Presented by Chefs' Professional Agency
Either you have sent out resumes or been contacted by someone who knows about you, and you are now facing an interview. You may be one of the fortunate people who relish interviews and always leave them with the feeling that new contacts have been made and a new position is yours if you desire it. You don't need to read this.
If, however, you are unsure about interviews or uncomfortable meeting prospective employers, or if you are still developing your career, you will probably find the following helpful.
The Principles of the Interview
An interview is a meeting of professionals to discuss the possibility of working together. Two groups of people, each with a commodity to exchange, share and explore what the other has to offer.An interview is not:
- A test or an exam.
- A therapy session.
- A fashion show.
- A popularity contest.
- A social event, coffee hour, gossip session.
That sounds fairly simple, but it is amazing how many people "just don't get it" and miss an opportunity or spoil not only an immediate job opportunity but a future contact, as well by misunderstanding the occasion.
The most common misperception is that interviewing is a one sided process, when it is really a discussion of both sides of the employment equation. As the employer will want to know what the candidate brings to him, the candidate should be discovering clearly what the employer offers in exchange
Interviews are not meant to be fun, but they should be interesting and are usually pleasant. You and the interviewer are weighing commodities each of you brings to the table. If both sides feel respective needs and are compatible, you will probably agree to work together. The result of a perfectly successful interview is a balanced equation:
Your knowledge, time, labor, qualifications, needs = Their compensation, needs, work environment, challenge
An Interview is not a Test
You need to find out about prospective employers as much as they need to find out about you. Even if it is a well known firm, you need to know if you are compatible with them. This means identifying your needs and asking questions about their environment, terms of employment, and working philosophy as well as the financial details. In most succesful negotiations, in fact, the financial question is settled last.
Put together a list of your questions: Know what you find important about a job. This requires some thought beyond the usual pay and benefits questions, although those certainly count. Some issues might be:
- your responsibilities: "What will be expected of me?"
- training or support: You want to expand your management skills. Can and
- will they offer seminars, corporate or individual support?
- growth potential: Do they promote from within?
- chain of command: To whom would I answer?
- working environment: seriously perfectionist? rock and roll? casual?
- standards of behavior - is there an employee manual
Know your own needs and limitations. Your interview goal is not only to sell yourself to the interviewer, but to determine the suitability of the position being offered. If you need special hours, for instance, it is futile to continue an interview which demands absolute flexibility. If you have doubts about your supervisory skills or knowledge of a process required, be clear about this before the interview. Accepting a position for which you are ill prepared is a very unwise career strategy.
Absolutel Rules of Interview Etiquette:
You have been offered an interview. You have time to give the interview some thorough consideration before you go. There are some rules for the interview which you need to know and follow: Set the interview at a time you are sure you can keep. If you are not sure about the time, accept it on a conditional basis and arrange to get back at a specified time to confirm.
- Never miss an interview. Write it down on yor agenda and keep a note on your refrigerator in bathroom mirror to remind you. If you have children, arrange for another adult to step in if there is an emergency.
- Arrive and leave promptly. If you have bridges t cross, leave at least half an hour early. Be near the location on time. Enter with about five to fifteen minutes leeway. If the interviewer wants to keep you, then oblige, be alert to signals that the interview is over.
- Dress appropriately for the position you are applying for. For some front jobs a plunging neckline or a bright orange shirt may be thoroughly correct, but in generaly you will do well to dazzle them with your personality and knowledge rather than your attire. If you are looking at an executive or management position wear a suit. This is your best foot put forward. Punk attire can be removed and, if the kitchen environment allows, reinserted. Long hair for kitchen positions should be restrained, either with clips or in a pony tail.
- Make sure you have the interviewer's name, the address and a telephone number written down before you start out.
- Be considerate. Be polite. Listen.
- Leave your troubles at home. Do not discuss your divorce or your personal problems.
- Play by the rules: Leave your gender, orientation, age, nationality and religion out of the equation, unless there is a connection with the position. The interviewer should do the same.
- Assemble all materials which might be of interest to the company interviewing you the night before. These might include written references, identity papers and visas, pictures of work, promotional material of current or previous employers, menus, any portfolio you have. Always go to the interview with a clean copy of your resume. Always take a list of references.
- Communicate. This means listening for entire questions and asking if you did not understand them. Never assume a meaning. Ask "Do you mean.." or repeat the question as you understand it, "You want to know if I...." if you are unsure. Never answer a question which is not finished.
- Stay on Topic: Don't wander or associate freely. Let the interviewer do that. This is a courtship dance, and the interviewer leads. If however, a topic is glossed over before you feel you have enough information, insert a polite question.
- Carry yourself proudly and act professionally. People do stupid things in interviews. If you are very nervous about the session, go through it with a friend first. Speak to the interviewer, make eye contact, don't slump down in the chair or fool around with your face. Some women who interview with us pose, fixing us with a come hither stare. This is not advisable.
- Relax. You are talking to a person, not a machine. That person is interested in you. If that person is tense, put her at her ease. If you sense hostility, try not to respond in kind. An interviewer may challenge you. If so, take it as a question and not as a threat. Never let the chip on your shoulder get in the way of the exchange of information.
- Ask Questions for information. Be clear on what is meant. If you are told that, for instance, a benefit plan is in the developmental stage, ask when it is expected to be concrete. If you are told that you will have creative freedom, and there is a well known chef at the helm, you might ask: "I know that you will be setting much of the menu. Will the sous chef be working with you on that, or will he be developing the specials in your absence?" If you can't think of an appropriate question, try the all serving: "Could you be a little more detailed about that?"
- Thank the person who interviews you for the time and information. Leave the interview with a clear idea of when and if you should expect a call regarding the position. Ask clear questions about their follow up precedures, explaining that you understand that they may be speaking to a number of people.
- Express your interest in the position if you feel you wish to pursue it. Show enthusiasm during the interview. If you do not, tell the interviewer that you feel it is not a good match, or arrange to call him back afther considering it. Don't assume that the interviewer picks up on your enthusiasm. Be honest. Be fair.
- Toot your horn, but not too loudly. Modesty is greatly appreciated by most people who have to interview often, but they can't read your mind. They want to know where and when you have done things, but not your opions of yourself. This means telling them that you have been working with wines and have attended seminars on the wines of the Loire, rather than that you are the best wine steward they will ever find.
- Do not gripe, demean or libel. Take care of your issues at your current position at that place. Carry a positive attitude to your interview. If you are doing all of the work which should be done by the General Manager or the Executive Chef and are not being paid for it, this should be presented as a learning opportunity, not as exploitation by ruthless slave drivers and egomaniacs. Do not go into an interview smelling of food, alcohol or smoke. If you have a meal before an interview, do not drink alcohol. If you must smoke before an interview, do it in an open space, so your clothes do not smell.
- Don't start with the money question. That comes after the determination of the job. Sometimes a job may pay less than your needs and your skills and experience may be more than the job requires. This may lead to a more interesting situation, but if you stop the interview after the first few sentences, you will not find out.
Further Interview Considerations
You have just read the hard and fast rules of successful interviews. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions which you may find helpful.
We have already set the interview as a meeting and not a test. Your are, really, meeting someone who you may find very nice. An interview gives you much more than a window to a new job. It expands your knowledge, it provides you with an introduction to a person who may hire you later or refer you to a friend, if they cannot use your talents, it may give you a reality check. This is, when you think of it, a very nifty opportunity.
You should not forget, though, that the person interviewing you is doing a job and is responsible for their own profits or those of an employer. They really do need to find out as much about you in as short a space as possible. This includes your interaction with people, your level of attention, your personality. This means that they may try a couple of interviewing tricks, or they may ask straight forward questions.
What can you expect in a modern interview? The situational question is very popular today: "What is the worst thing that ever happened to you in your restaurant?" "Have you ever had to discipline an employee?" "How did you handle it?" "What would you do if you found an employee stealing?" Most of these questions do not have right or wrong answers. They tend to give an idea of your attitude and suitability to an environment. If you are unclear on the concept, then you will do best to say so.
If you have worked for several corporations, you will have followed company policies in such matters as theft, firing. Make this clear in your answers, explaining any further opinions you may have.
You will be asked, above all, concrete questions about the nature of your position, your duties and your experience. You should not make the interviewer work too hard for their information. Do not try to fudge on questions you can't answer. If you didn't do something, say so. Interviewers do not have time to play games, and good employers will not hire anyone who does. Respecting their time and intelligence will put you in the best light.
Interviewers often look for indications of temperament as well as experience. An enthusiastic and comfortable employee or manager is a boon to any endeavor. People who show enthusiasm for their jobs and a pleasant spirit have more opportunities than those who show arrogance or who are very reserved.
This is, of course, unfortunate for those excellent professionals who are uncomfortable with strangers, but it is a fact. If you do not warm up in the first interview, you might want to send a note stating that you hope that you sufficiently expressed how much you enjoyed the occasion. Notes, for that matter, are always a good idea. You may be given a job description. Read it carefully. This is a disclaimer from the employer if you are unable to perform any of the functions required. If the job requires good communications skills and you cannot provide them, say so. If it requires lifting and you have a weak knee, you will not be permitted to arrange for someone else to do the lifting, unless this is clarified in advance. Usually it can be, if you are otherwise the best candidate.
The employer may also ask you for a signature and social security number on a release for information from previous employers. You may be asked to sign a disclaimer. These are prerequisites for consideration for that position. They must be completed.
You may also have an opportunity to pre interview on the telephone. This is used by some companies to check attitude and experience. It is absolutely essential that you remain relaxed, clear and comfortable during such an interview. Never have children or dogs near you when you do an arranged telephone interview. Have them go out with your spouse or a baby sitter at least 15 minutes before the interview begins. Children know when something is important and they want to be part of it. They usually ruin interviews. Turn off call waiting. Put all other telephones on answering machines. Put a do not disturb sign on the door or have another adult in the house to take care of any callers. When you speak to an interviewer on the phone, you should smile. It comes across in your voice.
If you expect a phone call, you should remove any silly or offensive messages from your answering machine while you are in communication with potential future employers. The growling monster which meets the human resources director of your desired employee can do a lot of harm.
Make it clear to your adolescent children that you are expecting some important calls and that they are to keep their telephone use in bounds if they do not have their own phones. Tell all of your children that you expect them to take good notes of telephone conversations and to repeat telephone numbers told to them If you are living with parents, ask them to limit their conversations to future employers to the essentials.
Interviewing Out of Town
If you seek employment in another city or are recruited for a position in another city, you will probably be flown in for an interview. If you live near, you may need to drive or take a train.
Assuming that you will be staying over night, the hiring firm will probably pay your transportation and your housing. You are, in return, not free to interview at any other venue, although some people do talk to other people in the industry in other cities.
For out of town interviews, it is a good idea to brush up a little on the city or location before going. You must clarify how the transportation is to be booked and reimbursed or prepaid. Take some money, but expect the company to have you eat at their restaurant.
You will meet several people in an out of town interview, and you will want to take a shirt or blouse more than you expect to use. Carry your luggage on the plane if possible. If not, carry the important documents you will need with you. Never let them out of your sight until you reach your hotel room. Use your free time wisely. If you only have an hour between interviews, either rest for a moment or take a short walk. Do not distance yourself from the interview site, so that you appear late or have to make a mad dash to get there on time.
If you are interviewing for a culinary position, take along clothing and knives which will permit you to spend some time in the kitchen. Any manners required for local interviews are doubly in place for out of town visits.
If you have decided to relocate to an area for rational reasons, you will probably set up interviews before coming. Make sure the companies know that you are travelling far to see them and that you have a fixed interview time. Give yourself at least an hour - two in New York or Los Angeles - between meetings, estimating the length of those meetings generously. Always take more material to out of town meetings than you think you can use. Have a person with access to your home ready to fax anything which you may need to your hotel.
If you are asked to eat with the interviewers, follow their lead. Usually it is a good idea not to drink alcohol before the evening and to try wine in moderation at dinner. You will probably be discussing business at meals. Do not assume that the practices in another city are the same as yours. Ask if you are not sure.
Working interviews can either be hands on or trailing. They usually only concern the kitchen.
Find out what is expected of you before you begin. If you are early in your career, you will probably be asked to trail. This means following the staff as they do their job. You should be ready to assist if asked, but not get in the way. If you are going for a management position for the kitchen, you may well be asked to prepare for the owners. This means you will either have to bring a prepared menu and work on it or do a Market Tasting, making something out of whatever has been put together by the company.
It will help you to know what they want. We had two candidates turned down for jobs on the same day for either not preparing (using creative skills) or for bringing pre planned essentials. Ask what the company wants you to do. "Am I to do a market tasting, or would you rather I prepare and pre-prep a menu?" This is the one place you should try to insist during the interview process, because this part will decide whether you are hired. Do bring your knives either way.
If you are asked to take over the kitchen for a couple of days in the chefs' absence, you should be paid for the work. Do not expect your usual salary, but most states prohibit "suffering" unpaid labor. You need to ask politely before showing up.
This is especially true of domestic and private chef positions. If you prepare a party or a family dinner, you are to be paid for it. Explain clearly, you will be willing to work for them on a test basis at a reduced rate for a specific period of time. Make certain that you have arranged the purchase of goods through them.
In the end, the restaurant industry is a business rather than an artistic endeavor, and money is part of the deal. Not putting salary at the beginning of an interview does not mean that it should remain unmentioned.
The first thing you should understand is what your talents are worth to the individual with whom you are speaking. If you are a crack garde manger making top salary and want to work in a non union ala carte environment, the pay will not be the same. New York General Managers make More than Denver General Managers. Your own restaurant pays you a return on your investment as well as the salary you offer yourself. Realizing that you can't hold up employers for amounts their businesses should not pay will save you and them time.
On the other hand, there is the continuous stream of employers who feel they have a "great opportunity" for someone "willing to invest" in their ideas. You should at least take these offers with a grain of salt.
There is no rule about what hospitality positions pay. The components of a position include not only the technical and personal skills of the person being hired, but the desirability of the location, the press aspirations of the owner, the current labor market.
You are, in essence, a commodity, and your compensation is subject to the same supply and demand pressure as the price of pork bellies or rental housing. If you are making $70,000 for a small restaurant in Missouri, there is a possibility that over half of that salary is because the restaurant is in Missouri and they couldn't get you there without offering top dollar. The same holds true for jobs for employers who are famous for mistreating their staff. We call it misery money. If you leave the misery, you leave the money. It will help you when you go into a salary negotiation to know the actual rate for your job in the area where you will be working.
You will probably not want to discuss compensation until you have learned the most important details about the position, and the potential employer has an idea of your talents and expertise. The standard introduction to the question of filthy lucre is usually made by the employer: He may ask, "What salary do you expect?" There are two ways of approaching this fairly difficult question well.
The first is to state your current or previous salary and qualify another salary based on that. "I am currently earning a base salary of $42,000, and I would need to target at least $50,000 to move to your area and accept a new position." "My current salary is $60,000. I am, however, working about 90 hours a week. I do not expect your organization to pay this, but I would need a base salary of at least $48,000 to work for you." "I obviously would like to make more than the $85,000 I am currently earning, but I am impressed by your corporation, and, depending on other options, I would consider a lateral move."
Most people who state an unrealistic salary, which they do in the assumption that the hiring authority is going to barter with them, blow themselves out of the picture. If you overshoot a sensible salary mark, you will not be able to return to say that you really wanted to have a counter offer.
If, however, you expect a bartering round, you can ask the employers first what they were considering paying, or what they have been paying their current individual. From this point forward you need to practice honest diplomacy. If the job does not pay enough, tell them frankly that you are disappointed, but that you simply cannot take it on those terms.
If you are interested in a position with a salary which seems too low, give yourself a day to decide. Set a term to get back to the company, preferably a window of two or three hours in a day or two. Do not hesitate to say no thank you. Do not procrastinate. This is a business transaction, and you need to be business-like.
Some Firm Negotiation Rules
- You cannot go back on a salary once it is set.
- Do not accept a position if you are not sure you can survive on the salary.
- The base salary must be enough for reasonably comfortable existence. Bonuses should be on top of base.
- Be sure you understand the additional benefits in the contract before you sign or decline. Stock options and health benefits are part of your salary. They may be very valuable or nearly worthless.
- Your credit card debts do not influence your salary. Never base your demands on your debt level.
Dealing with Special Offers
The offer of partnership in a business is enticing. So are bonuses equaling more than half the salary, initial public offerings and plans for company growth. These are frequently legitimate offers in an employment process. They are also frequently hot air and empty lures. You need to decide which they are. If you are dealing with a well known company, you probably know their track record in keeping promises. Corporations with several successful restaurants have good attorneys who keep them honest and to the point. Most corporations will give you either a contract or supply you with an employee handbook, in which policies are clearly set. Independently owned restaurants and new corporations, on the other hand, may be trying to get more than they deserve or can afford in a last ditch attempt to pull out of bankruptcy, or they may have a history of staff exploitation. It helps to know a person leaving a position. If, however, the firm is in another town, you may need to do some serious thinking about the offer. You need to watch out for:
- questionable statements about the importance of the restaurant.
- vague commitments: "We are working on that."
- hyperbole: "This is going to be the best plan...."
- employers who approach you as a new friend. You will break their hearts if you don't work for them...
- anyone who says he is an honest man and acts insulted if you ask for details or facts.
- pie in the sky partnership promises and unrealistic projections.
- urgency. When people want you to decide on the spot, there is usually a problem.
- An employer who does not understand your need to give reasonable notice.
- Outrage. How dare you ask for a contract.
- Anyone who uses name dropping to attract you to the location. (This is at time hard to distinguish from pride of ownership, it must be said.)
You cannot go wrong if you use the same common sense in accepting a job as you would use buying a car or a house. You don't buy the car because you like the salesperson. You buy it because you know it will get you where you are going without danger and will serve you will.
What about those cases where such an opportunity is very enticing? Sometimes, of course, such options are real and a chance to achieve your goals. Certainly the offer of partnership is not a reason to turn away an offer without investigation.
You can do a number of things to assure that your choice is a wise one. One, of course, is to use your head. Sit down quietly and ask yourself what problems you suspect. Most people who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances due to questionable employment practices realize later that they knew there was a problem. Decide with a cool head if the opportunity is worth the risk to you or if you would rather pass.
Your interview is a tool to be used seriously here: This is where you begin to interview the employer. If you are being offered a partnership, you need to know what the outstanding debts are, you deserve to see the rent statement, the profit and loss projections, and you need to know who the purveyors are. As a partner would you be responsible for outstanding debts? Would you be privy to all financial statements? If not, how would you know that you are receiving your fair share of the profits? Would you, on termination, be subject to payment for that part of the business you have built up?
If the offer is for a substantial bonus based on performance, you should be able to know what percentage of that bonus the previous chef obtained. Speaking with a previous employee or manager is advisable. If this is not possible, I usually advise forgoing part of the bonus in return for a fixed salary. If the employer is not able to compensate you for what your work is worth, he needs to find an employee he can afford.
If you are tempted by a job but have serious doubts, you can use the internet to search for information about the restaurant in the local newspapers. You are, as is the interviewer, obligated to some confidentiality in the process, so you should not contact the people working for him or ask purveyors. Purveyors, however, are often poor sources of information due to obvious agendas. If the new position involves a big move and a serious career risk, you can even hire a private detective, ask the local labor board about claims against the firm, or check with the county clerk to see if there is pending or past litigation with the business or the owner regarding such offers.
There should, however, be no problem in asking direct questions in a follow up interview such as:
- Why are you seeking a new chef?
- Why did your last chef leave?
- Do you mind if I speak with the sous chef or your previous chef?
- What is the current credit rating of the restaurant? What purveyors would I be using?
- Why isn't the sous chef being considered for this position?
- Did /Does the last/current manager achieve the entire bonus?
If you feel the situation being offered is appropriate and that you will be able to do the job well and satisfied with the conditions of employment and partnership, you can request that these be put in writing. You are putting all of your experience and part of your future, not to mention your reputation, on the line; requesting a clear commitment is not rude.If you feel a contract is a good idea, and it generally is, request one during the final negotiations. Never wait until after you have accepted a position to ask for a contractual agreement. There are numerous attorneys who are aware of restaurant relationships and expenses, and who will eithe check your contract for trouble or who will write a contract. The usual practice is to have the contract written by the employer and reviewed by the employee's attorney.
Acceptance or Rejection
If you have made arrangements to contact a firm after the interview and have not heard from them, you should do so, rather than letting things drift away. Sometimes hiring processes take longer than expected, but many firms just have too much to do to contact individuals. If you are working with a search firm, they should do the contacts, unless other arrangements have been made.
If you are rejected by a firm, assume that was just not the right position. You will or do have other options, and they did not feel that you and they fit together optimally. Do yourself a favor and write the person who interviewed you a short letter expressing your disappointment at not receiving the "call" to work for the group and your pleasure, none the less, at being considered. You may well run into him at a later date or may be asked to look at another situation later.
If you feel you have the position, ask directly to be sure. Sometimes interviewers enjoy the process so much, that they give everyone they talk to the idea that they are hired. People have, after a particularly invigorating interview, given notice. Be sure that you have been tendered a job offer before you do this. The tool is direct inquiry: Is this a firm offer?
If your career is well advanced, you will probably not want to give your current notice without either a contract or a letter of intent. The least you should do is get a hand shake on the job. If you have a telephone interview, you ask for a short fax to enable you to give notice comfortably.
If you are offered the position and are ambivalent, give the firm the courtesy of a determined time to respond. If you decline, give them a clear answer and a reason. Follow it with a letter of thanks for the offer. This is a firm rule.
If you accept the position offered, make sure that you set dates for beginning, terms of moving, requirements for pre employment immediately. Write them
down. Give your current employer due notice, and, regardless of the level of friendship or animosity at that position, offer to assist in the transfer of your position. Always leave friends behind when you leave. They will be a reference at some time.
Not all employment changes are cut and dry. They may involve a change in your personal status..from spouse to single parent, for instance, or you may have been terminated for something you did wrong. How do you handle these things? We have always found honesty to be the most effective strategy. If you have a situation which will require special arrangements, it is unwise to try to cover it up. If your last job was a disaster, don't try to hide it.
What about explaining a termination? First, you need to know why you were let go. You have a right to know the reason for your termination, and you firm must tell you. You probably know it without being told, but you do have that right.Then you need decide how to work your career around it, that is, find a situation where the problem which resulted in termination will not be an issue. If the question was speed, choose a slower environment. If it was creativity, choose one where your systems skills will be most important.
If you are asked in an interview why you are no longer working at your old job, try to explain the reasons rather than distribute blame. This means taking responsibility for your own shortcomings, which are probably not as grave as you might think.
Most firms are very interested in any candidates who are aware of their limitations. If you can't handle a restaurant doing 400 covers, if you couldn't command a non-English speaking staff of 15, if you missed work due to an accident you caused, you need to be able to tell your interviewer about the problem before he learns it from somebody else.
The last part of any interview leaves the strongest impression. Get negatives out of the way as early in the process as possible. If an employer finds out later that you misrepresented the cause of your termination, he has the right to fire you without further compensation. If he knows you are very clear about the situation, he will probably assume that you are richer for the experience.
Very serious termination causes, such as substance abuse, alcoholism, emotional problems on the job need to be dealt with separately. If these are the reasons for losing jobs, no interview strategies will provide you with career options. There are numerous support groups for culinary employees in such situations. Your local AA may be a good place to start.
You may be asked to explain a series of short jobs, which may be due to seasonal situations or interrelated organizations sending you to several properties. If this is you situation, try to bring written documentation from your previous employers to yur interviews.
If you are being recruited and are nervous about your present job, then be sure to impart this information diplomatically but clearly to the person interviewing you as early as possible. Tell them that you expect and appreciate their discretion. Explain any problems which might result from their checking your references, especially if there is a relation between your former employers and a current job. You have to remember to do this. They will not guess.
If your interviewer asks for references, you should have them handy. He may also inquire how the person you give will reference you or how another person will reference you. Contrary to popular belief, asking that person to confirm you statements is legal. Give as near a guess to what you think a person will say about you as you can. This will also provide your interviewer with an idea of your self assessment skills.
If you had a problem with a person in charge, let the in terviewer know it. Take responsibility for any part of discord which belongs to you, as well. "I am afraid I had a real problem with Don, and I doubt that he has a lot of good things to say about me. I did not understand his standpoint when I worked for him, but, although I don't agree with him now, I can see his reasons for handling the situation as he did. You might ask Roger Rechtold, who worked there with both of us. He is currently at the Grand Plaza in Maui as Director of Catering." If you find this information useful, you may share it with a friend.