Nov 082014
 

Ferran Adria and Tony Bourdaine each have a brand. So do you.

In case you haven’t heard yet, you have a brand. You began building it the first time you accepted a job in a kitchen and added to it every time you moved on.

Perhaps you accepted jobs in professional environments under demanding chefs who were not always kind but gave you a rigor which guarantees your next employers or investors the combination of focus and skill they need.

Or you began work in busy locations with high demands on organizational skills and strategies and continued to ascend the ladder of responsibility while you added management and crisis solutions to your tool chest.

Brands are individual. The more common word would be reputation, but you have a brand by the time you take your third or fourth job. If you are wise you have followed your best skill set to achieve and maintain your brand, most likely forgoing selling out early. Smart, I say, because you’re your brand is the cornerstone of your career, your satisfaction and your life including your success in the future.

Building and caring for your brand means giving thought to where you are going next before you have to go there and having the long view toward your final goal. It means making choices, sometimes difficult. At some time you will decide or it will be decided for you whether your brand is that of a detail oriented hotel chef or as a master of food for a small audience. If you are a grand manager and organizer but aspire to a cuisine that will put your name in lights, you need to realize that the two career directions are probably mutually exclusive. Choose one.

Some brands – bad boy chef or media monster – tend to come with karma or crafty planning, but there is always an element of fate in anyone’s career path. And, of course, there are undesirable brands such as the screamer or the coke head, but that’s  not really what we’re talking about here. We are talking about the reputation you want to project.

Most of the time your brand will not be a theme like Asian or Latino, but it can be, just as it can be comfort or modernist cuisine, although many people who begin in a tightly defined theme desire to expand at some time.

Maintaining your brand demands choices of location and title. If your goal is to be in fine dining and there are no chefs positions in the area where you want to be, then your concessions are going to have to include decisions to relocate to places where the positions you need for your profile are available, take a subordinate position where you want to be or lower your expectations.

I am opposed to the last option. I have seen too many chefs sacrifice their futures because they have a relationship requiring more free time, want to live where housing costs less, or value compensation and title over reputation. By the time we speak a few years later their chances of returning to the arena they originally chose are extremely limited. I find it a pity that some people give up something they have worked so long to develop. The industry is unforgiving.

In other words, keeping your profile and your future desirability not only requires choices but may require sacrifices. Life gets in the way of career, and I would be the last person to suggest that family – children, sick parents, just family in general – is less important than career. It’s not.

The good news, however, is that you only need about ten years to set your reputation in stone, then you can generally choose or open your own location. What you do during that period will, I promise pay off or exact payment. I am tempted to say It’s your choice, but the fact is that you have to make it your choice. Life is tough, but most of the time you can bend it to your desires.

Aug 012013
 

Stop me if you have read this before:  The first thing employers and recruiters look for in an applicant is quality. The second is stability. This is done with a quick scan of dates and locations. If the ratio of years  to jobs  is less than about 1.5 (That is, a new job every year or less) most of us will pass and go onto the next, even though that chef’s background is not nearly as exciting.

I just took a second look at a resume I passed over two months ago, knowing that  I could not present  his  background of short stints in great locations to any of my clients. Being a bit disappointed about it, I read further into the resume hoping for something that would make  him a viable candidate. This is what I read.

3/2010-3/2011   Sous Chef                         The Priory:
Award winning restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)
4/2011 – 3/2012 Chef de Cuisine            The Rectory:
Three meal restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (duties,etc)
4-/2012 – present Chef de Cuisine         Jacob’s Ladder
Michelin star dining room at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)

He has been in the same location for 3 ½ years – which I missed, as all I saw were about 11 jobs in the past decade.

I feel less bad about missing the details knowing that my clients would have missed it, too. I  have had to explain similar resumes to my clients too many times to believe they will be faster than I am on the pickup. In fact, I frequently make notes in their emails that kitchen a, b and c were either all on the coat tails of a mentor or all belonged to the same company, and I still have to explain it. That’ s my job, but my candidates would do themselves a great favor it they would stop expecting everyone to connect their resume dots;

The Point: If your background includes multiple properties under the same company, chef or group or within the same hotel or resort, make it very clear on your paper.

Here’s how:

3/2010 – Present Winnepeg Resort and Spa (Five Diamond Property)
Sous Chef : The Priory – Award winning restaurant.
Chef de Cuisine: The Rectory – Three Meal Restaurant
Chef de Cuisine: Jacob’s Ladder – Michelin star dining room

See? Same information, but presented so that the reader cannot possibly miss your remarkable tenure. With this three year stint, by the way, and your collection of ten top restaurants you become immediately irresistible to the job of your dreams. Really. You move from potentially explosive material (“gee..what’s wrong with this guy..he can’t stay anywhere more than a year”) to absolute catnip. Trust me. I know this stuff.

How easy was that?  This holds true whether you worked for five hotels in a management group,  half a dozen restaurants in a corporation or have moved around from unit to unit in a resort. A slight variation shows that you followed your mentor for five  years. (2009 – 2012  Worked under Chef Adam Fritzenphal at the following properties).  Add whatever details the next employer will want to know – who you worked under,  the nature of the product you served, your duties.

I have said before that it is in your best interest to consider everyone receiving  your resume either tired, stressed or even stupid and to kindly make your positive points crystal clear to them/us. Putting things clearly is your job. We don’t miss every beat, but you don’t want the beat we miss to be you.

May 212013
 

Or maybe social media and job search.

I have been on Linkedin for several years, and frankly, I haven’t found many people there, despite my largish stable of “friends”.  That seems more to do with the international nature of the venue, but it may be just me. Every time I reach out, no matter how specifically, I find a flood of messages in my inbox from India, Pakistan and other wildly exotic places with hoards of chefs and cooks wanting to get to the US, which messes up my work rhythm.

This is despite the clear statement: We are unable to consider candidates outside the United States and without working visas.

But this is about you, and not me, so let me get to the point: What I also see on Linkedin and on the other social media sites I frequent is  the following sentence: “Please see my profile”.  Nothing more. Just an order to look them up. ..just  take a moment out of your schedule to go get what I could have sent you myself, if I had bothered to read the entire job description and gone to your web site to send a resume and a note via your carefully constructed contact page.

They also place these on posts of people who ask questions like, “How do I find a job in Sweden”. “Please view my profile.”  There may even be an ap for this (considering the mindless uniformity of the response, there probably is). May I suggest that if so it does more harm than good?

What does this have to do with you? Well, if you do this no recruiter with a brain in his/her head is going to give you the time of day. Why? Because they are careless, inconsiderate and stupid.

You, on the other hand, are not. You have the intelligence and the presence of mind to read job offers or leads on social media to the end and follow the instructions to a “T”. If there are no instructions, you have the class and intelligence to message the person posting the job directly with a very short  note that says “I am interested in the job your posted on whatever.com.  How may I best contact you and where can I send a resume, if you desire one?” Now isn’t that charming? It’s also effective.  The employer or recruiter may  look at your profile anyway  (we do that), but you have at least offered to take the initiative.

That means you are the kind of person I want in my employment..not someone who either does not read instructions or ignores them.

Another Linkedin anomaly: I notice that whenever I post a job other recruiters post something like, “Go to Dan’s Sleazy recruitment site to see the best jobs in the world.” Of course this is superfluous, since you are all smart cookies, but I would say that any recruiting firm who tailgates someone else’s work like that is hardly trustworthy and should be avoided at all costs.  (Perhaps I should offer something on bad recruiters, as I notice them on the rise, but time is precious at the moment.) At any rate, be warned.

As long as we are at this, let’s talk alumni sites. I occasionally mention something about jobs on school sites. I  just mentioned a great opportunity for cooks who want to move into Michelin rated kitchens on one, but as a recruiter I left no name. A student or alumni immediately challenged this, and I explained with a link to this site’s explanation about recruiters why that was the case. The young woman responded, “That is an awful site. It doesn’t do anything to attract candidates.” Now, actually from our statistics, it appears it does, but that’s not the point.

The point is that this  young woman is posting in a place where not only I but numerous employers make job offers. Her manners are wanting, to say the least, and everyone who looks there  has a a chance to see that.  Obviously something else you are too smart and classy to do, but I thought  I’d mention it.

I have been busy filling jobs (The Chefs’ Professional Site is listed on the side bar if you want to know what they are) and regret not to have provided more posts.  This one, however, seems important.

So let me repeat the moral, because it’s an easy one: When dealing with internet job opportunities, read posting carefully, follow the instructions and be respectful and polite. Good luck to all of you. The world needs people like you.

 

 

Oct 092012
 

(So does everyone else.)

Google a little and find a list of “What Headhunters want in their candidates” .  or: “How to get your resume to the top of the pile”, or: “Resumes that will get you in with headhunters.” Aside from the fact that I would not want to be considered a “headhunter” (too cannibalistic for a business that needs to be aware of the welfare of both sides of an employment equation, don’t you think) as a recruiter I can tell you that all of this is a heap of gerbil dung.

It’s  nonsense, unless you prefer working for fools. Wise people hire based on your track record. If your track record does not hold up to any company’s laundry list of requirements, you will not be considered. It’s that simple.  (Fools go for the glitzy bits in resumes, but more about that in some other entry).

I am in a slightly different position than the usual restaurant owner, as any resume I receive may not be sufficient for the position I seek, but might be just the background some later client desires. I keep good records. For this the suitability of the applicant’s background to just one job is not the only thing I consider. There are a few elements on a resume and in a candidate’s nature which are enchanting. I have a system of checks in my data base. When I discover these characteristics, the boxes get checks,  so I can find that person faster.  Here they are:

1)       Care to career. A chef who  has carefully chosen his positions and guided his actions to keep them. This is not a matter of talent but of character and focus. A logical career trajectory is a delight. Someone who began as a cook in a local restaurant, continued to work for a few years in a better location,  then took a couple more positions in good quality kitchens to secure  his place and profile.  The quality of  his kitchens either stayed the same or rose.

2)      Stability. I do not care how many great restaurants you work at, if you only work at each one for a few months or less than a year, you do not promise the quality of any of them.  I know it is not easy to work for great chefs, and it frequently pays poorly, and it is just that application that tells me this candidate has more than talent. He has character and drive.

3)      Commitment.  Some people call this “passion”. Committed cooks and chefs are not likely to take any sharp turns in their careers to accommodate convenience. They bring with them several levels of integrity, culinary only being one of them. They are not ideologues but people whose history is testimony to their love of their chosen profession.

4)      A sense of community. We are a community and every restaurant is a community. The chef who understands himself as part of the whole will always achieve better results than the lone genius. Consider it a basketball game. It’s hard to find community sense on resumes, but it’s easy to see where it is lacking. Interviews usually reveal it quickly, as the community spirited chef will always talk about  his people and what they were able to do, rather than counting down what he presents as his sole achievements.

5)      Common sense. Every so often I will offer a young chef a job I think he can do, and he will say “No thank  you. I need to learn more first.” A chef who realizes that he is being flattered (not by me) to accept a questionable situation. They will succeed.

6)      Niceness, gratitude. Again it’s hard to see niceness, but the opposite is often very visible. Anytime someone says something like “I was so lucky to be working with her. She was fabulous” you know you have a nice person. Make that gratitude, if you will.  A while back when people were saying the French are mean (they are not), I responded that   Hubert Keller was a terribly nice guy. “Oh, said someone, “that’s just their schtick.” I like that schtick. Look where it got him. Nice guys frequently finish first.

7)      Honesty: Really. Don’t mess with me. I very much dislike it. Everyone does.

8)      Self-assessment and acceptance of one’s own humanity. Nobody’s perfect so anyone trying to appear so just looks silly. Someone who can say that their strength lies in X and they are still working on Y, anyone who realizes that their own behavior contributed to whatever caused their last job issue, is a candidate worth keeping close. Applicants who  know what needs improvement are in a position to effect it and usually do.

9)      The opposite of arrogance. I am  not sure what this is, but it is neither  humility (humility is creepy) nor modesty. It is the understanding that your own great efforts to move ahead would not have been enough without fortune and some help along the way.

10)   Straight shooting. (but with tact)  As in no name dropping. No posturing. Just what you did. Just be you.

Of course that this is what floats my boat need be of no consequence to  you cookies and cheffies out there, except that it is what floats everyone’s yacht.

Apr 292012
 

The most frequent dream job for an aspiring chef is working in a small to midsized restaurant owned by a visionary who cedes full control of the menu, concept and pricing, giving the chef full autonomy and the tools to gain the visibility that will lead to his own restaurant.

Sometimes it works..
When it does not, the greatest issue appears to be the question of the chefs’ autonomy. I love the quote from mostly Martha, “You are wrong. It’s your restaurant. It’s her kitchen,” even though it isn’t really accurate. The kitchen belongs to the restaurant and its expenses and practices draw from the bottom line. It, too belongs to the owner, which however by no means suggests that the chef cedes  responsibility or that the owner is free to override the chef in substantial decisions.

Actions by the chef – hiring an inappropriate person, ignoring labor laws or food safety standards, inadequate cost controls or low prioritizing of loss – come from the bottom line. Owners who call for new chefs complain that their current chef has hired friends without work visas or does not keep adequate time records because he does not consider them important. One chef who refused to note what he an apparently unimportant and trivial “sexual harassment” incident cost the restaurant $200,000 in damages.

Successful restaurateurs know enough to be cautious with menu autonomy, possibly the top item on any young chef’s wish list, so a lot of young chefs turn down promising positions for owners who keep control over their menus and concepts,  whether that means requiring a few well received items on the menu, or that all new dishes be approved before they are tried out at the beginning of the chef’s tenure.

“He keeps second guessing my purveyors,” says one chef, who doesn’t comprehend the owner’s desire to have a hand in the costs of the facility.

He has three sous chefs, sighs the plagued restaurateur. That’s one for twenty seats. Our food cost is great, but our labor cost is putting out of business.” “I have brought in great reviews,” says the chef, and raised the volume by 45%, not considering that labor or food costs may be resulting in lowering profits to an unacceptably thin or negative margin. Restaurants are not supposed to subsidize their guests.

“Visionary,” it has been remarked (often by me), “is a four letter word.” Grand ideas of new restaurant owners often collide head first with the economic realities and demographics of a location. There are of course those truly impressive first time owners who start on point and continue to run a successful restaurant for years with a strong vision and perfect chef interaction (I would mention Mark Pastore at Incanto here..one of the restaurant owners I most respect in the industry), but many face heart rendering challenges in their new ventures.

“This is not what I signed on to do,” sighs the new restaurant’s creative chef. They’ve changed the concept. They lied to me.” Well, actually they lied to themselves, following their dreams rather than the hard facts of who is willing to pay how much money for what kind of food on their plate. Once they figured it out, they told the chef to replace the basil scented vanilla bass with a burger or a steak, and he’s understandably ticked off. “This will ruin my career!” he moans. Actually it probably won’t but he has a point. Game changing is a bummer even when it is the only option.

Money in the restaurant business is a zero sum game. That would be simple, but the quest for kitchen/owner bliss is complicated by a number of factors including “culinary integrity”, prestige desires, ego on both sides and lack of communication on both sides of the kitchen door.  Often the chef sees additional value in press and recognition, which can only be achieved through more expensive food or a higher staffing quotient than the financials will bear. Owners appreciate the celebrity, but they still have to deal with budget questions. They also unreasonably expect to receive profit from their investments, as do their investors.

Chef’s with aspirations understandably tend to resent the consequences of these realities, which is somewhat like resenting rain.

Virgin restaurateurs, that is those with little or no previous restaurant experience, complicate the equation by lacking understanding of the boundaries between of the kitchen door. Many want to have a hand in everything. Others simply overstep their bounds. A dear friend was, for instance, known for demanding a hamburger in the middle or service. He went through a list of chefs before one slammed his fist on the table and said “No!”. Another, no longer a virgin, gives his generally very talented chefs full reign of the menu but makes up for the financial drain by shorting the dining room to the clear detriment of the kitchen. Good food needs to be delivered at the pre-ordained temperature without infuriating the diners.

First time owners and and some experienced restaurateurs, furthermore, tend to be more meddlesome than necessary. Stories abound of cooks fired for theft or other inexcusable behavior being hired back (thus undermining the chefs’ authority and necessitating his departure), of family members investors demanding special service on the busiest nights, of orders cancelled without the chef’s knowledge. When some lines are crossed,  irremediable barriers thrown up between employer and chef. Pity.

There should be a moral or an answer to all this. Instead there many which begin with decision making and end with communication.  And sometimes there is none. They will be addressed in the next post. In the meantime it would very interesting to hear your own experiences and solutions from either side of this, because you surely have plenty of them.

Please note that the verification for this site is a simple math question. If you can calculate food cost, you should be able to subtract five from six.  It should not stop you.

Mar 192012
 

 

Think before you move. Start out in the right spots.

It’s no secret that Location and demographics are two of the main factors in determining the success of a restaurant. The same adage holds true for careers.

At some point in your career you will decide what you want from life, or your history will decide it for you. My advice would be to choose the former, although a lot of happy chefs have done very well with the life-as-grab-bag philosophy.

That means you figure what your priorities are: Family, Life beyond the stove, fame, artistic fulfillment, money – some of which are mutually exclusive. And you decide what concessions you are willing to make. If you shoot for the prestigious and demanding spots, your social life may be dysfunctional for a few years.

It also means that you need to take responsibility for choosing the actual demographics of the place you work. The best regarded restaurants tend to be clustered in a few places: New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles with various outliers. If your aim is to build a career based on the most current and rigorous techniques, you need to start in those areas or continue there at a fairly early point – no later than sous chef.

These locations support the most demanding dining culture because of the composition of their diners. They all serve both a large population of well-educated and demanding affluent local diners, international business travelers and destination tourists. Each of these three towns boasts exceptional food centered media. They also have in common substantial populations of young, aggressive professionals on the rise who work hard, play hard, and live in apartments with small to limited cooking facilities.

The cost of working in the hot spots is high: higher rents, igher prices, lower wages, stronger competition, greater stress and longer hours, but the return on that investment, assuming  you make the cut, is great: With a stint of three or four years a respected kitchen in a top location you write your own ticket or attract more investors.

If the citadel is where you want to be, citadel is where you have to start. You cannot easily move into the New York or Chicago big leagues from  New Jersey or Atlanta, no matter how great a chef you are. It’s been done, but it’s rare. You can’t get there from most locations in Florida – although you can take a good history and a strong attitude as a cook or at times a sous chef up to the next level in the most desired areas. If you don’t get sidetracked, it’s definitely worth the investment, but it’s not for everyone.

Less celebrated locations offer good demographics offer great careers and often better lives than the hot spots. You can expect better hours and less stress, although it is exactly that stress which creates the winners in the race to the top. There is no law that requires you to indenture to the exacting standards of the “top” locations. Hotels in particular offer highly satisfying careers in places where the food culture and the demographics are do not support a lot of international destination restaurants.

The word here, however, is “good demographics” – determining them is a bit of a challenge. Take for example Florida, an attractive state which sucked up chefs in the nineties and early 00’s – A population boom of refugees from New York and Chicago winters, who didn’t want to cook demanded more restaurants, and investors gladly built them. Disney  provided jobs and training for the hordes of aspiring culinary professionals.

Today my inbox is full of requests from chefs from Florida desperate for local jobs and, if they have been out of work for more than a year, willing but not necessarily financially able to relocate. What was the problem?

Apart from the financial disaster of the past years, or rather combined with it, demographics. The expanding population of Florida was composed to a great extent of 1) Retirees, 2) Military, 3) People looking for more bang for their housing bucks and 4) people living in other people’s investments. To that comes a low spending tourism, much of which stays in Disney, some ethnic corridors, whose inhabitants are most likely to stay within the dining culture they love, and snow birds.

Some of the characteristics of this demographic picture are: Fixed income, demand for large portions, a lower expectation of adventurous and cutting edge cuisine. The high end tourist population is likely to eat mostly in hotels, but note that many cutting edge chefs who have opened there have since retreated. Demographics rule.

That’s fine in good times, and there’s nothing wrong with the professional preparation of large portions of meat and potatoes – it’s the stuff of family chains and country clubs, a respectable part of the industry, but it doesn’t create the kind of career profile that will induce another restaurant to bring in a chef from out of state.  Private clubs usually flourish in this kind of climate, but in recessionary times, they let their well paid staff go in favor of merely adequate cooks. (Family chains thrive).

Of course you can’t predict economic trends, but the past thirty years have shown us that they happen too frequently, so they need to be factored in your considerations. The fact that Florida now has a lot of cheap housing is a sign that Florida does not offer a lot of good jobs. People who moved to Florida in its good years would hardly have asked is this economy sound, but they might well have asked themselves, “where do I go from here if there are problems.” Many wish they had.

Poor Florida is a good example, but it doesn’t stand alone.  I thought for years that Sacramento would be great restaurant territory, until I realized that the well-educated and moneyed carriage trade were all drawn from the Inland Empire, and Sacramento is the center of an agricultural rather than a trade and professional region. Farmers and Stock Brokers have different tastes. Sacramento is finally coming into its own (several IT firms have large locations in the area) Until a few years ago, though, all Sacramento diners wanted (like Florida diners) was large portions at a reasonable price.

Where are you going to grow your career? What do you look for? Areas with locations like Research Triangle Park will support more and more sophisticated dining than locations like Phoenix, which caters to a demographic similar to Florida. You need to choose what works for you, and Phoenix can be a terrific place, but it is not a way station to Manhattan. Denver, for instance, has many good restaurants and a fairly stable (non speculative) dining public – a great middle choice. Seattle, Oregon are highly respected and solid locations both for permanent careers and for interim positions, as graduates of their many good restaurant are welcome elsewhere. The industrial belt is coming back and is not likely to fail again, and the area will be needing professionals. The positions available will in all probability offer stability and better quality of family life – housing, time and economic benefits – than the Meccas. Unless you make it to the “top”, in which case the world is your Belon.

The problem (actually only one of them) with life is you can’t be everything.  The good thing (actually one of them) is that you have the power to choose.

 

Feb 212012
 

Following myu own advice, that the human attention span is short, I divided the collection of observations  acquired during over a quarter century of watching people shoot themselves in the foot into shorter lists . Here the second installment. They are in no  particular order.

1)   Keep your ego on a short leash, at least in an interview.  Be wary of compliments and suggestions that you are the only one who can fix a properties issues or bring back flagging numbers. That’s probably exactly what they told the last guy.

2)   New Job: Hold your own while showing respect for the existing culture. (Walk softly and carry a big stick). Get to know the culture before turning it on its head.

3)  Trust your instincts.  If you think someone is out to get you, they probably are. If you experience subversion causing staff unrest, consider the soothing effects of a public hanging.

4)   Follow policy. Really. If you can’t deal with the policy, don’t take the job. Management has a reason for policy, and they won’t let you be you, very possibly because that puts their own jobs in jeopardy.  Read the employee handbook and apply it. As you get to know the place better you may be able alter policies and write your own.  People who ignore policy get fired.

5)   Focus your career, and hold a logical career path. Find good places and stay there. Diversity and assortment are good on a buffet table. Less on a resume. Keep your career focused and follow something like a logical path.  Employers (should) always look for a history of  logical progression rather than two bursts of glory in jumble of jobs.

6) Don’t let staff issues slide. If someone is not performing now, they will not perform in five months. Document it and deal with it.

7) Document everything pertaining to running the kitchen and keep a copy for yourself. The chance that you may need it someday is too great for you not to.

8)   If you want a great career, choose opportunity and quality over geography, unless the geography leads to opportunities in quality restaurants.

9)   Marry someone who not only excites you but understands the demands of your career. Chefs are glamorous,  until partners find out that they can’t go out and celebrate with the crowd or babysit in the evening. People with nine to five jobs somehow think their partners can be celebrated chefs and be home for dinner at the same time. Even if they say they get it, they probably don’t.

10)   You can’t have it all. If you want to work five star,  you can’t have nights off.   Decide what’s important and realize that you will probably not be able to change your career trajectory once it is set. The best training spots often pay less for starting positions.

Unfortunately there are many more.  In the meantime, there isn’t a man/woman/person Jack among you, who doesn’t have his/her/their own observations. Please do share. The comment link is below.

 

Jan 102012
 

There are no fool proof systems, because fools are so ingenious (Will Rogers), so there is no way to write complete directions on  not writing a bad cover letter, because the foolish writers always find new ways to do it wrong.

There is, however, one good rule that can eliminate a lot of mistakes: Write it to someone – know who you are writing to.

The various web sites and broadcast software of the IT revolution make it possible for you, the job seeker, to send out inquires to dozens or hundreds or thousands of people at a time, so the fools among you (present company of course excepted) write or more likely copy a boilerplate and shoot it off  in bulk to every recruiter and job opening in the country. The even more foolish send out boiler plate covers to each one individually.

 Here an example:

 

“To Whom It May Concern:,

I am contacting you to explore employment opportunities with your organization.  The accompanying resume will provide you with details regarding my professional experience, education and culinary skills.

You will note that I have a wide range of experience in all areas of culinary arts and have built a reputation as a diligent employee and professional who is able to complete detailed and complicated tasks in a fast paced and accurate fashion.  In addition, I work effectively with a kitchen staff in efforts to produce maximum results and food that is exquisite.

I am convinced that an individual with my talents, combined with my commitment to quality performance and that “can do” attitude will make a valuable contribution to your team.

At your convenience, I would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the goals and objectives of your organization and how my experience and abilities will help in fulfilling those goals.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Zorg.”

 

Well, Zorg,

 

You are not going to  hear from me or any of my colleagues sooner or later because:

1)      We have all read this cover letter a thousand times.

2)      There are no opportunities in my organization, which means, that you are too lazy to look. My people are chefs. They can’t be lazy.

3)      Granted,  you did take a little time to tweak it – “food that is exquisite”. My guess is that your sense of exquisite and mine don’t quite match. The term “full of himself” keeps bubbling up. Of course I haven’t taken time to look at the resume, because the cover letter is not inviting.

4)      If I take you as a candidate, I do work, for which you pay nothing. I at least expect you to respect me enough to look up what company you are sending this to. In other words, nobody is a  whom it may concern.

5)      “You will note that I have a wide range of experience in all areas of culinary arts” Bogus. No I won’t. You don’t. Nobody does. You have some experience in some areas of the culinary arts. You really weren’t thinking very much when you wrote that.  Chefs have to think about a lot of things at the same time. Smart is a requirement.

6)  “I am convinced that an individual with my talents, combined with my commitment to quality performance and that “can do” attitude will make a valuable contribution to your team.” Self esteem is at times positive, but your belief in your own value is hardly going to change anyone’s interest level.

7)      You look forward to hearing from me soon. That’s a bit pushy and audacious, and it saddens me to think that you may be hanging by the phone waiting for a call, but it must be. That little nudge adds a bit of insult to injury (or rather minor annoyance to minor annoyance.) I have several hundred people at any time, and you want to take time out to  discuss your abilities, but you haven’t spared  a a thirty second Google search to find out who I am. What kind of work ethic is that? Am I going to do this to a client?

8)      My guess is that you didn’t think. You figured this is how it is done and just did a quickie cut paste and tweak job, but what does that say about your work ethic as a chef? Not a lot really. Nor does it say much about  your respect for the people you work with or want to work with, and good chefs and managers respect others.

So, let’s summarize. Your short cover letter presents you as  lazy, not too bright, uncreative, full of yourself, demanding,  lacking of grace and disrespectful of others. Why ever would I think of bringing you into my organization?’ You’ve managed to make a fairly rotten first impression, which reduces your chances of making a second impression.

If none of this applies to you, you  need to show it by putting a better foot/cover letter forward, or don’t send one. Shorter is better. I scan them for important content (where you seek work, your unique circumstances etc – and I delete them if there is nothing of value. Sorry, if you were proud of the letter, but try again. It serves you poorly.

The bottom line: Write your cover letter. Don’t use it as advertising, don’t make demands of the sender, and above all know who it is going to – or at least how you found them. All it takes is something like, “I discovered your opening on waltersjobsite.com and would be interested in being considered as a candidate. I have 12 years of experience in all positions and three as Executive Chef, my final overseeing three locations. My ideal area of employment would be New Orleans, but I would be open to relocation. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.”

Now that, would tell me something important.

It’s really perplexing that something so simple could be done so wrong in so many ways.

Oh, and Zorg: Don’t cut and paste that. Write your own.

Nov 012011
 

When I took over the flagging family recruiting firm I have since  been running for some 25 years, I learned early that what seemed obvious to me as often or not had nothing to do with the truth. A candidate who avowed his passion really wanted to sell fish, or a chef who  had come to San Francisco to enter the big waters of the culinary world really wanted something out in Stockton or down in Cupertino.

More importantly, I learned that things which seemed obvious to me were only obvious to me and not to anyone else. Things I assumed to be general knowledge were completely foreign to my candidates and clients,  whether it was a restaurant or a technique or just some technical policy or the quality of a location “everyone” knows.

After one terrific shock and epiphany as to how much people in general  – even full professionals – don’t know, I taped a sign on the inside edge of my desk, where nobody but me could see it:

I am still learning to be sure my candidate or client is on the same page as I am, that they know what I mean when I reference a chef or resume, and I still catch situations where people I’d swear would know simply don’t. .

This  rule, “Make No Assumptions”,  is as important to you as a candidate as it is to me as a recruiter, or, for that matter, anyone who hires you. That level of assumption – giving your audience more credit for general knowledge and industry insight than  s/he deserves – is a career stumbling block.  You, too,  need to be able to communicate all important and pertinent information about your background clearly and completely to potential employers, whoever they are and however all knowing or not knowing they may be.

When you write a resume,  you are writing it to someone. Half the time you won’t know who that someone is – A savvy restaurant owner? A  secretary? An intern or temp? An administrative executive with good business sense but limited  culinary resources?  – so your best bet is to aim at the lowest common denominator and clearly state everything that is pertinent to your background.  Begin with the premise that your audience doesn’t know the obvious about the places you worked, what you did there, or now and then,  much about the industry and its values at all. The rule I tell candidates is that you have to account for the small but important possibility that your resume’s audience is:

  • Just  not all that bright
  • An intern or a temp with a laundry list of simplistic candidate requirements
  • An administrative assistant who knows little about the business
  • Any one of the restaurant staff: Tired, over worked and unfocused or just  ADD.
  • So stressed and hurried that they only read the captions.

They probably won’t be, but it happens often enough to justify the practice of not omitting information that they might be looking for. It’s not that nobody knows anything, but that a some  people don’t know everything and won’t take the time to educate themselves, so that becomes your job.

So: If you worked at Mo’s Tavern, Missouri, and Mo’s Tavern is a high end French restaurant serving 400 covers a night, and it just got nominated for the James Beard Award, that’s pertinent. Communicate that information. Potential employers and their minions are not going to go find it for themselves. If you were in charge of five outlets, communicate that. If you worked for the same group at five different restaurants, show it. Don’t expect a manager or an HR clerk to know that your restaurant part of a celebrity chef’s empire. Tell them.

If you as chef of La Rondelle did all the butchering or the pastry or oversaw a bakery, let them know. If they don’t, few will go out and do some research.  I do, and every now and then, but I am the exception. It is your duty to shine a clear light on your background, not mine or some restaurant owner’s to figure it out for ourselves.

It’s that simple. Tell people what they need to know in order to make a logical decision whether they should pursue you as their next great hire or not. It helps a lot. If they do know, then your explanation will not harm your chances, and if they don’t, it’s at the very least considerate of you to make the process easier for them.

Small side story: About fifteen years ago one of SF’s grande dame hotels called me to ask about one of the best sauciers in town. The young man had gone back and forth to France, mostly because he liked the girls, and had in the process worked  in some of the top Michelin starred restaurants. One of the great old French chefs sent him to me when he returned to the states, and, as he needed money and a friend with a chicken-in-a-basket kind of place needed help on the spot,  I sent him for an interim position, which he did beautifully while he looked for something more suitable.

His resume eventually landed in the in-basket of the hotel’s HR department, from which a young woman called me to verify and describe the fried chicken job. I did,  adding that he had worked at several restaurants with two and one with three Michelin stars.

The hotel staffer did not respond.  She continued to ask about the neighborhood joint, and I, perplexed, kept forcing the point that he had far more interesting background. Finally I asked, “Why do you want to  know about the pub, when he worked at MICHELIN starred restaurants??”, to which the HR employee responded – “What’s that? Is it important?”

That young woman is more likely than not going to be the one reading your  resume first and deciding if it goes to someone able to make the decision to interview you. Act accordingly. Make no assumptions.

 

 

 

 

Jul 212011
 

This chef resume just came in. I altered it (of course.) . This is nearly the entire resume. Let’s try a game: You  look at it and decide why it isn’t effective. Then scroll down

 

 

2000  to Present                       Multi Outlet property – USVI                                                             Sous Chef

Worked in Fine Dining, Quick Service, High Volume and Buffet restaurants throughout the Southern Comfort resort.

Created workloads to keep with budgeted hours.

Managed food costs to maximize profits and add value to menus.

Planned, implemented and executed a process for washing dishes for two high volume restaurants at an offsite location while the onsite dish room was completely rehabbed.

Assisted guests with special diets and allergies, an average of twenty per day.

Mentored several chef assistants to get to the Sous Chef level.

Upheld daily HACCP and sanitation standards to serve the safest possible food.

Held employees responsible for job performance and quality standards on a daily basis.

Developed the skills of the culinary team.

Upheld high standards of quality of the product being served.

Helped in keeping the moral up in the restaurant amongst co-workers.

Trained and educated students in the culinary field.

Regularly exceeded guests’ expectations.

Assisted with menu development and enhancement.

Had to make fast decisions in order to keep production moving smoothly.

Featured Big City Food and Wine Festival’s VIP reception 5 Years.

Featured “Master Chef” at the Food and Wine Festival  and performed cooking demonstrations for the guests

Taught the art of wine tasting to attendees at the “Physicians Congress” conference.

1995 to 2000                             National Chain / Family style                                                 Sous chef

Assisted executive chef with everyday operations.

Ordered seafood and produce.

Worked with employees’ schedules.

Developed culinary skills with new employees.

Helped in the opening of new stores in the area.

Kept food cost and labor down.

Kept kitchen operations flowing.

Covered for call-ins and no-shows.

Dealt with guest special requests, while dining at the restaurant.

 

 

Before you read the answer, what do you think about it? If you don’t see anything wrong, then you should read the rest carefully.

Answer: After forcing myself to read and pay attention to a massive lists of achievements, I still know very little about this candidate.

I already have a pretty good idea what a sous chef does in a multi outlet resort (think something like Sandals or a very large Club Med.) It helps to have five or even six points where he was most active, but even with that, I know absolutely nothing about this sous chef after I read the resume.

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before. It bears repeating. I can’t know anything about a candidate until I know more about the places s/he has worked and what s/he did at each of them.  I constantly seek career trajectories – how someone developed themselves on their chef track, as does every employer worth his or her salt. This candidate isn’t sharing this, and most employers aren’t going to be interested enough to ask. It appears, in fact, that he has simply  pasted his job description into the resume. This is not going to work well for him.

Here’s what I would need to know: If  he helped develop the menu, did he do it for one unit serving hamburgers and fries or for three or four units or for a fine dining outlet?  He says he worked at fine dining, QSR and volume outlets but what were they? What kind of food did they serve? How long did he work in the various outlets..six months in qsr and three years in fine dining, or the other way around?  Did he help develop the menus in the QSR outlet or fine dining or both? It makes a difference.

About half of what is printed here is fluff..understandable, because he wants to fill out the page. He doesn’t need to. He has had a notably stable career for the past ten plus years. Listing the units where he has worked, furthermore, would give  him enough material, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with stating what you did in less than a page. Terseness (saying more with fewer words) is generally welcome.

I frankly would prefer a couple of short paragraphs, since the sheer mass of statements pushes my off button almost immediately. While my own off button is not important, that of my clientele is, and looking at a half page list of duties and qualities is pretty likely to put them into a coma as well. Remember,  you are writing to people who have become  used to Facebook and Twitter. They prefer their information in digestible amounts.

I don’t know how long he was sous chef here, and I don’t know what kind of sous chef he was. There are many.  Did he spend nine of the ten plus years  as pantry cook? Was he sous chef all the time. Was he as sous chef in full charge of a unit (chef de cusine) or was he constantly the second man in the hierarchy? Sometimes a sous chef is really a chef. Sometimes a sous chef is really a cook. I  have no idea what this title means on this resume.

Did he do banquets? (He doesn’t say so, but I wonder if being a sous chef at a resort for that long your could not do banquets?)

What about provenance? How did  he get to be a sous chef? Did he go through the training program at the chain or did he work elsewhere before he was hired there?

I don’t have anything for him right now, but he looks like a decent sort, and if a suitable position comes up, there’s a chance I will contact him. With more information I might be inclined to contact him sooner.

There are some good points  here, by the way, like the fact that  he is apparently either HAACP certified or knowledgeable, and he understands food sensitivities,  but they are buried in the mass of job description. He could either list these skills in a summary or at the end of the resume.

There are other, minor nit picks here – “Dealt with guest special requests, while dining at the restaurant” ..confuses a bit, but we are not looking for English teachers or journalists. Anyway, of course, he dealt with special requests. Everyone does.

Your resume is not evaluated on the list of things you did or want me to think you did. It is evaluated on the actual information it includes. This one includes too little.