Preparing for an interview is always stressful, and an increasingly competitive job market makes the stakes feel even higher–whether it's for your first job at the McDonald’s down the street or the high-end restaurant of your dreams.
Knowing how to make a good impression, show off your skills, and the best way to follow up can all help you get that coveted “You’re hired!” call.
Don’t know where to start? Read on for our guide to feeling confident and nailing your next interview! We’ll cover:
What should I do before my interview?
Spending a little time preparing before your interview will go a long way! It might seem silly to invest your time getting to know a company before you get hired, but candidates always stand out when they can show a manager they’re serious about a role.
Do your research
It’s always best to come to an interview prepared–and that starts with a little research. Spend time on the company website and any parent company’s website. You can also poke around on their social media channels to get a feel for how the company represents itself out in the world.
You should be able to show you’re familiar with the cuisine they specialize in (if any), company values, and customer reviews. Reviews can also give you ideas for what you can discuss in the interview, including how to address any common customer complaints, especially if you’ve had experience addressing a similar issue elsewhere.
Know the role
You should also spend a little time researching the specific role that you want; thoroughly read a job description not only before you apply but also right before the interview.
As Ashley McNally of Poached puts it, “This way, the candidate can contextualize their experience with the requirements of the role during an interview and have time to think about a few examples in their work history that really demonstrate key qualifications or characteristics the employer is looking for.”
If you want to gain some firsthand experience before applying for a specific role, consider taking shift work via Poached to feel out different roles or beef up your recent experience and references.
Get the inside scoop
If it’s financially viable, eating at the establishment is also a great way to gauge if the atmosphere, cuisine, and overall vibe will be a good fit–and give you some good talking points for the interview. You can even ask any staff you interact with about their experiences at the company!
Check local requirements
It is also worth investigating if your city, county, state, and/or employer requires a food handler card or food manager certification. If your health department requires specific training or credentials, walking in the door with up-to-date training shows you’re serious about the job you’re going after!
Some employers do pay for their staff’s training and certification. So, if you decide not to pursue training ahead of time, you may want to ask your potential employer during your interview if they cover the costs of these programs for their team.
Practice with a mock interview
You’ll feel much more confident in the course of an interview if you’ve spent time running through possible questions and answers with someone you trust. Find a list of common job interview questions and spend some time thinking about your answers.1 You can write them out completely or jot down notes, hitting the key points you want to cover in your responses. (It’s also fine to bring notes to the interview so you don’t forget anything you want to cover.)
Some of our favorite questions include:
Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a challenging customer?
Do you know the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
How do you stay calm during a rush?
What would you do if you knew you were going to be late for work?
Why did you leave your previous role?
Be sure to highlight your customer service skills through examples. Common questions often ask you to give an example of a time you resolved a difficult customer situation or conflict with another member of staff. If you don’t have the explicit experience to pull from, think of a similar situation in another part of your life that you can use to illustrate your problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
Once you have your answers and examples ready, ask someone you trust to conduct a mock interview. After you finish, ask your mock interviewer to give feedback on where you did best and where you can improve!
The more you practice your responses, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more relaxed you’ll be at the actual interview.
What should I do during the interview?
Once the interview day rolls around, you should already feel prepared! You’ve done your research and it is go time. So, what do you need to be sure to do on the day of your interview?
Be on time
There’s a reason for the old saying, “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!" The nonstop pace of the foodservice industry carries over into the interview window, and a busy manager may remove your name from the interview list if you aren’t prompt about your arrival.
Plan your interview outfit the day before to help cut down your preparation time (and choose clothing that’s appropriate but also shows your personality). If you’re bringing a bag or a folder with copies of your resume, pack them up the night before so you feel organized and don’t have to stress about misplaced items. Look at Maps or transit schedules ahead of time and plan some buffer time for hiccups.
Match your interviewer's energy
Whether you’re more of an introvert or your nerves make you feel high-strung, your interviewer will want to know if you’ll fit in well with the rest of the team. Managers are certainly looking for skilled people but also care that their latest hire is enjoyable to be around.
Pay attention to your interviewer’s posture and tone of voice. If they’re smiling and nodding, respond in kind! Are they more quiet and to the point? Keep your responses to the point and stay as calm and relaxed in the conversation as possible.
Adaptability: the kitchen is a busy environment with things constantly changing
Attention to detail: getting dishes right and safe is key to success
Reliability: you can be the best chef in the world, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t show up on time for your shifts
Being collaborative: it takes a full team to run a kitchen well, and everyone has to be willing to do their parts and pick up slack where necessary.
Remember, you’re interviewing them too
Interviews are a two-way street! While the interviewer leads the conversation, you’re also interviewing your potential future boss (and the team you’ll work with) to see if they’re a good fit for you. Be sure you have a few questions prepared that target important job aspects like scheduling, company culture, and growth opportunities.
McNally from Poached adds, “It's helpful to ask what to expect for the next steps in the interview process; that way, they have an idea of how long they should wait before following up and if a working interview will be required before decisions are made.”
Some great questions to ask include:
What kind of hours do you expect from this position?
Are schedules set, or do they vary from week to week?
Can you tell me about the working environment? How does the team work together?
Do you promote from within?
Why do you enjoy working for this company?
Our final tip to stand out from any other applicants? At the end of your interview, when they ask if you have any questions for them, ask the interviewer if they have any concerns about you being the right fit for the role based on what you’ve discussed so far. Then, address those concerns directly, adding explicit examples where you can.
What should I do after the interview?
Be sure to thank your interviewer before you leave! The interview process is stressful and exhausting for them, too (even if it is in a very different way). You can also send a thank you email where you mention a specific talking point that came up during the interview to help your interviewer remember you. You may also want to include additional references or inquire about the next steps (if they weren’t covered in the interview).
If they decide not to move forward with you as the candidate, thank them for the opportunity and ask them to keep you in mind for the future. If you’re responsive and gracious, chances are high that you’ll be at the top of the pile of candidates for their next opening.
With the right preparation, you can easily show up at your very best during your next interview. Research, practice, and a willingness to answer the tough questions about the role you’re applying for will help set you apart from the competition.
We wish you the best of luck!