Panera Bread isn’t just another chain of casual restaurants with over 2000 locations in US and Canada. The place is special in many ways. For example, their menu is 100% clean of GMOs and artificial preservatives, something very few other restaurant chains in the US can claim. What’s more, Health magazine judged it in 2008 as North America’s healthiest fast casual restaurant and one of North America’s enemies of obese children. Most dishes at Panera won’t make you bloated and feeling sleepy. Their food will give you energy, instead of taking it from you. And it is a good place to work as well, considering the team spirit, workload, and other working conditions. But what will happen in your interview with the managers from Panera Bread?

First and foremost, they are looking for friendly and outgoing people. You should know something about their menu, and about what makes Panera special, and show some enthusiasm for the job and their brand. They will also ask you questions–of course, mostly about your motivation, experience, weaknesses, availability, and your attitude to some situations you may experience with the customers. The interviews for basic positions such as sales associate, cashier, team member, sandwich artists, and similar are not difficult, and your chances to get hired are more than decent. But you still shouldn’t underestimate your preparation. Let’s have a look at the questions you may face.


Why do you want to work at Panera Bread?

Your goal is to show them that Panera isn’t just one of dozens dining places you can apply for a job with. Make them feel special. The relative healthiness of their menu, especially when compared with other cafe-bakeries and doughnut stores is always a good thing to mention. You are aware of the epidemic of obesity in the US, and prefer to work in a place that actually promotes healthy eating, and offers dishes that are easily digestible and have some real nutritional value.

You can also refer to the working environment at Panera, the culture of teamwork, your preference to their brand and the type of dining experience one has in their places. You just find it a better match to your personality and preferences. What is more, you like the job description, shift patterns, location of the bakery-cafe, and simply find it a great match, at least at this stage of your life and career.


What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Questions about strengths and weaknesses aren’t as common as they used to be back in the day in the interviews. At Panera Bread, however, they will often ask about them. Try to focus on strengths that will help you deliver an excellent customer service. Communication skills, listening skills, conflict resolution, ability to work quickly, paying attention to detail, spirit for teamwork, or experience working in a similar type of facility, are some of the strengths you can mention at this point. Of course things like responsibility and motivation are a good choice in any interview.

It is also good to admit at least one or two weaknesses, ideally something that isn’t central for the job. Being over-friendly with customers is a popular choice. Or being impatient at times, struggling with leading others (you won’t need this skill working as a crew member at Panera). You can always elaborate on your answer, saying that you try your best to improve on your weaknesses. Perhaps the job with Panera is a great opportunity to do so.

If this is your first job application, you can always cite lack of experience as your greatest weakness. You do not need experience to get a job with Panera, but it helps to have some, simply because it will make it easier for you to handle the workload right from the get-go…

What would you do if the co-worker did something you did not like?

They may clarify the details of the situation, for example that the colleague was stealing a small item, or that you saw them eating one of the breads, or that they did not clean their hands after bathroom break.

In any case, manager try to promote teamwork culture at Panera. You shouldn’t say that you would report every incident–however small, to the shift manager. Try to show more tack, and teamwork. Say that if it was something minor, you would discretely talk to the colleague, explaining them why they did a wrong thing, and making sure they’d remedy the situation.

If the incident repeated, however (they ignored your suggestion), or if it was something major (you saw them taking twenty dollars from the cash drawer), you would notify the manager immediately. That’s the attitude they seek at Panera.


Can you tell us a bit more about your future plans?

Basically they are trying to find out for how long they can count with you, and whether perhaps you can imagine growing in the company, progressing from the ranks of crew members to the ranks of managers. But even if do not have such plans, it is okay for them, because they know that for the majority of people Panera is just a short stop on their career journey (often the first one).

Anyway, you should always claim that you plan to stay with them for six months at least. If you have some plans for the upcoming summer, such as traveling abroad or whatever, I suggest you to conceal them from the hiring managers. It makes no sense giving them a reason for rejecting you. And after all your plans may eventually change.

On the other hand, they like responsible people at Panera. It is perfectly all right to talk about your university studies, or even future career you’d like to have. It can also help you to explain your motivation. You apply for a job with Panera because you hope to earn some extra money, to support your studies


How will you deal with a customer who received the wrong order?

They may ask you a couple of situational questions related to customer service. With each one you should follow the same steps: ensure them that you will do everything to make the customer happy again, in the shortest possible time. Because that’s the level of customer service people expect at places like Panera.

In this case, it means apologizing to the customer, and double checking the correct order. Then you will prioritize their order in the queue, making sure that they get their food as quickly as possible. And one you finally give them the right order, you will again apologize for the inconvenience. You will do everything to see them leaving the place with a smile on their face.


Tell us about a difficult situation you had to solve in one of your former jobs.

They do not pick anything in particular, so you can choose. It can be a situation with an unhappy customer, but also one in which you struggled with a colleague. Perhaps you had a conflict, or didn’t get along well in general, or they were laid back and did nothing while you had to take care of everything. Or you can talk about a time when you faced an extremely heavy workload, and felt completely overwhelmed.

One way or another, the key is to show proactive approach to difficult situation. You didn’t hide somewhere in the back office. You didn’t wait for the other person to take the first step, or for the manager to step in and solve the issue. Considering all possibilities, you did what you could to solve the difficult situation.

The final outcome of the situation isn’t important for the hiring managers at Panera. They care mostly about your attitude. As long as they see that you have proactive approach to work, aren’t afraid of challenges, can admit making a mistake, and try your best to handle everything at work, they will hire you for this job…


Other questions you may face in your job interview with Panera Bread

  • What is your availability? Can you work on weekends?
  • Do you know anyone else who works for Panera? What did they tell you about the job?
  • What’s your favorite item on our menu?
  • Why do you consider yourself a good fit for the job?
  • Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond for someone.
  • If you should choose just two or three tasks you will be responsible for here in Panera, what will you choose?
  • After everything we’ve discussed here, do you have any questions?


Final thoughts, next steps

It is always better working for a company which promotes healthy eating and diet, than for a company which effectively and consciously contributes to the epidemic of obesity in the US, and other health issue Americans face. Before it can happen, however, you should prepare diligently for this interview.

Google for the entire menu Panera offers to their customers. Check the items, make notes, pick your favorites. Visit the place in advance, observe the dress code, and how employees treat you as a customer. All of this will help you to know how to act and how to answer certain situational questions in your interview.

Last but not least, go over the questions once again, read my hints, and try to think for a minute about your answer to each question. You can even practice your interview answers with a friend, if you have someone to help you out. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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