Job Search Skills

29 Preparing for an Interview

Resumés and cover letters interest the employer in hiring you. However, most employers compile a short list of candidates using the applications they receive, and then interview the people on this short list. This is especially true in the food service and hospitality industry where personal suitability and presentation is a key ingredient in customer service.

Remember that when you drop off a resumé or application, or call regarding a job opening, employees of the company are forming an impression of you. Always be polite and friendly. If you visit the company, dress appropriately and pay attention to your grooming. The person with whom you speak may pass along her or his impressions of you to the person doing the hiring.

It takes a lot of work to get the stage where you are offered an interview, so it is important to make the interview count. When employers are asked why applicants interviewed for jobs are rejected, interpersonal skills and personal characteristics are often key factors.

Applicants may be rejected because of:

  • Poor personal appearance and hygiene
  • An overbearing, conceited attitude
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lack of clear career goals
  • Lack of interest, commitment, and enthusiasm for the job
  • Lack of confidence and poise
  • Overemphasis on what the employer offers them (salary, benefits, vacation)
  • Lack of tact, maturity, and courtesy
  • Poor attitude about the job, previous employers, or school
  • Failure to look interviewer in the eye and limp handshake
  • Inability to relate skills and experience to the job
  • Lack of knowledge about the company
  • Obvious personal problems
  • Lack of tolerance, strong prejudices, and narrow interests

Types of Interviews

Often you will be interviewed in person. However, in larger companies or when applying for a job in another province, you may also be interviewed by telephone. Today, it is quite common to have an interview via Skype. This allows the interviewer to see you and make an opinion on your appearance. It is important to look professional in this situation as well. Some companies conduct screening interviews as a way of reducing the number of applicants who are considered for a job. Screening interviews may be conducted by someone other than the person who is responsible for the actual hiring. These initial interviews may be a preliminary step to an in-depth personal interview.

Being Prepared

Before going to an interview, you should make sure that you have prepared carefully. You should research the company so that you know what the company sells and how your skills might fit their needs. When applying for a position as a cook, you might visit the restaurant, study the menu, and perhaps even order and eat a meal. Take a good look around. What does the restaurant look like? What is the general ambiance and tone? Do the staff appear to get along well? Do staff members work as a team? Is this a place where you would like to work? Do you feel that you would fit in? Doing your homework about the potential employer makes you look interested in the job and committed to the new employer.

Before going to an interview, you should:

  • Be able to describe how your experience and skills would benefit the company.
  • Anticipate possible questions you might be asked and have answers prepared.
  • Plan transportation to arrive a few minutes early.
  • Choose appropriate, business-like clothing and accessories to wear. Take a look at how the staff are dressed when you visit, and dress accordingly. A suit or sports jacket, tie, and dress slacks are appropriate for men. A suit or skirt and blouse are acceptable for women. Women may also wear dress slacks.
  • Make sure that clothing is clean, well-pressed, and in good condition. Shoes should be freshly shined and in good condition.
  • Be immaculately groomed (for men, freshly shaved or carefully trimmed beard or moustache; for women, simply styled hair and subdued makeup).
  • Wear only simple, subdued jewellery and perfume.
  • Make sure that you have a clean copy of your application letter, job ad, resumé and references and/or reference letters, and copies of transcripts or certificates relevant to the position to take to the interview.
  • Take a pen and paper.
  • Prepare questions to ask the interviewer and write them neatly or print them on a piece of paper.

Anticipating Questions the Interviewer May Ask

Employers use interviews to gauge whether you have the qualities to perform the job well. They are looking for ability and aptitude, a willingness to work and learn, a desire to help accomplish the organization’s goals, and maturity and compatibility. For the most part, the interviewer will already have established that you have the minimum training and experience for the job by reading your resumé.

Interviews use a question-and-answer format. You should be prepared to answer questions such as those listed below. Even if these are not the exact questions which will be asked, you should rehearse the subject matter so you have a well-rounded complete answer to give when the question is asked.

Can you tell me something about yourself?

This is usually an invitation to talk about yourself on a personal but not intimate level. Stress such points as your family background, length of time in the community, work with community groups, hobbies, and interests. End by focusing on your work experience, work values, aptitudes, and qualities and how these are relevant to the job in question.

What are your future plans?

Describe your specific career plans and how this job fits into these plans.

Why do you want to work here?

You want to emphasize how this position will use your existing skills and develop additional skills. You might also mention the company’s reputation as a leader in the industry, a fair employer, or a good corporate citizen, its reputation for providing high-quality training to staff, and other relevant considerations.

Can you work under pressure and deadlines?

This question usually indicates that pressure is a feature of the job. Use examples from your work, school, and personal life to illustrate your ability to handle pressure and deadlines.

Why did you leave your last employer? or Why do you want to leave your present employer?

Mention acceptable reasons for leaving a job such as lay-off, illness, relocation, or retraining, or wanting a new challenge. If you were fired, be honest about the reason and explain why you think you would be a good employee now (e.g., learned from mistakes, dealt with personal problems).

What are your strengths?

Your strengths should present you as an efficient and committed worker who can perform the job competently. Other strengths required in every job are honesty, dependability, enthusiasm, and cooperation. Mention them if appropriate.

What are your weaknesses or limitations?

This question may sometimes be phrased in more subtle ways, such as “What are some areas in which you can improve?” “How have you grown over the past few years?” or “Where do you see yourself needing to grow in the next few years?” It is not a good strategy to avoid mentioning shortcomings because you may come across as dishonest, defensive, or weak.

Mention one or two shortcomings in a way that is not damaging. You can do this by mentioning a weakness that is a mirror of one of your assets or by mentioning those that are easily remedied. For example, you might say, “I drive myself very hard and have to be careful not to assume that other staff have the energy that I have.” Or you might say, “I would like to take a course in menu planning. So far, I have some on-the-job experience and have done some reading on my own.” These type of responses indicate a willingness to be open, a knowledge of your shortcomings, and a willingness to address them. This will create a favourable impression on interviewers.

Why should I hire you?

Your answer should stress how your skills and experience benefit the company and help meet the company’s goals. If you are being hired to address a specific problem, explain how you have handled similar situations in the past.

Other things you might be asked about include:

  • An explanation of any gaps in your resumé, poor grades, or a change in career direction
  • How you might handle a specific problem on the job
  • How you would describe your personality
  • How you feel about overtime, working on holidays, or other job conditions
  • How much you expect to be paid (be flexible; either indicate a range you would find acceptable, or invite the employer to make the decision based on your previous jobs, experience, and salary)
  • What you value at work and in life, what you look for in a job, or what is your ideal job
  • What you find difficult to do or who you find difficult to work with

When planning responses, be positive. Indicate how you have learned from experience, what benefits you have gained, and how this learning benefits the employer. Be honest and sincere. Some employers may ask about your leisure activities. Often these employers are looking for someone who is well rounded and contributes to the community.

Handling Discriminatory Questions in Interviews

The Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in the recruitment of employees except in the case of bona fide (genuine) occupational requirements. Most employers avoid questions regarding these prohibited grounds in interviews because they know that otherwise they may be open to complaints of discrimination by unsuccessful candidates. Review the section earlier in the book on the B.C. Human Rights Code for more information.

Behaviour in the Interview

Interviews are short and interviewers have only a brief time to make a personal assessment. Small details can make a big impact. If you display confidence in yourself and in your ability to do the job, much of this confidence will be transmitted to the interviewer.

If you have not participated in an interview before, you can practise your responses with a friend or fellow student to build confidence and reduce nervousness. It can be very useful to videotape your mock interview. You will get useful feedback from watching yourself which can be used to improve your performance in interviews.

Be courteous and friendly in the interview, without being overly familiar. Interviewers respond to pleasantness and respect.

Some tips on coming across well in an interview include the following:

  • Arrive alone and a little early for the interview.
  • Remove sunglasses and coat before the interview.
  • Get the interviewer’s correct name and use it during the interview.
  • Smile and be ready to shake hands firmly.
  • Look the interviewer in the eye. If there is more than one person conducting the interview, make sure you look at each of them when they are speaking with you, rather than only maintaining eye contact with the “lead” or more senior person.
  • Remain standing until you are invited to sit.
  • Do not bring your personal problems to the interview.
  • Answer all questions clearly, specifically and honestly.
  • Do not make jokes or wisecracks or get into arguments.
  • Be poised and calm. Do not fidget, crack your knuckles, or engage in other nervous mannerisms.
  • Ask a few pertinent questions about the job.
  • Thank the interviewer for his or her time and shake hands.

Questions You Can Ask

Asking some questions yourself in the interview demonstrates that you have confidence in your abilities and that you are genuinely interested in the job and in the company. You can ask the following:

  • Do you have any questions about my resumé?
  • Can you tell me more about the responsibilities of this job?
  • What possibilities are there for promotion and advancement if I do a good job?
  • What are the future plans of the company (e.g., expansion, franchising)?
  • When will you make your decision about this job?
  • What training programs do you have for employees?
  • What opportunities are there to transfer to other properties owned by the company (if your research indicates that the company is part of a chain)?

Following an interview, you should assess your performance so that you can improve your interviewing skills.


  • Prepare a career plan for the next 10 years
  • Prepare or update your resumé
  • Create or update your profile on LinkedIn


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Working in the Food Service Industry Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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