Michael Matarazzo, CEC, Executive Chef of Farmington CC and the founder of Be Better Culinary Perspectives, offers tips to improve interviewing skills and increase your odds of getting the gig.
Through the course of my career, I’ve seen countless applications and resumes and have interviewed scores of applicants. Most people learn at some point of their lives how to build a proper resume and how to present themselves during an interview. Based on what I’ve seen over the years it’s pretty clear that there are some holes in the typical education associated with applying for a job. It doesn’t feel like my place to tell the candidate sitting across from me that their resume is a disaster, or the way they answered a question on the application makes them look like a liability. So, in the spirit of my “Be Better” philosophy, I decided to write this article in hopes that it will help people improve their interviewing skills and increase their odds of getting the gig. This is Part I and deals with Applications and Resumes. Part II will deal with face to face interviews and cooking interviews.
Let’s start with the application. First, be sure to double check your spelling and grammar on all documents submitted in the application process. Keep in mind, the interviewer has to assume that however you represent yourself during the initial stages of applying, is a representation of you at your very best. We make this assumption, because how else would you be if you really wanted a job. If you think about most relationships you’ve ever been in, they always start out with both people saying things that they think the other one wants to hear. They act the way they believe they should in order to make the other person happy. This lasts for a few months if you’re lucky and then it becomes exhausting and true colors start to come out on both sides. Every doubt that you give an interviewer in the initial process causes you to start lower in the running and we can only assume that once you settle in, you will become a little more relaxed and expose some weaknesses. Next, if you’re asked the reason for leaving a previous job, be careful how you answer. Avoid writing negative comments about the management or opinions about how the business was run. These answers make it sound like you may have been the problem or maybe you’re a complainer or just a negative person in general who likes to create drama. You’re basically complaining before you get in the door. If you’re asked about your background and whether or not you’ve ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, be honest. Many companies perform background checks and if the results of the check don’t match up with your answer, you’re immediately labeled as someone who lies. Not an attractive trait in any candidate. I’ve hired many people with blemishes on their background, but they were up front about the circumstances and usually, the charges posed no threat to their ability to perform well in the position they were interviewing for.
Let’s touch on the resume. The objective of your resume, which is generally the very first section should be a brief statement that explains what you hope to accomplish by applying for the job. Please don’t make the first sentence a statement of how long you’ve been in the industry. I’ve seen so many resumes that start with “I bring 20 years experience blah blah blah.” Remember, you put dates in the “Employment” section of your resume, so we can see how many years you’ve been hanging out in kitchens. Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time, doesn’t mean you’re good at it. I know that’s difficult to hear, but the truth is, it’s not about “how long”, it’s about “how well,” and that part can’t be proven in an introductory paragraph to a stranger. Keep the rest of your resume simple. Easy to read, short bullet points that paint a broad picture of what you’ve done. All you need is for this piece of paper to get you in the door. Just like the application, be sure to run a spell check on your resume and have someone you trust proof read it. Cover letters are sometimes requested, but not nearly as common as they used to be. I can’t speak for everyone who screens resumes, but I personally don’t need to see a cover letter for an applicant. The reason why, is because they always seem to say the same thing. Trust me. You are not the only applicant that is dedicated, loyal, hard working, and leads by example. In fact, all applicants are, on paper. If you’re asked for a cover letter, keep it brief and make sure that it’s specific to the business that you’re sending it to. It should speak to your knowledge of the respective operation and show that you’re excited to explore the opportunity because of what and where it is. It is very obvious when someone has sent me a generic and vague cover letter that they, undoubtedly sent to who knows how many other places. Finally, there is the question of food photos. This is a tricky one. There is growing popularity with digital resumes and portfolios. This is not a bad thing, but be careful with its content. Food is a very subjective thing and Chefs are very good at expressing their opinions about someone else’s work without context. If you’re applying for a cook or Chef position, then it’s safe to assume that you’re not a photographer or food stylist. If your photos are not high quality they can actually hurt you more than help. If you’re not absolutely certain that the style and quality reflected in the photos is going to resonate with and excite your audience, it’s better to leave them out and show what you’re capable of when they can watch you cook and taste the end product. The face to face interview is where you can explain your skills and display your knowledge.
View Matarazzo’s original post hosted on his Be Better Culinary Perspectives blog here.