On the way to your next job there is no escaping the inevitable chefs job interviews. We hope you’ll find the following chef job interview tips good preparation. We intend this guide to be as complete a reference for Chefs preparing for an interview as you can find. Depending on your situation, you might want to read it from beginning to end, or instead you might prefer to quickly scan the headings to find only the information you need. Whatever your situation, all the best with your interview, we hope the following helps.
- Interview Tips For Phone And Virtual Interviews
- Down to business
- Pre Interview
- Impress With Your Likeability & Credibility
- Interview Preparation
- Your Network
- At Your Interview
- Question Time – Be “On Your Game”
- Have Them Imagine You Working In Their Kitchen
- Finally, All The Best At Your Interview
Interview Tips For Phone And Virtual Interviews
Before we get down to business with this comprehensive guide to crushing your next chef job interview we’ve these other interview resources for your consideration:
- When your interview has to be by phone here’s what you’ll need to know about chef jobs interview tips for the phone.
- When your interview is virtual we’ve some tips you might not have thought about.
Down to business
Okay, let’s get down to business. Your journey into the realm of Chef Jobs Interview Tips begins now. The first thing to know about chef job interviews is that they tend to be less formal than interviews in the corporate world. Note our use of the word “tend,” we use it because each employer has their own interview process unique to them. Therefore, you can’t expect to find many useful resources on the web covering each of these interview scenarios. We aim to give the tools to cover most eventualities. Bonus tip: Get Inside the Chef Performance Interview.
Getting an interview requires you to first apply for the job. In which case if you need help developing your CV, check out our:
- Chef CV Tips Page to get the basics down pat
- Chef CV Anatomy Page which helps you with the structure of a CV
- Chef CV Download Page, whose contents speak for themselves.
A Comprehensive Guide to Chef Job Interview Preparation
With this overview of chef job interviews we’ll be as comprehensive as we can but we won’t be able to cover every situation. So take the following advice as a reasonably comprehensive but, by its nature, generalised overview based on our years of experience, briefing and debriefing chefs, before and after we’ve introduced them to our clients.
Chef Job Interviews Are Often Less Structured
With those caveats out of the way take it as a general rule that bigger organisations, i.e. hotel groups with substantial human resource departments, are more likely to follow formal and/or specialised interview processes than stand alone outfits.
While chef job interviews are typically less formal, that doesn’t mean you should be. You should approach your interview with confidence while making sure you are, well prepared, structured and serious in your approach.
Impress With Your Likeability & Credibility
Generally, by the end of your interview, you’ll want the person (or persons) who interviewed you to like you and be comfortable with the idea of you working in their kitchen. In an interview, that’s your basic aim.
Do not worry about your competition, focus instead on being liked and gaining respect. Establishing that you are both credible and likeable comes before everything else. If you’re interviewing for a job, make sure you’re serious about it right from the start. If the quoted salary price is completely unacceptable to you, then do not proceed to the interview. This sounds obvious, but in our experience it isn’t.
Set Aside Your Concerns About Money For Now
Sometimes hospitality recruitment agents themselves can create unrealistic expectations, even if they do so unwittingly or with good intentions. One such example is when they report to candidates that an employer has mentioned that they can expect an early salary review. The offer really has to be what the candidate can expect to receive from the start. Salary reviews may or may not happen, they may, or may not result in a salary increase. In any event interviews precede offers so while you should know your price you shouldn’t get bogged down in negotiations prematurely.
It’s About “Place and Position”
The two questions most prominent in the minds of employers at interview are as follows:
- Is this person about to cope with the responsibility associated with the seniority of the role
- Is this person capable of producing the standard of food we produce.
Okay, let’s attempt to clarify that with an example:
Your experience as a chef, and your skills whether presumed or real, are what will get you an interview. That’s a given, right? Now to the heart of the matter, context is more important than your current rank within your current kitchen.
In other words, to get offered that Sous Chef position you want it’s not enough that you’re already a Sous Chef. It’s not even enough that you’re a competent Sous Chef. Where you’ve been a Sous Chef will matter more, a lot more.
Let’s drill down a bit more, shall we? Let’s suppose that you’ve worked as a Chef De Partie for several years in Michelin Star kitchens. That makes you a viable candidate for a job as a Sous Chef in a Michelin Star kitchen even if you have never worked as a Sous Chef before now. You have relevant experience it’s just a case that you haven’t yet snagged that promotion to Sous Chef level. On the other hand while you may have several years experience as a Sous Chef if that experience has been in kitchens that aren’t Michelin Star-rated, then applying for this type of job is probably going to be a waste of your time.
The truth is it’s unlikely that your skills will match what the job requires and the culture of this type of kitchen is alien to you. In this case, kitchen culture is more important than rank. A strong CDP with Michelin experience is almost always more likely to get the offer of a Sous Chef role with such an employer than a Sous Chef who doesn’t.
Pay attention, this bit is very important: In order to prepare for a job interview, you can’t gain too much insight into the people and the company you’ll be applying to. If you’re working with a recruitment agency, make sure that you ask a lot of relevant questions about their client.
Today, almost all hospitality businesses have a website. Make sure you mine it for information. Browse any menus you can find, look at the gallery (if any) and check the opening hours. When this information is publicly available, it is negligent to overlook it or ignore it. Do not be negligent.
It’s often helpful to talk to people in the industry, especially suppliers, who can often give you valuable insight into a company. They will know a surprising amount about what it’s like to work there. Additionally, they can provide you with information on the key figures in the company. Now is the time to start thinking of the people who can help you.
Having this information is vital for later on at the interview. If you keep reading, and you should, we’ll tell you how to put the information you’ve acquired to good use when it counts. Hint: Employers are most interested in one thing, their business. Once they believe you share this interest with them they’ll be willing you to do well. You want this to happen.
On the other hand if you refuse to take an interest in your prospective employer’s business don’t be surprised when they don’t take an interest in you. If you can’t get yourself motivated to do this work then you should seriously reevaluate whether this job is for you. Perhaps your subconscious is telling you that you don’t really want this job, check for such incongruities.
Get to Know Your Own Curriculum Vitae Well
You’ll probably be asked about your previous roles. It’s important that you don’t fumble or seem uncertain. You will be asked about the restaurants where you have previously worked. Know where you’ve worked, and when. An inability to talk about your career fluently sends negative signals to any interviewer. Knowing your own CV by heart is table stakes. Don’t come up short, after all if you can’t show interest in your own career why would anyone else?
Location, Location, Location
If you don’t already know the location of the interview, do your research early. Plan your trip regardless of whether you plan to take public or private transportation. Decide what to bring with you.
There’s a very reasonable chance that you’ll be asked for references at interview, so make sure that you have them with you and have spare copies to leave with your prospective employer.
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.” When it comes to interviews here’s another one, “nobody ever lost out on a job offer because they wore a suit to the interview.” Despite there being a school of thought that suits are anachronistic, take it from us, we’ve never heard of a client taking marks away because of a suit. However, we have heard them dismiss candidates 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.CATHERINE MURTAGH
At Your Interview
While we say, “at the interview” know that there could be more than one interview. We’re focussing here on the initial interview. Often in the hospitality business, the initial interview is when a hiring decision gets made, that why we’re focusing this resource on getting the first impressions right. The following will arise in one variation or another, although not necessarily in this order. Know what you’re going to say in advance but be prepared to improvise as the situation requires.
When you arrive at your destination, if you conducted your research well, you’ll feel confident. 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 minutes to spare.
If they have a daily menu on display check it out, it might be useful to reference it later. Product knowledge never hurts.
If You’re Offered Hospitality At Your Interview, ACCEPT
Don’t hesitate to accept any hospitality, coffee, tea, etc. that the client might offer you. Shared rituals are good, and this gives them permission to join you. An obvious exception would be a glass of whiskey, which can wait. Make sure you incline your chair slightly if it’s an across-the-desk interview. Making eye contact is a positive indicator, but being forced to “eyeball” each other isn’t.
Question Time – Be “On Your Game”
It’s their interview, at least insofar as they’re concerned, so they get to ask the bulk of the questions. If they’re doing a lot of interviewing, then they probably work from a list of questions and improvise as necessary. Listen carefully and don’t answer too early. Some of these will be basic questions and some more complex. There’s always the possibility of getting it wrong and providing the wrong answer, which is counterproductive. Direct questions should be answered as precisely as possible.
You can never fully anticipate every question you’ll encounter, but there’s a good chance at least some of the following question will come up at some point. Plan how you will answer them ahead of time. We list a few here, it’s far from an exhaustive list; some of these are common chef interview questions, some not so much, but check them out nonetheless.
Common Interview Questions Specific to Food & Cooking
- Do you have a favorite cuisine? Can you produce a variety of cuisines?
- If you had to reduce salt and fat in a dish, what would you do to maintain its flavor?
- Do you have a favorite chef? What are the reasons?
- What would you change about your current menu?
- When did you last miss your target food cost target?
- What is the largest number of kitchen staff you’ve overseen?
- How do you react when a customer returns their food?
- Tell me about a time your own quality of food fell short of your standards.
- The job market for chefs in restaurants is extremely competitive. What are your strategies for attracting and retaining skilled chefs?
- What caused this food cost target miss?
- Do you hold any culinary arts degrees, certificates or qualifications?
- What measures have you taken to comply with food allergy legislation?
- Is there a particular cuisine you enjoy cooking the most?
- How do you find a balance between expressing your menu creativity and hitting food cost goals?
- What measures to you take to maintain your relationship with suppliers?
- Do you have a process for controlling productivity costs, please describe it?
- When did you first register you had a passion for food?
- Describe a time you had to cook under extreme pressure?
- Tell me how you apply technology to your current kitchen.
- How would you describe your kitchen management style?
- How do you maintain the cold chain when you receive food deliveries?
- I’d like to know how you pair wine with food.
- How long is it since you updated your current menu?
- How high would you rate your knowledge of food safety and why?
- In your opinion, which aspect of prime cost, food or labor, is easier to control?
- What kitchen staff costs target applied in your current kitchen?
- What systems do you follow to ensure food safety standards are upheld?
- What trends are you noticing when it comes to wine and food pairings?
- Could you give me an example of a springtime menu you would prepare for my business?
- What do you do to ensure the quality of your ingredients?.
- How do you stay abreast of new food trends?
- Which industry trend has fascinated you the most in the last year?
- How involved are you with menu development and overall design?
General Interview Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you apply for this role?
- What do you know about our company?
- In your opinion, what makes you the ideal candidate for this position?
- What would you say are your strengths?
- What to you like least about your current role?
- 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 describe you?
- How would your current employees describe you?
- Describe to me your most recent challenge with a difficult employee?
- What single thing would you most like to change about your current job?
- What has been the biggest career disappointment?
- Can you read a P&L report?
- 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?
Do not stop there, think back to the interviews you’ve been in before and come up with your own sample interview questions and answers. Rehearse these and future pace yourself.
Be Ready for A Little More Conversation
After you’ve answered the preliminary questions, find an opportunity to explain what you would do if you were working for them. There is no substitute for good research, so if you’ve done yours, you’ll be armed with the information you need to talk expansively, and persuasively, about the impact you’d like to have in their kitchen.
Will You Be Their Saviour, or Their Protector?
If the business is doing well, your job is to present yourself as the chef capable of protecting this success. You must convince them by persuading them of your ability and showing them how you can be a part of their success story.
If the business is not in such good shape, and this is especially so if the chef role is a senior one, you’ll have to mismatch slightly. By mismatch we mean show that you’re different, in a positive and beneficial way, to the person your interviewer thinks is responsible for the fall in standards.
By this point you should have enough information to put forward some of your own ideas about how to improve things. Chances are that the interviewer will have dropped a few useful clues by this stage. Don’t miss an opportunity to utilise at least a couple of these clues to tell them how you’d improve things.
Have Them Imagine You Working In Their Kitchen
Eventually, the interview will become less structured and more relaxed but you must be careful not to become too relaxed. Be especially careful when talking about former employers and colleagues. Avoid dismissing or devaluing them.
Your purpose now must be to discuss your work in more detail and highlight aspects of your culinary skills and professional qualities that the interviewer is likely to find most useful. Be expansive and be positive. If you’ve done your research thoroughly, this should come easily to you.
The most telling sign that your interview is going well is when the interviewer launches into a discussion about themselves and their business. Whenever this occurs, listen carefully and do everything you can to encourage them to continue talking.
Get Them Talking About YOU In THEIR Business
Once they’re comfortable with you, encourage them to open up further. You’ll know you’re in pole position 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. If you do a good job of this, you’ll make it very easy for the interviewer to take the next step, which is to imagine you working for them. The next step is where you want them, thinking about how much they’ll have to spend to get you in their kitchen.
Money, Money, Money
Our advice is not to raise the subject of money, and/or conditions, during a first interview, but be ready in case they bring it up. When you go for an interview, you should know your bottom line, which shouldn’t differ markedly from the job quote.
The “offer” is whatever salary was quoted to begin with, everything else is frosting on the cake and should be treated as such.David Hall
Still, you’ll probably know by now if there is room for improvement. You can set down a bit of a marker, in terms of your expectations, if you’ve established that there is some “wiggle room”, but only once you have convinced them of your value to their business. 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.
Closing Out Your Interview
Before you go, make sure you agree on what happens next. Do they call you, do they call your agent, should you call them? Find out.
If you’re working with an agent, make sure you call them and tell them how things went. The client may have spoken to them in the meantime so you could get benefit of some early feedback.
Finally, All The Best At Your Interview
As culinary recruiters we’ve interview experience gained on both sides of the desk. We enjoy a unique multiple perspective, because after all interviews we conduct client and chef debriefs. That’s why we know what goes over well and what doesn’t. We hope that’s enough to convince you to give this resource a second read, closer to the day of your interview. Until then, all the best with your interview.
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.