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“Why do you want to work here?” an innocent trick interview question

Why do you want to work here?

Anne Burrell asks “Why do you want to work here”?

Why do you want to work here?

“Why do you want to work here?” is one of the most standard questions during a job interview. Although I take it for granted, I didn’t realize how critical this question was until I watched this being answered by potential job candidates as an observer. I know what I personally want to hear, I know what I don’t want to hear, but I didn’t realize what these answers really sounded like until I was watching the question being answered on TV.

I generally don’t watch TV outside of two programs. One is Suits and the other is Shameless, (and I loves me some Shameless). I am not a reality TV person, but one program has recently caught my attention. These last few weeks I have become fascinated with the TV reality program Chef Wanted on the FoodNetwork. I am not quite sure if it is because I am:

  • Fascinated by the anti – HR culture of the restaurant business
  • Fascinated by job interview process presented on the show
  • All the low cut blouses that are worn by the spiky blonde haired – gigantinormous, Anne Burrell. I mean gigantinoumous in a good and sexy low blouse, kind-of-a way. Her revealing tops accent her features and she makes no excuses, references, or apologies for her size. Confidence is the new sexy and a lot of candidates could afford to take notes.

Consider this program “The Apprentice” for restaurants, but instead of the winner of the show running a company, the winner will be a chef running a restaurant. Instead of Donald Trump telling you “You’re Fired!” with his signature flourish, it is the owner of the restaurant letting you know you won’t be moving to the next round. Here is the basic premise of each show and it follows the same format on every episode:

A large restaurant is on the search for a new Executive Chef. Usually, the restaurant is an upscale place and seems to have 100’s of tables and although this may not be Michelin Star material, this isn’t a junior position potential chefs are applying for. These restaurants will become career changers for the chef that is left standing. Of course, the contestants answer the standard interview question “Why do you want to work here?”

Anne Burrell is the host of the program and she puts 4 potential chefs through their paces and in typical Survivor fashion, the candidates are given culinary challenges that mere mortals would not be able to pull off. Her last episode, she made a dish with pasta and cheese from scratch.  Doesn’t sound so hard until the 60-minute timer goes off.  60 minutes for pasta AND cheese from scratch? There is a reason they say “too many chefs in the kitchen spoils the soup” and hence 4 Chefs enter the Thunder Dome and the one Chef left standing is offered the job.

So WTF is an HR guy blogging about a blonde chef with a gynormous chest and a signature low-cut blouse? It’s a humongous chest with a low-cut blouse Gomer, what’s not to blog about?

The opening of each of these programs zooms in on the 4 individual chefs vying for the Executive Chef position and in this segment, they all give a short bio on themselves, which includes answering the question “Why do you want to work here?”  The last 2 programs I watched were very similar and the scene in my man cave has been the same both weeks. Me on my couch with a day old Dominoes pizza box at my feet, cigar ashtray with last nights butts, and some day old coffee with coagulated cream floating at the top and me reacting to the show like a San Francisco Fan watching the Super Bowl.

Chef number 1: My name is Sam Soufflé and I am a professional chef and cook for famous actors and on movie sets.  This job would really solidify my career as an executive chef. When I cook for a celebrity, I need to cook what they want.  Here, I get to cook what I want. I get to create the menu and I get to use my creativity. No more high maintenance actors for me.

At this point, I am just kicking back on my couch with the dog and casually thinking Chef number 1: “OMG, what a dumb ass. This guy is never going to get hired.  I don’t care about this name dropping, Hollywood wannabe chef to the stars. I care about my restaurant.  Does this dumb ass really think that I am going to be impressed because he cooks for one guy that was fired from the sitcom Two and a Half Men?

Chef number 2:  “My name is Billy Joe Brisket and I really need this job. I need this job for my family.  If I don’t get this job, I don’t know what I am going to do. I miss my daughter, I miss my wife, and I haven’t seen them for 3 weeks. I used to have a catering business that was voted number 1, but then the economy hit. This job would help get back on my feet and I would be able to see my family again.”

I am sitting on the edge of the seat leaning forward because this show just got a little more interesting to the armchair HR quarterback. I am speaking out loud directly to the TV at this point and the dog has lifted his head and given me a puzzled look: Seriously? Did this candidate just say, “I really need this job”? Everyone needs a job! Everyone wants to see his or her family!  “I miss my daughter?”  Are you fricken kidding me? I don’t want to hire someone who is bringing their drama to the office. I want to hire an Executive Chef! I don’t know anything about being a chef, but the word Executive tells me that your job is to take care of my problems and I don’t have to worry about yours!”

Chef number 3:  (in an Italian accent) “Pasta is my passion. I love pasta and have been making pasta since I was 14 years old back home. I grew up in Italy and food is all that I think about. There is nothing better than making a simple dish with simple ingredients for the people you care for. This restaurant is known for its pasta and I am really excited to be here, to show what I know, and to learn from the amazing staff. This restaurant is a dream opportunity for me.”   This guy read my post on enthusiasm in the workplace and how P Diddy breaks it down here.

I am fully engaged now; leaning forward and just found a team to root for.  The dog could care less because he doesn’t see any Italian meatballs in his near future, just day old sliced pepperoni:  “Oh yeah, this guy is my boy!” with a quick fist pump to the air. “This guy doesn’t even realize he sounds like the guy I am looking for. This isn’t an act, this is the real deal. This guy has a passion for cooking and a passion for pasta!  I can already tell that he is the guy that is going to get along with the rest of the team here and everyone is going to want to be around this guy.”

Chef number 4: “This restaurant is perfect for me. This is the next level in my career. I am currently working in a restaurant that seats 50 and this place can seat over 300. This is a great step for my career and it is in my hometown so I wouldn’t even have to move. My family and my daughter really need me to find a job because the economy has hit us pretty hard these last few years.”

HRNasty’s response to Chef number 4  is in the form of violent screams directed towards the TV: HOLY SHIT!  Where do they get these people!  Did he just say “A great step for his career?” He just told me that he hasn’t ever run a staff this size or served these many people! I don’t want to hire a guy I need to train. This is my restaurant, not your bicycle with training wheels.  I can afford to take a chance on a guy going from 200 seats to 300, but not from 50 to 300???!!!  I want to hire a guy that can come in here who I can turn the reins over to. And WTF is that? ARE THOSE TATTOOS?? Tattoos are accepted in the restaurant industry but it looks like he did time in Fulton. This is a family restaurant, not an International House of Pancakes! If you think rolling your sleeves up makes you look like you are a hard worker, guess again, because it just makes you look like a killer that did a hard time. At this point, I am about ready to throw my day old pizza at the screen.

I don’t know anything about football, but I get the feeling I look like a San Francisco fan at the Super Bowl watching their team go down. It is an ugly car accident happening in slo-mo.  I know it is coming and I am not able to do a thing about it. Even our 15-year-old deaf dog is giving me my space and leaves the room.

Anne Burrell is a great cook, and yes, I did learn to add freshly squeezed lemon to my chicken soup for some added zest, but a recruiter she is not. I don’t know where they get these folks but the last thing I want to hear in response to the critical question: “Why do you want to work with us?” is essentially what Chef 1, 2, and 4 said.

  • I don’t really give a shit where I work. I am desperate, I am broke, and I just need a job.
  • I don’t really care where I work; I just want to use you as a stepping stone to further my career.
  • What you are doing here is cooking. I can cook. Doesn’t matter what you are cooking, “You need a cook. I cook, simple and finito.”

The networks are trying to tug at my emotional strings by getting me to feel for the 3 chefs that have a personal family situation. They are obviously trying to manipulate me with some drama and tug at my heartstrings like some puppeteer. Unfortunately, I have been hardened by years of HR work and I have heard every sob story in the book. I am a Teflon frying pan and that dookey just slides right off me. Maybe hearing about 4 Chefs wax poetic about their passion for pasta, how they learned the art of charcuterie on a farm in southern France would get old. Frankly, if it were I, three of the 4 wouldn’t have made it to casting and they sure as heck wouldn’t have been presented to the restaurant owner, AKA, the CEO and the hiring manager.

Next time you are asked “Why do you want to work here?” don’t give them your drama, spin your story into something the hiring manager wants to be a part of and wants on his or her team! 


Next week, Food Network star Giada de Laurentis and how to make Hot Cross Buns.   

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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