So you got the call! You've been asked to participate in an actual interview. If you're in the running for a Sous or Executive Chef position, you might have been asked to demonstrate your technical abilities in a cooking interview. I'm going to lend some advice for each of these scenarios and break it up for cooks and chefs, as there are some different strategies for each.
Interviewing for a Cook Position
Now is the time to shine. Every decision you make from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you arrive at your interview can have an impact on the end result. First and foremost, put some thought into how you present yourself, visually. Dress professionally and not like you would as if you were hanging out with friends on a Saturday afternoon. Your appearance will speak to your maturity level and tell the interviewer how serious you are about the opportunity. Show up a little early or on time. If something outside of your control is causing you to be late, call your interviewer and let them know. When my clock hits 10 minutes past the interview time, there's no going back. The process has ended before it's even started and I'm probably generous with that window compared to some other Chefs I know. Things to bring to the interview, at the very least, should include a pen and one or two copies of your resume. Everyone is nervous when interviewing but try to be yourself. Answer questions confidently, but don't be afraid to admit to your weaknesses. Convincing the interviewer of things that are not true, will not help you in the long run. Remember, this is potentially the beginning of a relationship and not all relationships were meant to be. When the interviewer is speaking, listen. Try not to finish their sentences in an attempt to show them that you know what they're saying. When answering questions, be concise and get to the point. Only answer the question. It is possible to say too much in an interview so don't let yourself be judged on words that were not requested. At some point, you will be asked if you have any questions. Make sure you have some questions. Interviews should not be one sided. You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. When an applicant doesn't have any questions it sends the message that they just need a job and are willing to accept any circumstances in order to get on the payroll. This is your opportunity to make sure that this job is the right fit for your needs. As an employer, I don't want anyone to join the team if they don't feel excited about how they can benefit from it. This might be a bit controversial, but I have no problem with an applicant asking about the pay rate in the first interview and I always put all my cards on the table with my response. Why waste anyone's time if the total package won't seal the deal anyway? Finally, after you've left the interview, it's always a nice touch to follow up with an email to the interviewer to thank them for their time and consideration.
Interviewing for a Chef Position
Everything in the cook section applies to this one, but there are likely going to be some more steps in the process for Sous or Executive Chef interviews depending on the size of the operation. Make sure you know your audience and are in tune with what they want to hear. You may interview with a CFO. In that case, be sure to display your knowledge of cost control and spreadsheets. If it's an event sales manager, chances are they want to get a sense that you will work well with the sales team and are flexible with menus and client interaction. Each individual that interviews you has their own agenda and is likely trying to confirm that you will contribute to the success of their department as much as your own. Just as I suggested for cooks, make sure you ask the questions that will let you know your ability to do your job if given the opportunity. If you need to build a team, ask if any current team members are "protected." Many operations have long tenured staff that have developed such a good rapport with the guests or management that they could get away with murder without jeopardizing their job. The answer to this question will let you know how much control you will have in building your ideal team. There was a time when I interviewed at 16 different properties over the course of two years. I didn't necessarily want all of the positions I was interviewing for, but you can't deny the power of practice and that's exactly what I was doing. By the time I found some opportunities that I really wanted, I felt pretty confident in my interviewing abilities and I was ready for just about any question that came my way. The biggest thing I learned while going through that process, was that most places that are looking for an Executive Chef are pretty motivated to get someone in there as quickly as possible. The danger in this urgency is that they tend to say whatever they think will excite the candidate. I heard things like "we're looking to take the food and menus to another level." That sounds great to any Chef until you realize that what it really meant was "we really need a new Caesar Dressing recipe." Get as much clarification as possible on what the expectations will be, and also what the boundaries will be. Lastly, if you're interviewing for a Sous or Executive Chef position and are not asked to participate in a cooking interview, you may want to think twice about continuing on. Anyplace that is clear on their vision and is interested in a certain level of quality is going to want to see you cook and taste your food.
The Cooking Interview
Being asked to cook is usually the final phase of the interview process so if you make it there, you're pretty close. Hopefully, you're not presented with a mystery basket of ingredients to cook for this exercise and I will explain the problem that I have with that in another post. Be aware of the fact that when you cook for an interview, it is assumed that this is your best. Sometimes, you will be assigned a member of the staff to assist you in preparing your menu. Be sure to treat this person the way that you would treat your own staff, because odds are, you're being evaluated on your interaction with them and they'll probably be asked by other managers what they thought of working with you. Before you arrive to the interview, you will likely have to submit a food requisition and your menu. Make sure these documents are professional. Don't just send in a random list of ingredients in no particular order. Separate them out into sections like produce, meats, seafood, dry goods, etc. and make sure you put the amounts of each item needed. This shows that you're proficient in building a food order and are in tune with quantities needed to limit waste. The menu should be formatted like a professional menu that you would get in any restaurant and not just in the body of an email response. Any supporting documents like typed time lines and prep lists will only help send the message that you are organized and prepared. Lastly, make sure you've done some research on the operation and its menus before writing your own. Your style may be a bit different and you want to be true to your own philosophies, but try not to be so far removed from what is already happening that you come off as the opposite extreme.
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