Panda Express is the largest Asian-segment restaurant chain in the US, with over 2,000 locations, and close to 40,000 employees. They bet on favorite customer choices, such as the famous Kung Pao, or the Sweet Fire Chicken Breast, plus premium dishes such as Honey Walnut shrimp, to satisfy the wishes of people who want to look posh even when eating in an inexpensive fast food establishment. As you can likely imagine, most employees are still students, and the employee turnover is high. The company is almost always hiring, for full time but especially for part time positions. Let’s have a look at what will happen in your interview with Panda Express.
The store manager (typically leading the interview with you, be it directly in the restaurant, or online) will ask you questions about your motivation, availability, experience, and one or two questions about customer service. Remember that they need you more than you need them–you can always apply with one of many other fast food places that are almost always hiring. Hence they won’t make it too difficult for you. As long as you do not remain silent when hearing their questions, and show some enthusiasm for Panda Express and the job, they will hire you and give you a chance to prove your words on the job. Let’s have a look at the questions, one by one.
Why do you want to work here at Panda Express?
Regardless of whether you care or not (and simply look for any job), you should find some positives about working for Panda Express. Maybe you’ve always liked Chinese cuisine, or you even have a Chinese origin and feel close to the place culturally. Or you enjoy the atmosphere of the place, the vibe, the level of customer service you’ve got every time you came to dine there with friends. And while you know that the job won’t differ much from the job at KFC or Dunkin Donuts or Chili’s, you prefer to work at a place where you feel good, one that resonates with your values and eating preferences.
Of course, you have other options as well. Perhaps you know someone who works for Panda Express, on the same position, and they recommended you the job, praising the working environment, workload, and everything. Or you like the location of the store, a place you can easily reach on your bike, which is a big plus considering you’re still a student and do not have a car.
You can even refer to the philanthropic activities of Panda Express, saying that supporting children in need and disaster relief efforts are issues close to your heart, and you will be proud working for a company which has donated over hundred million dollars to such causes over the course of last ten years. One way or another, the store manager should get an impression that you aren’t there only by a chance, and really want the job.
Do you have experience working in fast food?
Most fast food restaurants are fast-paced working environments, and an experience from a similar environment is definitely a plus. However, lack of experience is no showstopper, as long as you ensure the manager that you know the expectations, and are ready to learn and work hard, day in day out.
If you have an experience, try to focus on the good things. Do not throw dirt on your former colleagues, saying bad things about your last place of work. Maybe you left because you did not get along with the manager, or there was some other issue, but you are still grateful for the experience, having learned something and grown as a person. You can always say that you had to work fast and hard. You will have to do the same at Panda Express after all.
What’s more, you should have an explanation ready for why you left your last job, because if you’ve worked for other fast food chain before, in four out of five cases the store manager will ask why you aren’t with them anymore, why you left them, or why you are looking for another job.
What’s your availability?
Most jobs at Panda Express are part time jobs, and most employees are still students, because the wage just isn’t good enough for someone with mortgage, kids, and other commitments. Adults working for Panda Express are people who have a second job. Neither students nor people with a second job can work regular hours, so the manager will always ask about your availability.
Try to come to the interview prepared. You can even print a schedule for the week, and hand it to the interviewer, clearly specifying the days and hours when you can work at the Chinese restaurant. In an ideal case, you should be able to give them at least 20 hours a week. And you should show some flexibility. Saying that you cannot work on Sundays because your faith does not permit you to do so won’t help you succeed in this interview. Keep in on your mind while describing your availability.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
The basics of a good answer to this one are always the same, regardless of whether you interview for a job of a food server, or for a job of a nuclear scientist: Pick strengths that are relevant for the job, and weaknesses that aren’t central to it.
With common jobs people have with Panda Express, such as food server, customer service member, cashier, line cook, etc. good strengths are always communication skills, ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment, willingness to work hard, responsibility. When it comes to weaknesses you can talk about managerial skills, computer skills, lack of creativity and innovation, or about anything else which does not play a major role in this type of work.
What’s your favorite item on our menu?
Before anything else, you should ensure them that you are a regular at Panda Express. Now it doesn’t mean that you eat there daily. But once a week or twice a month you visit the place with family or friends, and enjoy the dining experience, and your favorite meal.
When it comes to the items, I would suggest you not picking one of the items with premium price tag, such as Black Pepper Angus Steak. At the end of the day, you will earn a minimum wage with Panda Express (or just slightly better), so you should not sound like someone who enjoys spending $50-$100 for a dinner… Just pick something from their ordinary menu, such a fried rice, black pepper chicken, Beijing beef, and similar.
The point here is to demonstrate that you actually know something about their place, and like the food you will serve or prepare in the restaurant. It would be difficult to have the job if you hated Chinese food…
Give an example of a time when you provided exceptional customer service.
Speaking honestly, places like Panda Express do not build their success on delivering exceptional customer service, such as tailor-made dishes and individual approach to each customer. With the amount of orders the cooks and servers process daily, and the price of the items on the menu, it just isn’t possible to deliver such a service.
What the customers at Panda Express expect is to always get the same quality, the same taste of their favorite dish, and to get it quickly, almost without waiting, because fast food is called fast food for a reason. Even though, trying to deliver a great service to a customer is an attitude the hiring managers seek in the best job candidates. And you should show them that you have such an attitude. Let’s have a look at a sample answer to the question:
I have a lot of experience with working in a busy restaurant, place full of people from morning to evening. And the place was often understaffed. As you can imagine, it was tough to not let the customers waiting for too long, to actually meet their expectations. But I always tried my best, to the level the circumstances in the restaurant allowed me to go. I ran from tables to kitchen and back, having a great system in my work, always serving guests in an order in which they arrived to the place, minimizing the waiting times. Many customers appreciated my effort, tipping me generously. And while I enjoyed their recognition, I also knew I had to change my place of work. It was just too exhausting, and the manager refused to hire another waitress to help me out. So here I am, applying for a job in your place.
* We have a special article dedicated to the question, and you can check it here: Give an example of a time when you provided great customer service.
What can you bring to our team?
Keep your answer short and sweet. You can either pick one or two strengths, or a specific experience you have, or even a certain attitude, such as that you are always positive and want to bring a good mood to the collective in the workplace each and every day.
The most important thing is to demonstrate that you want to bring something onboard, that you do not care only about doing the work with the least possible effort and getting your wage. Good things to mention are: Responsibility, teamwork, commitment, smile, friendly attitude, years of experience from other fast food restaurants, integrity, and so on.
Final thoughts, next steps
Interviews for common restaurant jobs at Panda Express are not difficult. The manager will ask you only basic questions about your motivation, experience, and availability, and perhaps one or two questions about customer service.
Keep on your mind though that they observe both your verbal and non-verbal communication, and you should show some enthusiasm for the job and the Panda Express concept in order to succeed, and get hired. I hope you will manage to do so, and wish you best of luck!
May also help you in your interview:
- How to overcome interview nerves – Cannot sleep the night before your interview, always being worried of what will happen? Learn how to calm down and relax before your meeting with the hiring managers.
- 15 most common interview questions – Learn how to answer questions about your strengths, weaknesses, motivation, career goals, and other questions that you may face in virtually any job interview.