Inevitably you’ll face chefs jobs interviews on the path to your next job. So, because you know you’ll be having an interview why not take some steps to increase your chances of success? The first thing to mention is that interviews for chef jobs tend to be less formal than is typical in the corporate world, so a lot of the interview resources you’re likely to find on the web are going to be of limited use to you.
That said the bigger the organisation you’re interviewing for, the closer the interview is likely to resemble such situations so don’t dismiss such resources entirely. Bonus tip: Get Inside the Chef Performance Interview.
However even though chef job interviews tend towards less formality that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be structured and serious in your approach. Quite the opposite is the case, in fact the very casualness with which all parties often approach the interview presents an opportunity to be taken advantage of by the well prepared chef.
First Get The Interview
To get the interview you’ll have had to apply for the job and if you want some guidance or help in that regard then please check out our Chef CV Tips Page, our Chefs CV Anatomy Page which deconstructs the different sections of a CV and finally our Chef CV Download Page the contents of which are self explanatory.
Chef Job Interviews, Kitchen Culture and Skills Fit
Broadly speaking by the end of your interview you’ll want the person(s) who’ve interviewed you to like you and be comfortable with the idea of you working in their kitchen. That’s your baseline goal in an interview.
Don’t concern yourself with the competition, concern yourself only with being liked and gaining respect. Be sure that if you’re interviewing for a job that you have a serious interest in it from the get go. If the quoted salary price is unacceptable to you then don’t proceed to interview. This sounds obvious, but in our experience it isn’t.
Occasionally catering recruitment agents can themselves be guilty of fostering unreasonable expectations even if they do so unwittingly i.e. they might mention to a candidate that the employer raised the possibility of an early salary review or bonus scheme. In our case we certainly wouldn’t mention either if we weren’t told it by the employer but still, neither of these should be considered the offer.
The “offer” is whatever salary salary was quoted to begin with, everything else is frosting on the cake and should be treated as such.
Applying For Promotion
It’s your chef skills, presumed or real, which get you the interview. Make sure yours are real and are well matched to the job. That doesn’t always mean a like for like match i.e. that in order to apply for a Sous Chef positon that you must have previously worked as a Sous Chef (if that is an explicit job requirement it should be stated). No, if you’ve enough of the right type of experience under your belt it’s fine to “apply for promotion.”
By “apply for promotion” we mean that if you’ve worked for several years as, say, a Chef De Partie in kitchens holding Michelin Stars you could be an ideal candidate for a Sous Chef job in a Michelin Star kitchen. The corollary to this is that even if you’ve several years experience working as a Sous Chef in non Michelin Star kitchens you’re probably wasting your time, and everyone else’s, in applying for this type of job. Your skills likely won’t be what’s needed and the culture in such kitchens is likely to be alien to you. In this sense culture trumps rank.
You really can’t know too much about the business you’re applying to and the people behind it. If you’re dealing with a recruitment agent then pick their brains as much as you can.
Almost every business has a website these days, be sure to strip mine it for information. Pour over the menus, browse the galleries (if they have any) and check opening hours, when this information is publicly available it’s negligent to overlook it or under utilize it.
Other people in the industry, especially suppliers, can often give you valuable intelligence as to what a place is like and they often know a surprising amount as to what it’s supposed to be like to work there. Most importantly they can help you get to know the key players in the business.
Research, Research Research
Research the location if you don’t already know it. Plot your trip irrespective of whether you’re planning to use public or private transport to get there. Decide what to bring.
On your CV you may have inserted the clause “references upon request,” at interview there’s a very reasonable possibility these will be requested, so make sure you have them with you and to have copies to leave with the client.
Dress for Success
There’s an old saying in the Tech Sector and, while it’s slightly dated now, it still holds true, “nobody ever got fired for going with IBM;” and when it comes to interviews there’s another one, “nobody ever lost the job because they wore a suit to the interview.”
While there’s a school of thought that wearing a suit is bit of an anachronism, take it from us, we’ve never heard any client take marks away because of one. We have though heard them dismiss candidate chefs for being too casual. It can come across as cocky, or indicating a lack of respect or seriousness, don’t risk either, wear a suit.
You should be fresh but don’t overdo it on fragrances, less is more.
At the Interview
While we say, “at the interview” there could be more than one. We’re focussing here on the initial interview and sometimes, in the catering business, the initial interview is when a hiring decision is made, so it’s worthwhile foregrounding it.
If you’ve done your research well you’ll be feeling confident by the time you arrive and if you’re serious about making progress you’ll have arrived in the neighborhood early, taken a coffee break, and ambled to the premises with at least a couple of minutes to spare.
If they have a daily menu on display check it out, it might be useful to reference it later. We’ve experience of being on both sides of the desk at interviews but as recruiters it’s very seldom that we’re present at the event itself. We do though get a unique multiple perspective from having conducted numerous client and chef debriefs. We’ve a pretty good idea of what goes over well and what doesn’t.
Interview Hospitality – Always Accept!
If the client offers any hospitality, coffee tea etc be sure to accept it because it gives them permission to join you, shared rituals are good. An obvious exception would be a glass of Whiskey, that can wait. If it’s an across a desk interview be sure to angle your chair slightly, because while good eye contact is a positive indicator finding yourself being forced to “eyeball” each other isn’t.
It’s their interview, at least as far as they’re concerned, so they get to ask most of the questions, be sure to listen and don’t try to preempt by answering early. This can be experienced as grating and you always run the risk of being wrong and end up providing the wrong answer. Answer direct questions as precisely as possible. We provide a list of a few at the bottom of this page, some are common, other less so but do check them out anyway and get prepared.
Get Ready for Some Conversation
When the preliminary questions are done with you’ll need to look for an opportunity to begin talking about what you’d do if you were working for them. Again there’s no substitute for good research and if you’ve done yours you’ll have your ammunition at the ready.
If the business is in good shape you’ll be trying to “match,” in other words demonstrate how you can be a part of its continued success. If it in not such good shape, and this is especially the case if the role is a senior one, you’ll have to mismatch slightly. By mismatch we mean demonstrate that you’re different, in a positive and beneficial way, to whomever your interviewer thinks is responsible for the shortfall in standards or performance. You’ll need to have your own ideas about how to improve things but chances are that the interviewer will have dropped a few useful clues by this stage already. Don’t miss an opportunity to utilise at least a couple of these clues.
Get them thinking about you working for them
At a certain stage it’s likely that the interview will become less structured and more relaxed, but be careful, especially when talking about former employers and colleagues. This phase of the interview should be an opportunity for you to become more expansive about your work and especially the aspects of your culinary skills and professional attributes likely to be of most value to the interviewer.
If you’ve done your research thoroughly this should come quite naturally to you. If there is one hugely positive indicator as to how an interview is going it’s that, at a certain point, the interviewer starts talking and starts talking a lot about themselves and the business. When this happens it’s time to listen carefully and do everything you can to encourage them to keep talking.
If you’re handling the situation well you’ll be using their narrative to get them to open up further, you’ll know you’re putting in a stellar interview performance once they start talking about you in their business. There’s no way to force this, but you can influence it, and you should influence it, do a good job of this and you’re making it very easy for the interviewer to imagine you working for them.
If it’s a first interview then our advice is not to raise the issue of money, but be prepared in case they do. You should know your bottom line before going to interview and that bottom line really shouldn’t be higher than the quoted price on the job.
That said you’ll probably have a good idea by this stage as to whether there’s any room for improvement. If there is, then you can set down a bit of a marker but only if you’ve done a great job of establishing your value to them. If you haven’t, then the best you can hope for is getting a second bite of the cherry, at a second interview, or at the offer stage, whichever comes first.
Before you go
Before the interview winds down completely be sure to get agreement on what happens next. Do they call you, do they call your agent, should you call them? Find out.
If you’re dealing with an agent be sure to give them a call and share your own impressions of how things went. The client may have been on to them in the meantime and you could get bonus of some early feedback.
There really is no way of knowing all the questions you’re going to have to field but there’s a fair chance at least a couple of the following will arise in one variation or another. Know what you’re going to say in advance.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you apply for this job?
- What do you know about our company?
- What would you say are your strengths?
- What would you say are your weaknesses?
- What do you see yourself doing in five years time?
- What do you enjoy most in your current (or most recent) job?
- What do you enjoy least in your current (or most recent) job?
- What is your greatest career achievement?
- Why do you want to leave your current/previous job?
- How would your colleagues say about you?
- What single thing would you most like to change about your current job?
- What has been the biggest career disappointment?
- Do you prefer to work alone or with colleagues?
- What other job have you applied for recently?
- What is your reaction to criticism?
- How does this chef job sound to you?
- What is your current boss like?
- Why should we give the job to you?
- In what environment do you work best?
- What are your your hobbies?
- When was the last time you cried?
- Do you have any questions that you would like us to answer?
To learn more about TOPCHEFS and to obtain full and up-todate information on the wide choice of jobs we have on offer call us on (01) 633 4053. In the business of managing your career, it’s the only number you’ll ever need.