A great palate is a fine place to start. If you still have a job as a barista, I'd say keep it for another few months and really start to develop your espresso as well as cupping palate/vocabulary. As a roaster, I can say that nothing is more valuable as having a well defined palate, while being especially in tune with roasting defects and roast to roast consistency. Then start applying for jobs I suppose. Looking forward to hear what other roasters have to say, but that's my 2 cents in what I seek out.
Begin by roasting at home
Are you interviewing to hire someone to roast for you? Or are you looking to gain actual roasting experience?
If it's the latter, seek out a roaster that's inline with your ideals and beg for a job there. Start at the bottom for little or no pay and work your way up. Work long hours, stay after hours and learn as much as you can.
I highly recommend getting into home roasting if you've never roasted before, at least while you are looking for jobs. Places like Sweet Marias sell green coffee online, and you can probably find a few local roasters willing to sell off their green stock (giving you a good chance to build relationships too). There are a ton of resources online with a little digging.
I'll echo the suggestion to start roasting at home. It's fun, you'll learn something, and it will demonstrate a genuine interest and initiative to potential future employers.
Anyone can say "I'm interested in learning how to roast coffee", but making the effort to do it in your free time really backs that statement up. The bar to entry into home roasting is so low these days that I'd have a hard time believing that you were actually interested if you told me you weren't doing it already.
Something else - seems like most of the work associated with a roastery is work: moving greens around, bagging up coffee, filling orders, sweeping floors. Demonstrate a willingness to work hard and do whatever needs to be done - basic good employee stuff.
Hello Elizabeth, your post called my attention since I'm a very picky person when it comes to hiring people to roast in my factory. I believe the main criteria for me is that whomever is coming is not in the position in coming to teach me. Every Master Roaster places his/her own personality into their coffee and most of the good ones I know come from a line of artisanal and apprenticeship traditions where whatever coffee knowledge you possess might be contradicted or place on hold for future use until you learn the ways of those who hired you. You won't be an empowered roaster with freedom of criteria for some time so the best thing is a willingness to learn, to be lead into learning, lack of fear of fire and as someone said up here: a good pallet. Any one that wants to be taken seriously in coffee should know how to cup well.
This must be an echo cave, as I feel the need to agree out loud with most of what's been said. The most important thing (after gaining cupping skills and maybe giving home-roasting a shot) is to get to know the particular company's personality, philosophy and mission. And, yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Josue, that you'll definitely have to sublimate any desire to "innovate," "experiment," or "teach" until you've mastered the company's current approach.
As a production roaster myself, I'll tell you that the majority of the work is lifting, moving and weighing things. I benefit from a long attention span as well. I can't get most people to "sit through" a roast for its entirety, much less a day of batches - one after the other. If you're one who loves the pace of working bar, the quick customer interactions and the constant flow of new stimuli, consider what impact the stretches of time may have on you. It can be very boring for someone with a shorter attention span.
After all the warning, though, I must commend your passion for coffee, wanting to continue your career trajectory and being smart enough to ask for help. Keep it up!