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7 Tips for Getting Your Bartending Resume to the Top of the Pile

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(illustration: Maddy Peters)

Whether you’re applying for a new role, angling for a promotion or submitting a competition application, the right resume can either move you forward in the process or send you straight to the rejection pile.

According to Kirk Estopinal, a partner at Cure and Cane & Table in New Orleans, “you have 60 seconds, tops, to catch someone’s eye” with a resume. So he and other top bartenders share their tips for making yours stand out from the competition.

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1. Keep It Brief

Far too many resumes are overly long, like menus,” says Estopinal. There’s no need to put every shift you’ve worked on there. Instead, he recommends “keeping it short, with a nicely sized font and bullet points” that make the document quick and easy to read.

Angie Fetherston, the CEO of Drink Company in Washington, D.C., also believes short and sweet resumes are best. “Too many people try to fill up every blank space on the page,” she says. “Your resume isn’t supposed to be everything you’ve ever done. It’s just to get you in the door.”

2. Ditch the Chronological Format

The best way to make sure your resume stands out? Skip the chronological resume, which lists employers and dates of employment, and “focus on a functional resume, which list skills you learned at those places that would be of interest to employers,” says Causing a Stir co-founder The Drifter bartender Alexis Brown.

Michael Neff, the co-owner of The Cottonmouth Club in Houston, agrees. “As someone who hires regularly, I like to see a snapshot of a person’s skill set without having to read through all the details of every single place they worked.”

3. Put Relevant Experience Front and Center

To highlight your best attributes, Neff recommends a bulleted “skills section” detailing experience like menu development, any BarSmarts or similar certifications, POS system proficiencies and other relevant skills”

And beware of buzzwords and vague phrases. “A few thoughtful bullet points on your experience are more powerful and genuine than 20 meaningless things like ‘optimized the backbar,’ which don’t really sell you or tell me anything about what you actually accomplished,” says Fetherston. “Focus on your results.”

Shanning Newell, the head sommelier at Bourbon Steak in Nashville, agrees that highlighting revenue-driven accomplishments like starting a summer rosé program or creating a best-selling cocktail can make you stand out as a candidate.

4. Don’t Discount Relevant Non-Bar Experience

“There are lots of skills relevant to our industry that aren’t necessarily bartending,” says Erick Castro, a partner in San Diego’s Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves. He cites concessions and coffee shop work as experiences that illustrate that a candidate “can deal with customers, has a good work ethic and can handle the pressure of bartending.”

Estopinal agrees that baristas as well as kitchen staff have a leg up above the competition. “Those experiences tell me that you’re organized, you understand mise en place, and you can work in a timely manner.”

5. Brag a Little

“Everyone has work experience, so think about specific accomplishments that will make you stand out,” says Newell. “Maybe you won a Woodford Reserve competition and are applying to work at a steakhouse like mine that cranks out Manhattans and Old Fashioneds all the time and could use someone with that specific expertise.”  

And as Castro says, “Sometimes people try to be humble, which is important, but maybe we don’t have time to Google you. Let us know if you placed third nationally in a competition. It shows you’re interested in repping the bar on a larger scale and that you have a higher capacity for stress than the average person.”

6. Always Proofread

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. To avoid simple mistakes, Fetherston recommends using the Grammarly extension on Google Chrome or having a friend review your resume before you send it.

For her, attention to detail matters, both in the resume and job. “When you’re doing business transactions, whether hiring, ordering inventory or booking events, we need to know that you’re going to put your best face forward and communicate with others using proper grammar and spelling, because that reflects on our business,” says Fetherston.

7. Do Your Homework

“The last time I hired someone, I interviewed at least 30 bartenders who showed up hungover and knew nothing about our business,” says Kellie Thorn, the beverage director for Hugh Acheson’s restaurants. “I ended up hiring someone with no hospitality experience but who wrote me a really long cover letter explaining why she wanted to break into the industry, her research on our company and why she was ready to make a career change.”

And in the end, Brown says, “throw out what you think a resume should be and focus on the chance to talk about your best attributes and tell your story. No one can do that better than you.”

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