Mayo's Clinics

May 25, 2022, 15:49

Mayo’s Clinic: Interviews as a Learning Activity

13 February 2015

Assigning an interview as an out-of-class activity will help your students practice networking, making connections with industry professionals and interacting in a professional manner.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

My past two “Mayo’s Clinics” have focused on out-of-classroom activities because they are an important part of a student’s education and one that we often do not have a chance to discuss or think about. In this column, we will discuss the challenges and values of using interviews as an out-of-class learning activity.

Reasons for Using Interviews
There are a number of benefits that derive from using interviews. If you give your students an assignment to interview a specific person or persons in certain positions—chef de cuisine, pastry chef, maître d’hôtel or restaurant manager—they will have to do some research on the person and prepare a list of questions to use in the interview.

If you do not make the arrangements ahead of time with persons who are willing to be interviewed or provide students with access to specific individuals, the assignment gives them experience in reaching out and contacting industry professionals, requesting an appointment and making all the appropriate arrangements for an interview. Learning this range of skills contributes dramatically to students’ professional development at an early point in their careers. Hopefully, it also helps them build some confidence in their networking skills.

Preparing for the interview gives students practice in developing good questions, asking them carefully and listening to both the verbal and nonverbal responses. In fact, creating and sequencing a set of questions can be a wonderful intellectual challenge, especially if you provide some information on probing questions (how to follow up on short answers to get more information) or prompting questions (how to get reluctant persons to talk and share information). Other advice you might want to share about useful types of questions can also make a difference.

Conducting the interview gives your students the experience of taking notes (or transcribing them if the interview was recorded) while listening to what the interviewee says and staying focused on the questions. It provides students with a chance to practice or develop their interpersonal skills with industry professionals who are most often interested in helping culinary and hospitality students.

Assigning an interview as an out-of-class activity will help your students practice networking, making connections with industry professionals and interacting in a professional manner.

Sample Assignments
In developing the assignment, I encourage you to make the interviews structured or semi-structured so that your students have to plan the questions, sequence them appropriately and take notes in a clear pattern. If you let the interviews be open ended and unstructured, it is highly likely that students will not get useful responses or ones worth analyzing. The unstructured interviews become a great social visit, but not a chance to learn much about the topic of the interview or the interviewing process. Unstructured interviews are also much harder to describe in any formal way.

Part of the interview assignment should include preparing a paper about the experience. Alternatively, students can make a presentation to the class, but often there is insufficient class time for many reports. The paper assignment should include several parts:

1.     Introduction to the paper

2.     Discussion of whom the student chooses to interview and why that person (if the student chose his or her own interviewee)

3.     Analysis of what the student learned from the person he or she interviewed

4.     Reflections on what the student learned about the process of planning for and conducting an interview

5.     Conclusion

6.     Appendix of the interview questions and scripts

When giving this type of assignment, you might want to also require that students send their interviewees hand-written thank-you notes. Often, I ask them to share photocopies of the thank-you notes with me so that I can comment on them, as well.

These assignments push some students out of their comfort zones and provide more interaction with industry professionals—both essential parts of their professional educations. They also learn that they can make this assignment happen and benefit from reflecting on the experience. I encourage you to try an out-of-class interview assignment.

Thank you for reading this column discussing interviews as out-of-classroom activities and considering using this activity as a way of expanding your teaching strategies. Next month, we will continue emphasizing out-of-classroom activities will focus on conducting structured observations.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future “Mayo’s Clinics.”

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, was most recently a clinical professor at New York University. Principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.