Mastering the Interview: Navigating First Impressions and Leadership Selection

Interviewing is more than just answering questions; it’s about presenting yourself, talking, and listening. When you interview well, the committee doesn’t just hear you; they feel your personality and patience. Good interviewees tailor their messages based on their audience’s reactions.

People often form opinions within the first five minutes of meeting you. Your body language and how you speak significantly affect their judgment. Chefs usually don’t go through many interviews; they often advance through mentors. It’s not just where you’ve worked, but who you’ve worked under that counts.

Interviews at private clubs are tough for chefs. You’re performing for a diverse group, and members may not understand the culinary world. That’s why having a recruiter helps. They can explain the chef’s background and clarify any misconceptions about the culinary industry.

The best interview committees are carefully chosen, not just made up of volunteers. These members understand the club’s goals, even if they’re not regular diners. But even self-proclaimed “foodies” on the committee might not be as adventurous or knowledgeable as they claim.

Interviews can go off track due to preconceived ideas about what a club chef should be, often based on the committee’s varied backgrounds. After the interview, chefs face a tasting round, cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen for strangers. These tastings are crucial but just one part of the evaluation.

Based on observing hundreds of chef interviews over the past year, here are some key tips:

  1. Arrive on time, as you’d expect from others.
  2. Dress professionally, no matter the club’s dress code. Follow Escoffier’s example: he dressed formally before changing into his chef’s attire.
  3. Remember, you’re there for the club’s brand, not your personal promotion. Keep everything, from your appearance to your behavior, professional.
  4. Speak with a steady, respectful tone. Take your time to show you care about the members’ concerns.
  5. Understand who you’re talking to; research the committee members’ backgrounds.
  6. Stay on topic with your answers, and don’t ramble.
  7. Don’t offer information they didn’t ask for; you might not have time to explain.
  8. Talk positively about past workplaces; it reflects well on you.
  9. Use light, appropriate humor. It shows the human side behind the chef’s apron.
  10. Avoid industry jargon. Keep your language clear to everyone.

Tough questions will come up. Handle them gracefully:

  1. Don’t dwell on past negative experiences. Stay professional.
  2. If you’ve been let go before, be honest, but focus on what you learned.
  3. If asked how long you plan to stay, show you’re committed as long as needed.
  4. Take care when leaving your current job. Good clubs will respect that.
  5. Be honest about why you’re moving on. It shows integrity in your decision-making.

Remember, communication isn’t just about what you say. It’s how you say it and your body language. Like a memorable meal, it’s not just the taste; it’s how you feel while experiencing it. That’s what leaves a lasting impression.

Club Resort + Chef – October 2023

Lawrence T. McFadden, CMC, ECM is a Certified Master Chef and Search & Consulting Executive for KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE. He is also Executive in Charge of the Club Leadership Alliance Food & Beverage Experience Network. Prior to joining KK&W and CLA, Lawrence served as General Manager/COO of the 146-year-old Union Club of Cleveland. His impressive 30-year career spans the globe with roles in Hong Kong and Singapore as well as some iconic operations state-side, including The Greenbrier, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, The Ritz Carlton Company and The Waldorf Astoria Hotel.