If you’re interviewing for a job as a chef, you’ll need to prove more than just your culinary skills. After all, chefs carry a lot of responsibility — and require a diverse set of skills to be successful.
So, if you have an upcoming interview, you’ll want to be prepared to demonstrate your skills, and show you’re the best fit for the chef position and you’re the next Gordon Ramsay or Thomas Keller.
To help you prepare for your chef interview, we share some of the most common job interview questions and provide tips on crafting effective responses for each one.
Interviews typically start with ice-breaker questions to casually ease into the conversation and provide interviewers with information about your background.
1. “Can you tell me about yourself?”
This is one of the most common ice-breaker interview questions. And while it may seem relatively straightforward to answer, you could miss a prime opportunity to make a good impression if you’re not prepared.
A good answer to this question is a 2–3-minute elevator pitch. This is a concise introduction that includes the most important and compelling information about your experience, skills, strengths and signature dishes, and perhaps even why you became a chef in the first place.
2. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
In order to better understand your goals and motivations, interviewers will often ask where you see yourself in five years. To answer effectively, it’s important to understand what information the interviewers are looking for.
Interviewers will want to know that you’re planning to grow with their restaurant. So, if your real plan is to be working at the Michelin-star restaurant down the street, it’s best to leave this unsaid. Instead, focus your response on your professional development, work environment and career goals.
3. “Why did you apply for this restaurant?”
Since motivation plays such a huge factor in job performance, interviewers will want to know that you’re enthusiastic about working at their restaurant. So, even if the restaurant may not be your top choice or dream employer, you’ll still need to show your motivation.
Prior to the interview, make sure to do some research on the menu, the restaurant’s history and any unique selling propositions. When responding to this question, you could then pick out one or two aspects of the restaurant that you’re particularly excited about.
4. “What is your favorite dish to prepare?”
Interviewers ask this question to get to know your culinary style, but also to ascertain whether you’ll be a good fit at their establishment. So, if your favorite dish to prepare is a French delicacy and you’re applying for a burger joint, this may raise a few questions.
Therefore, you should always tie back your response to the role you’re applying for. For example, if a particular dish is your favorite to prepare because of its ingredients, you could add that, no matter what you’re preparing, quality of ingredients is important to you.
5. “What would you improve about our menu?”
In interviews, it’s common that interviewers will ask a candidate what they would improve about a particular aspect of the business. This is because they want to know if the candidate researched the business in advance, and if they’ll take initiative to improve the restaurant.
To effectively answer this question, review the menu in advance and choose one or two aspects that you would do differently. For example, perhaps you would use seasonal ingredients, include more vegetarian options or add suggested wine pairings to the menu.
These questions will help the interviewer better understand your technical skills, people skills and industry knowledge that are required for the role of a head chef.
6. “What is your culinary training?”
Interviewers ask this question to determine if your training aligns with the needs of their kitchen. For example, if the restaurant specializes in desserts, they may require a pastry chef with specialized skills.
Therefore, for this question, it’s important to be honest about your training. Share any professional development, courses or training you have received over the course of your career.
7. “What is your management style?”
Chefs are often responsible for kitchen management, including managing staff. For this reason, you’ll most likely be asked interview questions about your people management skills and style.
Interviewers will want to see that you have self-awareness and leadership skills. So, make sure to reflect prior to the interview on your personal experience with managing staff so that you can answer in an honest way that gives the interviewer insight into your management style.
8. “Can you tell me about your wine knowledge?”
Depending on the type of restaurant, you may be asked about your wine knowledge. Particularly for chef roles in fine dining restaurants, you should be prepared for this question.
When asked about your wine knowledge, make sure to be honest. If you’re lacking in wine knowledge, this may not be a deal-breaker as long as you show your willingness and enthusiasm to learn and develop.
9. “What is your process with menu development?”
One of the most important responsibilities in the role of a chef is developing the menu. After all, the dishes on the menu are what bring guests into the restaurant. So, making sure the dishes are enticing is key for any successful chef.
If you don’t have experience with menu development, share examples of how you would approach menu development. Or if you have experience supporting a head chef with menu development in your role as a sous chef, for example, you could discuss this as well.
10. “Can you talk about some industry trends?”
When asking skill-based questions, it’s common that you’ll also get asked questions about industry expertise and knowledge. This is because interviewers will want to know that you’re passionate about the industry and will stay ahead of the competition.
Make sure to have a few industry trends prepared to speak about in the interview. You could also share how you have made past innovations based on industry trends and what the outcome was.
To understand how you have used your skills in previous situations, interviewers ask competency-based questions. For these questions, you should be sure to have some real-life examples prepared, and make sure to use the STAR technique for the best results.
11. “Can you tell me about a time you have had to train a new staff member?”
As previously mentioned, people management is an important responsibility for chefs. Therefore, interviewers will most likely want to know that you have experience training new kitchen staff.
Try to focus on one specific example of training a new staff member. Perhaps you had a kitchen staff member who was under-qualified for the role but was able to excel after your training. Or perhaps you have a specific method you use to train new staff.
12. “Can you tell me about a time you had a conflict at work?”
Since conflict at work is inevitable, interviewers ask this question to understand your approach to conflict management. They want to know that you don’t avoid conflict and that you resolve it in a productive manner.
When answering this question, be sure to consider your role in the conflict. If you only blame the other person involved, this will most likely raise a red flag. Then speak about the steps you took to solve the issue and restore harmony.
13. “Can you tell me about a time you implemented a change that improved the restaurant?”
Interviewers will want to know that they’re hiring someone who is innovative and will consistently improve the restaurant. For this reason, you may get asked to speak about a change that you have implemented.
For example, you may have noticed in a previous role that a menu item wasn’t popular and took the initiative to suggest replacing it with another dish. Or perhaps you discovered a way to prep food more efficiently, thus reducing labor costs.
14. “Can you tell me about a time that you had to make a difficult decision?”
Being a chef involves making decisions daily and working in a face-paced environment. Whether you run out of an ingredient and have to improvise, or you made a mistake when trying out a new recipe, there have most likely been many times you’ve been faced with a difficult decision.
Prior to the interview, think back to decisions you’ve had to make in your career history as a chef. Try to show how you weighed the decision and used your analytical skills to make decisions quickly, but not impulsively.
15. “Can you tell me about a time you had to work under exceptional pressure?”
A career as a chef can be particularly stressful job. And for this reason, interviewers will most likely want assurance you are prepared to take on the level of pressure that the job requires.
When asked this question, think back to a specific time when you were under pressure. Perhaps you worked during a grand opening or you had to cook for a restaurant critic. Make sure to share what you did to stay cool-headed and not let the pressure impact your work performance.
These questions help the interviewer understand how you would respond in a hypothetical situation.
16. “What would you do if a staff member in your kitchen was underperforming?”
Interviewers will want to see that you can effectively address staff performance issues should they arise. They’ll want to know that you can give feedback and positively influence staff behavior.
Since there are various management styles, reflect on how you have addressed staff performance issues in the past. Think back to a time that you dealt with performance issues particularly effectively, and share your approach.
17. “What would you do if a customer returned a dish to the kitchen?”
Even some of the most skilled chefs have experienced a customer being dissatisfied with a dish. As such, hiring managers want to know that you have the good customer service skills to handle this situation.
Share that you would first try to understand the reason. If the customer just didn’t like the dish but it was correctly made, you might share that you would offer another type of dish. Or if the kitchen made an error, you would take steps to make sure it didn’t happen again.
18. “If you were developing a spring menu, how would this differ from a winter menu?”
Interviewers will most likely ask specific questions regarding your thought process when performing tasks in your role. And since menu development is a core function in the role of a chef, they may inquire about how you make certain decisions.
If you’re asked questions about seasonal menu development, this is a prime opportunity to demonstrate your analytical skills, industry knowledge and culinary skills.
19. “How would you approach creating a menu with dietary considerations, such as low calorie, gluten-free and vegan?”
This is another practical question that interviewers may ask in order to determine your adaptability. If you have experience creating menus for customers with dietary restrictions, this is a great opportunity to share your approach.
However, even if you don’t have experience creating menus with diverse dietary considerations, you can still share how you would approach this task. For example, you could share that you would research new dishes and perform competitive analysis.
20. “How would you handle a situation in which the quality was not up to standard on a food shipment?”
For a restaurant to be successful, it’s imperative that they focus on food quality. For this reason, interviewers may ask questions about how you handle food quality issues.
It’s key to demonstrate that you don’t tolerate low quality, and to show how you would take steps to avoid issues in the future while also maintaining important vendor relationships.
By practicing your responses to the most common chef interview questions, you can arrive to your interview prepared and confident. Remember to demonstrate your passion, pay attention to your body language and eye contact, and have some past experiences ready to share. This way, you’ll be sure to give yourself the best chance of success with your job search.
What other questions do you think are likely to come up in a chef job interview? Let us know in the comments section below.
Originally published on December 1, 2016.