What To Do (and NOT Do) At A Working Interview

The working interview is a hallmark of the culinary industry for no other reason than the fact that, simply put, people can say anything they like on a resume and BS their way through interview after interview- but they can’t fake practical skills.

A cook can claim to have worked for years and learned from the greatest cooks of a generation (and thus demand greater pay or authority,) but if that talk doesn’t translate to skills and elan in the kitchen, they will find themselves out with the green potatoes- and blackballed as a liar to boot.

That’s why after an interview or two, promising candidates for a kitchen job will be brought in to work a shift or just a couple of hours with the rest of the team. They might be given a timed challenge, a list of tasks to complete or just asked to help out and keep up while they are observed. This labor is usually unpaid or done in exchange for a shift meal (the ethics and legality of which are regularly disputed,) but ultimately it’s still an interview and thus a two-way street. The restaurant gets to assess the candidate’s demeanor and skills, and the cook gets to see how the kitchen works and decide if they are a good fit.

So short of not being a liar and not injuring yourself and others, what can you do to ace a working interview?

1. Come With Questions, DON’T Be a Know-it-all

A white chalk question mark on a slate chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Even if you’ve been a cook your whole life, every restaurant is different. Every kitchen has its own speed, character, and way of doing things- even that recipe you’ve done a million times. In a lot of ways, maturity is knowing how much you still don’t know. Show up and ask questions about recipes, procedures, workflow, and creative direction. Don’t come in offering to change everything and rock the boat. If they wanted a new direction, they’d tell you.

2. Do Your Homework and Have a Plan, DON’T Wing It

black and white picture of a chessboard, with a single white bishop in front of a full black setup.
Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com

Proper prior planning prevents poor performance. For some jobs, especially creative ones, you’ll be asked to come in and make a couple recipes or do some platings on a time limit. Research the place, find out what kind of food they serve, and bring your best. An interview is NOT the time to pull out untested tricks, nor is it an episode of Chopped. If you are given information and an opportunity to prepare, take advantage of it. It shows you are capable, responsible, and serious about getting the job.

3. Keep Your Cool, DON’T Be An Asshole

A very confident-looking rooster
Photo by Raghav Modi on Pexels.com

In addition to your skills, working interviews are when the kitchen feels you out as a person. It’s a vibe check. You can be a wizard in the kitchen, but if you rub the team the wrong way that won’t matter too much. It’s hard to have skills so good that people will tolerate sharing space with your miserable attitude for 40 hours a week. If you’ve got experience, let that speak more than your swagger. Be cool, be affable, put people at ease. Don’t try to swagger or preen for your potential employers- you will not be able to cow them into giving you a job.

4. Be Honest, DON’T Overshare

A woman holding a finger in front of her taped-over mouth commanding silence.
Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

We’re all different, and we have our own bullshit going on. Struggles, concerns, motivations, hangups… we’ve all got them, and we’re all trying to live with them. Unless it’s something that can seriously impact your performance at work though, it’s none of your employer’s business. If you have a disability that can make you difficult to work with or require special effort, it’s your responsibility to do the work of managing it. An employer has to make reasonable efforts to accommodate workers with special needs, but you are not being hired because of your needs. If you will need accommodations, of course that should be discussed- but that is not the sum total of who you are. Don’t make an employer think they will have to walk on eggshells to keep you performing.

5. Bring Your Best, DON’T Disparage The Work

A young black boy in boxing gloves raises in arms in victory in front of his trainer who is wearing punching pads.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Every once in a while in your career, you might find yourself taking a step backward in workload or complexity. You might be moving from a restaurant that does 500 covers a night to one that does 50. You can have any number of reasons for that. Regardless, when you show up for the working interview, bring your best effort, and don’t take it for granted. After your illustrious career, taking a gig in a little mom-and-pop restaurant might very well be a walk in the park for you… but it’s their business they do every day. They likely won’t take kindly to someone asking for a job coming in and minimizing their efforts. At best, it will cast doubts on hiring you because they fear you’ll get bored and quit. At worst, you look like an asshole. Keep your manners in, don’t take the work for granted, and bring your A Game.

What else should a working interviewee remember? Drop it in the comments!

Stay Classy,

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