustain our current restaurants, but training is really important today. And so a lot of our philosophy was let's bring in a lot of people now, train them up in our current restaurants. So that we can then open restaurants with trained into. So when you are hiring specifically for restaurants, high volume restaurants with high turnover, you have to do a lot of really big volume hiring. So what we did was a lot of hiring days, a lot of Facebook events, indeed events, which is very much leg speed dating, speed interviewing, really building a structure around. How do you use targeted questions and follow up questions in a way where you get someone's story in about 15 minutes? And how can you really take that further to make an informed decision? That's a big part. And so the hiring piece for hourly has always been something that we've tried different things out. We've tried group interviewing for a while, learned a lot from that before we pivoted a bit. But it continues to be something that we are iterating on, especially given what I just described. None of those things can really happen in a club atmosphere. And so the question is, how do you continue to hire at that volume to sustain business growth when you can't do this? Grouped everyone in one restaurant. Let's go around and ask questions. So it's been a challenge, but something that's really interesting to think through as far as what's our competitors doing, and how can we just, like, do something different at the end of the day to give candidates the best experience.

Ben: So you get people in a room or at least you used to. What are some of those questions you're looking for? Like in my head before this, I kind of thought like, OK, we're going to do vegetable chopping tests and we'll see what happens. But I assume that's not actually what you do. Like, what are you doing in those interviews to really quickly figure out. This is a great person?

Alyson: Are chefs in training? So which is, again, the largest population at digg? We are given our dedication to training and being in an environment where learning how to cook is central to our mission. We say knife skills are life skills. We do not require any prior knowledge or any prior experience in a restaurant environment, which is a little bit different from a lot of other smaller scale restaurants out there. And so past, we did group interviewing. And so to your point, then, we would have people in a room and we would only ask them five questions. And actually none of those five questions had anything to do with food. It was all questions, hypothetical questions, behavioral questions, how people approach different situations, how they approach challenges, what do they admire and what do they look for in their ideal job. And then we would do, of course, like a very fun, not culinarily chopping exercise, but actually a LEGO exercise where we would put them into teams and see how they would build a sustainable, like large LEGO structure in a condensed period of time. So really challenge their ability to work together with pretty much a group of strangers. And then from there, how they would problem solve. Would everyone be hands on? Was someone kind of taking a role of leadership and giving directives? So it's really interesting to see how personality comes out through things like that.

Grace: That is.

Ben: I love that.

Grace: So cool. That sounds really fun, actually. Kind of want to interview at dig now

Ben: or bring LEGOs to looma interviews.

Grace: Well, yes, that too. You could do that. Now, I'm just curious what the LEGO exercise. But were there ever any surprises or creative solutions that if you're able to share, blew away, or was it pretty consistent. How people handle that. And what you looked for?

Alyson: It was pretty consistent as far as like the actual exercise. But I think what was always surprising was how in showing up for that exercise, how different people were. Like I said, there were a lot of people like if I were to do a LEGO exercise would be like, OK, team like, let's do this. Let's all try different things, because I'm a very collaborative and creative individual, whereas a lot of other people may actually not take that approach. Right they may be like very directive and like, OK, you to work on this and I'm going to think about something else. Like it was just really interesting to see how each individual interprets teamwork and how they show up in that moment.

Grace: I love that. That's great. And now I'm curious, you started with the restaurant based roles, which I love the importance. You place on the collaboration. And I love the knife skills are life skills, piece as well. How does that differ from other roles that you're sourcing for in interviewing for?

Alyson: So in every restaurant there's about one to two salaried leaders in the past. That role then is very culinary focused and similar to a star. In other restaurants, so we would do a prolonged what we would call day in the life experience, where we would bring in that candidate. And we would show them around the kitchen, give them a tour and actually pair them up with a chef and training on a station and have them work during our peak service, which is typically lunch service 11 to two, we would see how they really interact not only with the team, but then from then on, you know, how are they handling the pace in the kitchen? Because it's a little crazy sometimes. Are they able to multitask and are they really to think about the tasks that they're doing and complete those tasks? Are they able to work clean and efficient? And then from there, we would actually have them after service slowed a bit, we would have them cook something off of our menu and then we would have our interviewer taste it, give feedback, because culinary at the end of the day is something that we really look for culinary skills. And then, of course, from there, it was a conversation of let's talk about the experience you just had in our kitchen for the past three or four hours. What did you observe? If you were a leader here, what would you change? So very much. So situational based, again for our salaried roles in the restaurant.

Ben: Is there a cultural aspect to that, too, or are there certain key cultural aspects or competencies you're looking for there, too? Because I would assume if they're leaving your restaurant, they're kind of the primary driver of culture in that restaurant. So aside from just like culinary operations, how do you evaluate the cultural piece, too?

Alyson: We really focus on the four pillars of our business, which are develop our people, cook delicious food, run the business, meaning eat, running the financials and operating a clean and efficient kitchen. And all of those things can be determined based on how you observe that candidate in the kitchen. How are they speaking to our chefs in training? Who are they introducing themselves? Right are they really treating them as other humans, as they should be treated, or are they treating them fair or are they creating, you know, even though they're just new to this environment, are they creating a safe and equitable space? And so, so much was learned from observation. And then to follow up, so much was learned as a follow up conversation in, hey, I observed you did this. You know, you coached in the moment, even though you didn't even know this person, you just met them today. Like, how do you think about the people philosophy? And so a lot of the questions. Yes from a perspective of how does this individual really line up with one our mission and to the four pillars of our business.

Ben: That's great. And so then is the last bucket of people, the support team?

Alyson: Yes so the support team, we purposely call it support because at the end of the day, the restaurants are a priority in our business and everyone else's function is really designed to support our restaurant leaders and our hourly employees. And so our support function has tons of different teams and very unique roles. I would say specialty and general is a good mix. So we have a pretty built out tech team people team real estate and development, our numbers, team accounting, finance, supply, food safety, creative. There's tons of different departments. We take a very deliberate approach. I would say, as far as understanding if we're going to open a role, what's the business case for it? Really doing the groundwork in advance as far as who is this person going to report to? Is there a set job description? What are the things that we're looking for? We do a lot of work before we even open a role to make sure that when we do kick off a hiring process, we are setting the candidates up for success. So that things could move as quickly as possible.

Grace: I love that. Thank you. I kind of want to ask, what's your philosophy on interviewing any sort of backbone that you have to that that is woven through the entire process and the way you think about it?

Alyson: Absolutely I think the two things that almost every interview for, regardless of role has a dig is one focus, more so in the moment on answers. Yes, experience, but how they tell stories and provide examples. Not often do I look at resumes and ask very structured questions based on a resume. I more so ask a lot of critical thinking and hypothetical questions around. Tell me about a time when can you give me an example of some really challenging them to give tangible examples, understanding their detail, orientation and providing me those examples and telling me those stories. And typically, I only have to ask about five or six of those questions because there's so much natural follow up that happens. The I just really have a better understanding of the candidate. The second thing that we really try to weave into almost every single process is some sort of work sample or case study. Very important that we understand how the candidate can deliver on deliverables as it pertains to the role. And so if we're going to hire a technology role, if it's an engineering role, we will do some sort of coding exercise to understand how do they translate their hard skills into a specific example. Same thing for pretty much Alltech roles, finance roles, as well as people. I remember when I was hiring a recruiting coordinator, the work sample was, hey, you have all of these different situations that I'm providing for you. As far as how would you respond to a candidate that is canceling on you three minutes before the interview? Like, what would that response be? What would your communication be? External, internal. So work sample is really, really important for one of us as a team to understand the candidates ability and for the candidate, they should know what work is going to be expected of them. And also just have a realistic picture of is this what I was sent, what I'm going to be working on every day? Does it excite me or does it not?

Grace: I really love that because I think often we forget in an interview process that it's a mutual interview. And it's so important. Is that realistic expectations of the candidate about what the work will be? Because you want the people that are going to love it. And stay and thrive there. And the usual assessment.I have a curiosity question for you, too, Allison. Does everyone at dig have to be a foodie? Like, do you assess passion for food? Is that a requirement or. No I'm curious how you think about that.

Alyson: You know, I think food is very important. Everyone is naturally a foodie in some sense. But I think the most important thing for dig is just mission alignment. I think what it boils down to is we are an organization that is trying to rebuild the food system. We're trying to rebuild somewhat of a broken system. And whether your passion is specifically for culinary arts or your passion is for like myself training and people development. And I want to make sure that people in our ecosystem. And our hourly employees are taken care of. And they understand what is out there for them and what we're really trying to do to fix the food system, to make sure that good food, locally sourced food, is accessible to all. I think that's the real passion. It's less about. I love sweet potatoes, although I think everyone loves sweet potatoes...

Grace: They are so good at dig.

Alyson: But it's more so like, why do you really resonate with what we're trying to do? What's your motivation in that? And I think what makes dig really unique is that no one has, in my opinion, the same motivation for why they want to rebuild the food system. Everyone's passion is unique to themselves, but together. It just creates a really great diversification of knowledge and of just ideas coming to the table.

Ben: That's great. Also, I just want you to know I've never seen grace fangirl like this in an interview. So she's really pumped about dig.

Grace: I just keep thinking about the sweet potatoes and the Brussels sprouts and the broccoli. Oh, my goodness. The chicken thighs, that's all. Just that. Oh, it's so it's so great. Anyway, stop me. Cut me off.

Ben: Seriously, she could go all day . We'll just dedicate the rest of this. We'll do a soliloquy to do this. OK, how do you, as a centrally located talent leader, hire across 35 restaurants and different cities like did you used to travel for all this. Now are you doing Zoom like talk us through how you help coordinate hiring of a unified culture across. So many different places.

Alyson: You know, shorthands are not sustainable for me to be traveling all over, although I did travel to some markets for new openings, which is really cool. I think the short answer is you can hire for a really unified culture through appropriate interviewing, training. And so I would make it a point for every new salaried leader coming into our restaurant specifically who would oversee our restaurants. It would have to go through interview training, especially when it was their first time interviewing and hiring for their restaurant. Whether it was a new opening or current opening, they would spend a good chunk of time with me just to make sure that I could shadow them, whether that's over the phone or being present via video and give them pointers, give them live pointers, do some mock interviews with them to make sure that at the end of the day, for every person interviewing with date candidate experience is. Everything and so to make sure that we are providing people with a great experience, we're offering them glasses of water, we're shaking their hands, we are really treating them as though they were current employees in our restaurants or guests in a restaurant is really, really crucial to our philosophy and to just how we want to present ourselves in the restaurant space. So tons of training, making sure that that training is always being updated. And also just following up, following up the art of follow up is so important. I don't ever really want anyone, let alone candidates, to feel like we I haven't heard from date. You know, I don't know what's going on with the status of my interview process. And so teaching our leaders, those skills early and just understanding this is a non-negotiable interviewing this way. It's not open to interpretation. It's like this is really important is, I think, the most fundamental thing as far as how you build a comprehensive culture.

Ben: That's great. I think interview training is one of the most underappreciated things that organizations do. I can think of. So many times that I worked with new managers who finally had to hire someone and they just they winged it the whole time, because there was no clear guidance around how to do it. I want to ask one quick follow up there. Are there any specific modules or topics that you really make sure you hit during every interview?

Alyson: Training can like almost a how to treat a candidate candidate experience module of some sort. Just as far as like the intangibles. I think a lot of times when you are interviewing, you ultimately want to make sure that you're asking the right questions to see if this person is a fit or not a fit. And I think oftentimes you forget about the little things. And so for restaurants, if you put yourself in a chef's position where you're running a restaurant and you have a 3:00 PM interview and you forget to put it on your calendar and you forgot to be in the dining room to greet them, to sit them down, to get them a glass of water, you're not giving off the best first impression. And I stress that as well for our support employees. If they aren't on time for their interview, if they are late to their Zoom call or they're late to shake the hand of the candidate or greet them, that's not the best experience for the candidate. And you always need to remember to put yourself in their shoes. It is a nerve wracking experience interviewing for any role out there. And as much as we could do to ease those nerves, ease that uneasiness is exactly what we want to do. That's so important. And I love the emphasis you placed on it, because it is something I think when you're flying about your day and you have a million things going on, it's really easy to forget how impactful that can be to the other person, the human that's on the other side of the Zoom or the other side of the restaurant. So that's great. And cannot be overstated, I think. Yeah and I think to the last thing I'll add on that is I remember this one training. I did about specifically to support hiring and just how to provide a great guest experience. And I also spoke to, you know, oftentimes candidates really love to send a follow up email to the person that they just interviewed with, you know, thanking them. And we spoke a lot about what that email etiquette looks like to make sure that that candidate feels like the loop was closed with them. Right like they are given the right information to say, OK, the talent person will then speak with you or follow up with you. That's another element of candidate experience. And we always want to make sure that communication is super clear and everything that we do totally understand and be able to communicate to the candidate. What are the next steps to the point of contact is the time frame in which they're going to hear back. It sets people at ease and is so important.

Grace: OK, pivoting to one last question for our speed round. Yeah Do you have any interview horror stories either as a candidate or as someone interviewing or observing an interview or another way of putting it if nothing pops to mind any big no nos like absolute. No, don't ever do this in an interview f

Alyson: rom my first, I would say is I was a candidate for a chef role or for a sous chef role at a country club once. And part of my interview with some sort of prep a fruit Platter for you if you were doing some sort of brunch. And so I was to have a station in the kitchen and everything at first glance looked OK. And then they put the fruit in front of me. And as I just, like, started to cut and organize things, they just. Realize that every single piece of fruit had mold on it, and so I was like, OK, I'm going to respectfully exit this situation because cleanliness specifically in the kitchen is so important. And I think I was just like, this is not the place. I can't even impact this right now. I am not going to continue further. I was super grossed out. And I just I had to leave.

Grace:  Yeah wow, that is crazy. That's a good horror story.

Ben: Absolutely and a great story. Thank you for sharing that. Well done. OK, we want to close with a little bit about you. We do a speed round every time, so we'll ask you five questions. Whatever comes to your mind. First, we'd love to hear from you. Goal is just for people listening and for us to get to know you outside of work. So here we go. I definitely theme these around food. So I'm sorry you got pigeonholed like that. Here we go. First, what brings you joy outside of work?

Alyson: cooking and drinking wine?

Ben: Perfect red or white?

Alyson: I prefer white grape.

Grace: That's kind of a hot take these days. I like it. I like it. Maybe depends on where you live, but I think you live somewhere that does get cold, right?

Alyson: Yes yes, it does. OK, so what kind of white wine can I just draw a little on that? A little more? You know, I'm open to different types. I do love I do love a green. I do love a California chardonnay. Not in old world chardonnay. I'm not into the OK, the fiery taste. Not for me.

Grace: Understandable and I have to say, I do love a good Riesling. I know. Oh Yeah. A dry Riesling. Oh my God. Anyway, OK, go to favorite meal to cook at home.

Alyson: Oh my signature is chicken pot pie.

Grace: Oh yes. That sounds. I love that you have a signature dish. I love you.

Alyson: That is my signature dish. I make my own crust. Oh, it's so good. The cheddar bacon crust. Oh really delicious. Oh my gosh. Do you have a recipe that you can share or is this like, Oh, you made it up. Yes of course, I can share it. Yes Oh, that's great.

Ben: Put it in the show notes. We're doing it. OK, what's the weirdest food you've ever eaten?

Alyson: lamb brain.

Ben: Wow Yeah. What did it taste like.

Alyson: It's a weird taste. It was actually a very interesting experience because a whole lamb head was put in front of me. And you can like, you know, eat different parts. And so I got stuck with the brain, you know, on some toast. So that was definitely a really weird, really weird experience.

Grace: Wow, that's amazing.

Alyson: Yeah, it's either a lamb or they also do it with sheep's head as well. It's like an Italian delicacy. So got the rite of passage on that one.

Grace: I appreciate your willingness to experiment and your boldness in eating it, and I'm willing to try.

Alyson: The whole head was there was what really made it less palatable for me. It was it was frightening. It was kind of scary to see the eyeballs in particular like. Oh, but always the eyes. That's Yeah. Someone eat the eyeballs. So they were gone soon.

Grace: Good for you. I love it. OK, I'm a pretty adventurous eater. I think I would do it, to be honest. I would do it. But I have not yet. And I can't wait to travel, so I'll be that on the list. All right. If you could have one celebrity over for dinner, who would it be?

Alyson: Oh, does it have to be someone who's alive?

Grace: No,

Alyson: my gut reaction is Frank Sinatra.

Ben: Oh, that a classy answer. Yes, classy answer.

Alyson: That is my go to answer. I love Frank Sinatra. If I need to distress, I will listen to that's life. Fly me to the moon and my way on repeat, and then I will be in the like in a better headspace that with a glass of wine. That is how I'd stress. So I would love to understand everything about that man is on. That sounds like what I'm about to do as soon as we end this. This podcast is go listen to the example. Oh please.

Ben: Just so I'll never think the same about the phrase pick my brain again after thinking about you.

Alyson: Sorry, I shouldn't have said it. You know, I'm going to need a minute.

Grace: OK, last question. We ask every single person who comes on the podcast, this one, do you believe that aliens exist? Why or why not?

Alyson: I want to say yes. I do believe that they exist, but I can't really pinpoint why it's just like I'm very into energies and feelings. And I just have this idea that there is life beyond Earth like that's that presents can't shake the feeling. So I just feel like it has to be real.

Grace: I am with you, Alison. I'm with you. And Ben is skeptical, but as a skeptic. But I'm with you. We have an ongoing debate. That's why we ask. We're just looking for someone to break the tie here. What's the tab? Thank you. Most people lean in my direction. I think the probability is on our side, Alison, that there are billions. But I'm definitely the minority, although I'm coming around.

Grace: So and Ben is the only one at Pillar that does not believe in aliens. We have a very pro alien culture here. So I don't know what that says about us, but I don't know.

Ben: Alyson, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Alyson: Thank you. It was so fun.

Hosts: Thanks for joining us for another episode of start with who, the interview intelligence podcast presented by Pillar. Find out more about Pillar and how to do the best interviewing of your life and build an amazing team, all starting at And if you like this episode, leave us a review or shoot us a note. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.