Everyone has to start somewhere in the kitchen. Line cook probably isn’t your dream job, but the most famous chefs, guys that everyone knows from TV and covers of lifestyle magazines, also started as line cooks one day. No experience is required for the job. But you should have passion for food and willingness to learn, and to work hard, and sometimes also pretty fast…
Exactly these things will be tested in the interview. As long as you manage to demonstrate right attitude to work with your interview answers, and show some enthusiasm for the job, they should give you a chance to prove your skills in the kitchen. Let’s have a look at the questions you will face.
Why do you want to work as a line cook?
You shouldn’t sound like a desperate job seeker, like someone who tried their luck in many places, without success. You didn’t get hired anywhere else, and finally opted for your very last option–a dreaded work in the kitchen… On the contrary, you should show some enthusiasm for the position.
Say that you have passion for food and for cooking, and would like to learn from more experienced professionals, excellent cooks and chefs that work in their restaurant. You can also say that you’d like to start your career in hospitality business, and found the position of a line cook a suitable entry level job, one you can realistically get with your skills and experience (read no experience).
Please tell us something more about your working experience.
It doesn’t make much sense to talk about irrelevant stuff, such as a comfy job you had in a retail store, or as an administrative assistant in some corporation. However, if you had a hard job before, such as manual laborer on a construction site, or you’ve been picking fruits in the heat of the summer, you can mention these jobs. They demonstrate that you can sustain a heavy workload.
You should also mention at least some cooking experience. Perhaps you cooked for your boyfriend or girlfriend, or you used to peel potatoes when your mother prepared a dinner for the family… Anything is better than nothing, and you should feel confident about your readiness to handle the job.
How do you imagine a typical day in the kitchen?
If nothing else, you should mention two things in your answer:
- That you expect to be busy, and deal with a heavy workload each day.
- That you expect to take care also of some cleaning duties (dish washing, sweeping the floor, etc).
It is important to show realistic expectations. You will mostly peel, cut, and chop stuff as a line cook, and do simple duties with both meat and side dishes, such as grilling meat or cooking rice. Just do not say that you expect to season the dishes or assemble the weekly specialty menu… you’ll have to wait for some time, until you become an assistant chef, or perhaps also the head chef … one day in the future it surely will happen.
The workload can be very heavy here at times, for example during peak hours. Do you feel ready to handle that?
It’s important to show some confidence. Unless you believe that you’ll handle the job, they will find it hard to believe it either… Ensure them that you expect no walk in a park, and that you actually enjoy the adrenaline of a busy kitchen.
Surely, the workload will be heavy, but you won’t panic. You will try to work as fast as you can, without taking a break during the rush hour. And while you know that you’ll get tired, you believe you will handle it. You can also refer to an experience from one of your former jobs when you were also super buys. But you managed to prioritize your work and worked fast enough to handle the workload.
Imagine that you disagree with a chef, with a certain order they give you. What will you do?
You should respect the line of hierarchy in the kitchen. At the same time, however, you should not hesitate to share your feedback with a chef. If they are a good chef (and not a despotic idiot), they will welcome any constructive criticism and feedback from their subordinates.
Say that you will share your opinion with them, clearly explaining why you suggest another procedure or way of preparing the dish, but at the end you will let them decide. It’s their competence, and they also carry the responsibility on their shoulders. That’s why they should have the final word.
How do you feel about working on Sunday (in the night, on weekends, etc)?
Job of a line cook has one big disadvantage. Most people go to restaurants when they aren’t at work, that means in the evening, during the weekend, on Sunday. These are often the peak times in the restaurants, though of course it depends also on the specifics of each given location, and culture.
Anyway, if they ask you about working on Sunday, or in the night, it means that it will be expected from you. And you should show some flexibility, and collegiality… I remember on a job applicant who said that they could not work on Sunday, because they were catholic. Well, fair enough, but what about their colleagues?
Someone must work on Sunday, and when you decide not to, instead of two Sundays in a week your colleagues will have to work each weekend… And that’s not going to happen so you won’t get a job if you say that your beliefs do not allow you to work on Sunday (or some other day),
Ensure your interviewer that you are aware of the opening hours of their place, and do not expect to work only from Monday to Friday.
How would you describe an ideal colleague in the kitchen?
Here you have a few options for a good answer. One is saying, with a humility in your voice, that there’s nothing like a perfect colleague. Just like you have your strengths and weaknesses, you expect your colleagues to be the same. Everyone can have a bad day and conflicts can’t be entirely avoided in a busy restaurant. You try to accept and respect people as they are, without trying to change them. It likely isn’t possible anyway…
Another option is referring to communication. It will be nice to have a friendly and functioning communication with your colleagues. People in the kitchen should cooperate and not compete, and that’s possible only if the communication flows freely in all directions in the kitchen–including to and from the chef, and to and from the restaurant manager.
Other questions you may face while interviewing for a job of a Line Cook
- We have a high employee turnover in the hospitality industry. How can we know that you won’t leave this place in two weeks time?
- What do you consider your biggest weakness when we talk about a work in the kitchen?
- In your opinion, what matters more in this job–speed, or quality?
- Are you a detail oriented person?
- What three words would your friends use to describe you?
- What are your salary expectations?
* Special Tip: You can also download the full list of questions in a one page long PDF, print it, and practice your interview answers anytime later–in front of a mirror, or with a friend:
Conclusion, next steps
Interviews for a job of a line cook belong to interviews with low difficulty. Employee turnover is pretty high in this field, and many restaurants (and fast food chains) are almost always hiring. As long as you do not remain silent, show proactive approach to work and willingness to sweat in the kitchen, sometimes also on Sunday, they should give you a chance to prove your skills in the kitchen.
Try to learn something about their place, and prepare short answer to each question from this article. Once done, you should check also the following posts:
I wish you good luck! Matthew