Interview Step #1: Bake Your Cake

Preparing for an interview is a lot like baking a cake.

Think about it. You gather your ingredients, follow a sure-fire, can’t miss recipe you discovered on-line, mix everything together, throw it in the oven, close your eyes and hope for the best.

And if you’re like a vast majority of the general public, the entire process scares you to death.

While we can parallel the similarities between interviewing for your dream job and baking a cake, there is a point where those similarities end.

When you have baked your cake, you present it to your family and say, “This is what I made for you”.

When you arrive for your interview, you present your qualifications to a prospective employer and say, “This is what I can do for your organization”.

Different perspectives, with the potential for vastly different responses.

I had the good fortune of experiencing the rarest of occasions, a moment when those two perspectives met head-on, a life changing interaction that provided the background for a Personal Development Workshop titled appropriately enough:  Bake Your Cake.

The content of the workshop, though, reaches far beyond a symbolic metaphor. It is about first understanding who you are, your strengths and desires . . . your character . . . then mastering the alchemical process that transforms those competencies into a level of self-confidence capable of convincing others “This is what I will do for you”.

Before we dive deeper into that process, we’ll revisit the life-changing interaction that got this whole business started.

Listen To Your Naïve Thoughts

I had been waiting for the banner to go up for weeks.

Mind you, this was long before recruiting sites allowed companies to sponsor virtual Hiring Events. Back then, you announced that you were accepting applications by way of a huge, 20-foot banner on the side of the building that read “Now Hiring”.

My plan was to become Pastry Chef of the city’s newest hotel. Not that I knew anything about the hotel business at the time.  What I did know was that the addition of a 700-room hotel would have a huge impact on the community, and I wanted desperately to be part of it.

Suddenly, the banner was there, hanging in pristine glory above the hotel entrance. I almost drove into the bridge abutment, distracted by the sense that my quest had officially begun.

I could hardly contain myself on the rest of the drive home, giddy with excitement as I worked through one final review of my resume. Satisfied with its portrayal of my Pastry talents and experience, I fired off a copy to the company’s address and waited. And waited.

What seemed like six weeks was more like six days. I finally received a call from the Executive Chef, “I’d like to meet and discuss the possibilities”.

“This is it”, I thought to myself, “My dreams are going to come true . . . I’m going to be the Pastry Chef of this big, beautiful hotel”.

Scary as that was, I possessed what I refer to now as a level of “extreme self-confidence”. No hurdle was too high to overcome.

Still, I had the normal jitters in the days leading up to my interview. Suddenly, I became nervous for a completely different reason. Through my years as a Pastry Chef, I had never taken the time to put together a picture portfolio of my work. Again, this was before technology turned taking photos into a basic reflex, like breathing or blinking.

Had I constructed a photographic journal, I could plan to engage in colorful conversation around some of the beautiful items I had produced.

Instead, there was nothing to show of my talents and accomplishments but words printed on fine linen. I was scared to death of being asked the question, “If you’re such a hot-shot Pastry Chef, why do you want to work for us?”

I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I had a Naïve Thought, which is defined in the Tall Tim Dictionary as:

“a moment in which you receive extreme insight in its purest, most natural, unintentional state.  When that happens, and you have tapped into ethereal wisdom, the simplicity can change your life.”

At that time, I was running a Dessert Catering business, and would take samples to prospective clients. So, I decided to bake a cake, and take it to my interview.

The cake would feature three distinctive layers: the bottom layer was a Flourless Chocolate Cake, the middle layer was a Milk Chocolate Cheesecake, both of those were topped by a layer of Milk Chocolate Mousse that had been kissed with a just hint of Bailey’s Irish Crème.

The layers were encased within a Petit Charlotte, thin strips of light genoise sandwiched with a silky chocolate ganache (think of a delicious, delicate picket fence surrounding the cake).

Set upon the Milk Chocolate Mousse were hand-made Chocolate Roses and Chocolate Leaves (formed by painting the backs of real leaves with chocolate, then peeling away the leaf to reveal a realistic imprint).

The top of the cake was adorned with a hand-sculptured Chocolate Butterfly.

So, I was set. The cake was unique, featured a variety of skills and techniques, and played to one of my strengths: chocolate. I planned to place it on the table and proudly say “This is what I can do for your organization.”  Simple.

The morning of my interview arrived. I put on my suit and tie, packed up my cake with the Chocolate Butterfly on top, took a deep breath, and headed downtown to meet my destiny.

Identify Your Strengths

Disclaimer: Not everyone should plan to bring a cake with a Chocolate Butterfly to their next interview.

The question remains: How will you identify yourself as the best candidate for this position?

It begins with identifying your strengths and competencies, the foundation for generating self-confidence. Please do not stop at the identification process. Genuine self-confidence exists in understanding how your strengths interact, how they support each other throughout your performance.

For example, when designing the cake for my interview, I didn’t plan on layers just for layers sake. While they each portrayed a separate skill, it was how they interacted with each other that created the magic. There was an intended balance of texture and flavor.

If served a piece, your fork would move through those layers with the ease of Sunday morning, a cohesion of flavors captured in one unique bite.

Over time, I have conducted interviews and listened to applicants describe their strengths, each paired with a specific accomplishment. Which is great, you have told me that you are can generate distinct, individual results. Where is the cohesion?

Applicants that separated themselves were those who could share an accomplishment, then describe strengths and competencies involved, and how they used them to achieve desired results. This portrays a deeper understanding of your craft, how elements of your performance interrelate given a circumstance or situation.

The value in this approach is that you are not only describing what you have done, you’re describing your potential and awareness for doing even more.

Character On Display

When preparing for your interview, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What does this position represent to me? What value exists in working through this change process, from a personal and professional perspective?”

In today’s current pandemic-influenced environment, those may be difficult questions to answer, or even ask. Its human nature that our need for security and stability out-weigh the desire for deeper insight. But there will come a day . . .

The answers to those questions will work to determine how well your Character, your personal values and moral qualities, align with those of your prospective employer. The better the alignment, the greater the chances of your selection and successful transition.

As I was designing, baking, and decorating my cake, every ounce of my intention was being channeled into becoming part of a growth process. I didn’t really know that much about the company, which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Mine was a more holistic focus, one that could envision widespread development and opportunity. I became an extension of the overall vision, which consumed my focus and efforts.

Another important consideration was that I had a source of income, so my ambition wasn’t fueled by desperation. I wanted desperately to be part of the growth process. But if it didn’t work out, I had other opportunities to return to.

Having clarity of intention allowed my character to take center stage. When I sat across from the Chef and presented my Chocolate Cake with the Butterfly on top, it was with complete humility. There wasn’t a trace of “look at what I can do”. Instead, there was an unspoken commitment to serve, a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, together.

We circle back to you, and how you will achieve this clarity of intention and allow your character to shine through. A couple of thoughts:

Humility

Some mistakenly equate the presence of humility with an absence of self-confidence. In contrast,

humility enhances self-confidence, replacing the solitude of “me” with the collaborative power of “we”.

Remember, you want to join this team. Based on the answers to the previous self-reflective questions, you see this as an opportunity to grow, beyond a salary and position. Genuine personal and professional growth. Put the ego aside and let your true colors shine.

Do Your Homework

Be curious about your new organization. Research their history, specifically the background of their core values. This is where you will discover answers related to company culture, the back story to an established vision or mission statement.

More importantly, this is an opportunity to discover the intuitive connection between your personal values and those of the organization. Not for use as talking points necessarily, but to provide clarity of intention. If you understand on a deep, personal level the reason behind your ambition, your genuine motive for seeking this position will come through.

Interviewers will refer to this as “fit”, a determination as to whether they see you not only surviving in the organization, but prospering.

Its Not Just How You Feel, But How You Look

Look the part, remember to see yourself as an extension of the organization.

This applies to everything, but perhaps most importantly, grooming standards and body language.

Although I was interviewing for the Pastry Chef position, I wore a suit and tie, which had been pressed for the occasion. A fresh haircut was included, my fingernails were clean and trimmed. Many applicants overlook the important role hands play in the interview process . . . minimize jewelry, be cognizant of the fact that your hands will be pointing, describing, shaking, throughout the process.

Your posture, seated or standing, should be attentive, a slight tilt in communicates that you are engaged in the process. Not too far . . . you don’t want to appear overly eager or desperate. Try to remain relaxed, while maintaining your humility.

Epilogue

Strengths, Character, Humility . . . there is a lot to consider when preparing to interview for your dream job. The choice is yours.

As for my interview?

I was not offered the position of Pastry Chef. The hotel had already filled that position.

Instead, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. One final position remained open on the Culinary Management team, and I accepted. This is not to say I am a Professional Chef, and my adventuresome change process will be the topic of another Post. But it changed the course of both my professional and personal life, and I loved every minute of it.   

Why was I offered this position that I admittedly was not qualified for? Strengths, Character, Humility . . . it can change your life.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!      

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