05/21/2014 04:57 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar

My friend Dan and I were discussing the current job market. Like many large corporations which have resumed hiring, Dan's company has a slew of openings. I asked what he was looking for in the ideal candidate.

"I just want someone who's creative, can quickly make decisions, knows how to solve problems, works well with others and has excellent time management skills," he said.

"And you think you can find that person just by looking at resumes?" I replied skeptically. "People do lie on their job applications."

"I realize that. But they can't lie at the salad bar."

"And what exactly does salad have to do with employment? Are you limiting your search to vegans?" I asked.

"Not necessarily. But I can spot all those qualities I rattled off just by inviting candidates to lunch at a salad bar," he said. "And the best part is, they have no idea. They think they're having a meal when, in reality, the way they operate the crouton tongs could be the difference between a career at a major financial planning firm --with health benefits--and a part time job at Ramblin' Ray's Burger Emporium.

"That's weird," I said.

"Try it," he said. "The next time you're in line, watch the people in front of you and imagine working with them."

At precisely noon the next day I found myself at my local grocery store's salad bar. I took my place behind an early 20s male, someone I could easily envision pounding the pavement with his resume. Plastic container in tow, he approached the leafy green selections, consisting of iceberg lettuce, spring mix and spinach. He piled all three into the box.

"Hmmm. Shows creativity," I thought.

The vegetables were next. I watched as he dipped the tongs into the cherry tomatoes and removed one, then two, then three, before hesitating and putting one back.

"They're tomatoes, not hand grenades," I mumbled silently, while checking my watch. "Take a few and move. I don't have all day."

Without hesitation, he jammed the tongs deep into the red onions, pulling out a heap and smothering the lettuce.

"A real individualist. Doesn't care what others think of him," I mentally noted, knowing that his pungent onion breath would force co-workers into hiding.

The garbanzo beans, beets and green peppers received not a flicker of interest.

"Can be aloof and alienating," I thought. "Unwilling to try new ideas."

While adding cottage cheese to his plate, he suddenly whipped out his iPhone and answered a text. The line came to a halt. I huffed loudly. He noticed.

"Sorry," he said. "Want to go ahead of me?"

"No, take your time," I replied, torn between his sense of compassion and lousy multitasking skills.

We were nearing the end. He approached the dressings and toppings where I watched him heap three large ladles of Thousand Island onto his concoction, along with a spoonful each of sesame seeds and Craisins. In spite of the excessive weight, he seemed unfazed by the large number that appeared on the scale.

"Wasteful," I muttered. Could this man be trusted to make sound financial decisions?

"That will be $9.85," the cashier said.

He plopped his Visa on the counter.

"Sorry," the cashier replied. We don't accept credit cards for orders under $10."

"I don't have any cash on me," he said.

"There's an ATM over there," she gestured. "I'll wait since I already rung it up. Better hurry."

"Rude, unprepared, not able to anticipate the unexpected," I said soft but not too soft.

"Are you talking about me?" he asked.

"No," I lied and watched him trudge to the ATM. Truth be told, I felt sorry for him. Will this kid ever find a job? Only if he stays away from salad bars.

Or stumbles across a classified as follows:

"Wanted: One paranoid, anal-retentive individual, unable to anticipate the unexpected, with limited numerical skills and prone to lapses in concentration.

Bad breath a plus."

Copyright 2014 Greg Schwem distributed by Tribune Content Services, Inc.