February 2, 2015

Five Tips For Nailing the Job Interview

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

Regular readers of mine know that I’m currently in search of gainful employment.  I have a number of freelance writing positions still in my satchel, but I’m quickly discovering that my writing skills simply won’t pay the bills.  Luckily for me, my resume has gotten me a number of interviews, and my search will soon be over.  Luckily for you, all these interviews, as well as the time I spent on the other side of the desk vetting people for hire, have given me a bit of insight into the hiring process.  Auguste Escoffier has a great deal of advice on job interviews, which you will experience during the entrepreneurial sections of the program, but here is a primer on five things you should do before you head into an interview.

headshot (1)

5.  The Handshake of Doom/Success

When I was in high school, this always seemed like one of the stupidest reasons to not get a job.  “If I’m qualified for the position, are they really not going to hire me because I can’t clasp hands correctly?”  To be completely honest, yes.  The handshake means that much.  Studies have shown that one of ways we subconsciously determine what kind of person you are is through physical contact.  Even the toupee himself believes a strong handshake is important.

In my experience, a handshake is like a first impression—a prerequisite that gets you to the next step in the interviewers’ minds.  Go to your interview in a Slayer shirt, unshaven and in flip flops, you’re going to leave a bad impression (depending on the job, anyway), and so will a sub-par handshake.

My go-to for this first encounter is to turn your hand slightly so that your palm is pointing slightly up and mostly to your left.  Keep your hand relaxed so that your fingers are slightly spread, and keep your thumb up in a comfortable position.  Try to maneuver your hand such that you’re not shaking the other person’s fingers (I HATE the “fingers only” handshake) but don’t cram your hand into the other person’s.  Gauge the pressure they’re using and try to either match or slightly exceed it.  You don’t want to crush their hand, but you don’t want to give them a dead fish either—try to mirror what they’re doing.  And even though it might wind up being awkward, let them break the handshake first.  Some power players will keep the handshake going just to prove they’re the ones in charge, which may or may not work (I don’t like it, but then I’m not a CEO).

4.  Do Your Homework

I get it—job searching is a pain in the neck, and it’s hard to remember every little thing about every company you apply for.  That’s asking a lot out of the ole brain.  But it’s rare that you get an email or a call wherein you have to go to an interview in ten minutes, so when you do get that call, jump on the webz and do your homework.  Write notes on the company you’re applying for—are they Tex Mex?  Do they make sushi?  How long have they been open?  What are their Yelp reviews like?  If you have the time and money, go to their place and have a meal.

Be ready with a few ideas for improving the restaurant—if Yelp says their desserts are a weak point, have a few recipe ideas at the ready.  If the service is slow, talk to your server friends and come up with a few suggestions.  The interviewer isn’t necessarily going to grill you for free strategies on “fixing their restaurant*” but be prepared with a few ideas just to show you’ve been considering their enterprise.  It’ll show you aren’t just looking for a paycheck (though you very well may be).

*Don’t ever use the word “fix” when discussing someone else’s business.  Unless you’re being hired as a consultant for a failing restaurant, you’re not there to “fix” anything—you’re there, at most, to “improve upon the success of” their restaurant.  You’d be surprised how irked interviewers can get over this verbiage.

3.  Memorize Your Resume

We all exaggerate a little on our resumes.  Maybe you say you have “extensive experience with inventory and FIFO pantry practices” when in reality, you just unpacked stuff from the loading dock and put it away.  That’s perfectly fine—rephrasing humdrum activities to make them sound like the skills they are is what resumes are for.  But for the love of whatever you find holy, memorize all of it.

When I used to take interviews for potential employees back in the day, nothing drove me crazier than when I’d ask people about stuff in their resumes, and they’d give me the “what the heck are you talking about?” look.  That told me 1./ the resume was a tissue of lies, 2./ the applicant was untrustworthy, and 3./ I needed to warm up my “thanks for coming in, we’ll call you.”

You know your own work history, so this shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re outright fabricating your resume (don’t do that).  But if you call yourself an expert in something, have examples at the ready about how you fixed issues in your area of expertise.  If you’ve done “recipe development,” be ready to describe the process you use for developing recipes.  If you’ve done FOH work, have some funny anecdotes rehearsed.  Your resume got you in the door, but your interview will let you stay there.

like a pro

2.  Practice

Comedic actors like Jim Carrey talk a lot about how much time they spent in front of the mirror practicing their funny faces and routines.  Actors in general spend a lot of time repeating lines and coming up with new and interesting ways to say the same thing.  Do this for your interviews.

You can’t predict what you’re going to be asked.  Sure, there are some questions that you can more or less count on:  “What’s your best professional accomplishment?” “Tell me about yourself.”  “What do you think makes you a good fit for this company” and so on.  But if you get hit with “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?” and it throws you for a loop, you might lose your head when it comes to other questions in the interview.

But if you practice the regulars like the ones listed above, plus others like “How do you handle stress?”  “Are you a team player?” “What’s the least proud moment you’ve had professionally?” etc., you’ll be able to rock those questions even while flustered.  Plus, the more you prepare, the better you’ll feel about yourself going in, which is great because you need to…

1.  Inflate Your Confidence to the Point of Bursting

You’re applying for the job because you want it.  You’ve read the description and heard what the job is about, and you feel like it would be a good fit.  You put in your application, and you get the call on Thursday:  “Come in and chat with me next Monday.”  Awesome, you say.  The job is mine!  Then the doubts start to creep on you.  By Friday, you’re wondering if applying was a good idea, on Saturday you’re convinced that you’re not qualified at all, and on Sunday you can imagine your interviewer doodling all over your application and laughing at what a fool you are.

Don’t fall into this trap.  Do your very best to pump up your confidence before you go in to the interview.  Get out a piece of paper and write down all the great accomplishments you’re responsible for—graduating culinary school, helping take care of a family, that time you totally bailed chef out of a pickle when the soufflés fell, the days you absolutely rocked service—write them all down.

The only phrase that’s off limits during these sessions is “Well, that wasn’t really an accomplishment…” because EVERYTHING is an accomplishment.  If you competently worked the line every night with few mistakes, that’s an accomplishment.  If you show up to work on time every day, that’s an accomplishment.  Be proud of those things—for every worker like you, there are any number of doofuses who show up to work intoxicated, twenty minutes late, and/or without a proper uniform.  So long as you keep the habits the chefs at Escoffier drill into you, you are already a better worker than most.

Don’t go in overconfident, but don’t convince yourself that you don’t deserve the job.  That’s not for you to decide.  Keep your head up, shoulders back, and answer questions in a clear, confident voice.  If they decide you’re not the right fit, that doesn’t mean you weren’t qualified, it just means they went in another direction.  Your confidence is your shield against an uncaring world—don’t poke holes in it.

I could go on, but the point of all this is that the job process can be scary, but it is exactly that—a process.  You’re not forging new ground here.  The process exists to get people jobs, so do your best to avoid sabotaging yourself.  Give a good handshake, be ready to discuss their company, know what to say about yourself, practice your butt off, and be confident—you deserve the job, so go get it!