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.

Jul 122013
 

I recently placed a short job alert on LinkedIn, ending in the following instructions:

“IMPORTANT; Only legal US residents can be considered. Applications must be made via the web site. (Consider it a test on intelligence and ability to follow instructions)”

The response consisted almost entirely of invitations to “please contact me”, “please send information about your firm” (This, of course, would be on the web site), and “please view my profile”. Only one person sent me a resume.

This is almost standard practice. Paid ads on Craigslist explicitly requiring resumes and elsewhere explicitly requesting resume submissions through our contact page receive responses such as “I am a widely respected Chef. Please view my web page” or get my resume on line, or call me ASAP.”

I am a recruiter. I recruit chefs for my supper, a process not much different from recruiting lace tatters or attorneys, I imagine – a client calls me with a profile, which I try to fill from my current stock of professional acquaintances, while I also do a bit of outreach. My job is then to amass a group of likely candidates matching the employer’s laundry lists of preferences and needs, screen them for any number of qualities from career path to star power to palate to  to common sense and then provide those who seem most likely to the employer to be discussed further. Among the qualities I seek are attitude, intelligence and ability and willingness to follow instructions.

If I provide instructions on applying for the job and you don’t follow them, you will not be my candidate, because 1) You did not take the time to read the entire alert, so you are not detail oriented, 2) You are arrogant enough to feel that you are not under the same constraints as others seeking the position, 3) You are simply not very sharp and did not understand the instructions, 4) You think I am stupid and won’t notice that you are playing me or 5) You,  yourself, are stupid. None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. It is quite possible to encompass all of these qualities at once. So why ever would I want to send someone like this to my clients?

While I have been taking advantage of applicants’ failure to comply with my requests, I now learn that many HR departments are using instruction compliance in a far more sophisticated manner.

They actively create  instructions to weed out candidates. Candidates are provide with several directives: Please use the job description and number as your subject line. Please include a short paragraph on  the reason for your interest in this job and why you feel it is appropriate for you / you are appropriate for it. Keep your sentence under five lines.

Anyone not focused or intelligent enough to follow instructions is automatically excluded from the consideration. The wheat is immediately separated from the chaff.

Instruction based weeding can be more complicated: Once an application is accepted for consideration a questionnaire may be sent. Again, if the applicant does not fill out the questionnaire or send it back in time, they are excluded.

The first goal is to see if the candidate takes the time to think about the position offered. Neither a recruiter nor an HR department likes to waste time on candidates who expect positions to fall from trees – asking for candidate input in return for a responsible position makes great sense. An invested candidate is always a better candidate. What the reduced pool of candidates write is then a valuable tool for further consideration.

In some cases the instructions are negative: Please do not send pictures. Please send your application only as a Word document or a PDF.  That too, is a test, whether intended or not.

What this means to you: If  instructions are presented with a job description, you must follow them. Read them carefully, so that you know what is required, then do it exactly as requested.. If not you will probably not make it to the main selection process.

 Good luck with  your career.

 

 

 

 

 

Nov 072012
 

This is for the few of you who have the good fortune to work in the best kitchens and are disheartened.

I’ve had a run of very desirable jobs recently including openings in Orange County, New York and the Bay Area. All of these require background in high discipline kitchens, which means by definition high visibility, quality and usually celebrity locations.

The result of  my outreach for candidates has been the usual dreaded flood of “could have beens”, that is chefs who started out in in the most respected kitchens and then left them early in their careers. The classic resume shows half a year at some place like Daniel, perhaps a couple of years at one of Joe Bastianich’s kitchens or Cyrus, then a move to a less known hotel  kitchen, possibly a restaurant popular outside of the white hot fires of New York, Chicago or San Francisco, then a choice for something perhaps off shore, but not on the general radar,  or possibly  industrial food service,  a retirement home, a school kitchen, an Embassy  Suites restaurant. These chefs because they have once been in the best kitchens now feel they  have the background to give them entry to a Michelin or some five diamond property. They couldn’t be more wrong.

They started with a full bag of chips, and they cashed them in too early. The thing about top level dining is that it demands top level focus and top level discipline. The word for that is “rigor”. Careers are like knives – they have to stay sharp. If you leave them dull to long, they lose that original edge. You can re-sharpen knives. Careers are much more difficult.

I understand why these chefs did this – the next step offered more money, a better title, promises of more freedom. That’s easy enough – the price for sticking in the top level of the industry is a longer path to fulfillment. You will not be a sous chef in five years. Your opinion will not be asked or even tolerated before you have been involved for at least seven or eight. By bailing on the demands and lack of early rewards chefs prove that they are better than the kitchens suppose them to be. Or maybe not.

Some rethink their priorities. Perhaps fiancés or partners insist on more attention. Some young chefs do not have the patience for the nit picking and hard standards of the top kitchens, and if that is the case, they should not be there. The top kitchens cull their staff by not promoting those who do not stand up to what some consider abuse. For them to leave is not only appropriate, it is intelligent. There are a lot of satisfying places to work in the A- down leagues.

For the rest, however, leaving them wastes an investment of time and energy, because you can only trade on the credibility those restaurants lend you for limited time. Once you are out of the loop, it expires.  There are back doors to be sure – old colleagues who stayed the course and are willing to pull you back in to their openings in a subordinate level or just the occasional accident, but they are iffy.

There is nothing wrong with bailing from the top.  Working in less demanding and more approachable locations is a pragmatic and appropriate choice. For one thing there are more people willing to spend their money there, and the rewards can be great. But starting at the top and then turning away generally means losing some of the value your energies created.

Anyone who has left the upper echelon did so for a reason. Not everyone can succeed in them. Those who left need to remember that reason and determine where their best options within the available jobs lie. Being the best food service director is better than struggling to stay above water as a hopeful subordinate in the Michelin leagues. Those still in the arena, however, will do well to think hard on the long range opportunities they may sacrifice by taking the more comfortable or flattering route.

What if fine dining is not what you really feel you want to do? Consider this: I have the privilege of knowing some of the chefs in top chain and food corporation positions, all earning well into the six figures. None of the kitchens or products they oversee require exceptional culinary rigor, but the chefs all have long careers in demanding, will recognized restaurants and occasionally celebrity status, because the corporations who have hired them require that their leaders are infinitely better qualified than their products require.  Nobody who ever accepted a better salary or a better title at a less demanding location gets these plum positions. Think about it.

Good luck to you all.

Jul 212012
 

This is the third in a loose series of pieces summarizing the most widely applicable conclusions I have made about what makes for career success in restaurants. The “Don’ts” are generally extracted from the most common termination causes I have witnessed or behavior that throws up career obstacles.

“Road Dirt” means that none of this is in any way wisdom, but a collection of the second hand mud splatters I’ve been hit with over the last 25+ years. You might want to read Road Dirt 1 and Road Dirt Redux, as well.

There is, of course, no guarantee that following all of these will make you a great chef, or that not agreeing with a few will not. You need skill, some talent, some intelligence and a spattering of good character plus a little luck to get the gold ring off the Merry Go Round. None the less, I hope you will find them worth at least considering.

18) Never argue mad. Adrenaline is infectious, and arguing with your levels raised only incites the other guy. In the end nobody gets anywhere, and you both carry away a piece of grudge. (Fact: A high adrenaline level prevents people from hearing and comprehending what the other person is saying. ) Get out of a high energy exchange – put it off until everyone has cooled down. If your subordinates are angry and excited, give them a time out, then readdress the issue when they are not about to explode.

19 ) Treat visionaries with care and caution. Don’t waste your valuable time on someone else’s dreams. Realistically assess the value of new projects.

20)   At some point you may have to decide between money and your soul. I frankly see nothing wrong with money (as long it’s honest) but I know of chefs who have regretted the tradeoff.

21)   Keep out of kitchen politics. Do what you do and let others smack talk each other.

22)   Travel. Travel young and work in another country. It doesn’t have to be France. Stage. Work abroad. You will learn things that won’t be clear to you until years later.

23)   Keep contact with the people you work with. Learn their last names.  Get to know them. You will all need each other at some point or other.

24)   Write. Record everything. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling – you can correct that later. Keep a ledger of what happens at the restaurant, your menu items,  your recipes, your problems, your achievements, your failures and your triumphs.  If you don’t need this to document an incident or your behavior, you may want to use it in a book (lots of authors don’t spell well, either, so don’t let that stop you). Failing that, you will find it fascinating reading later as will your progeny. Mostly, however, keep it for documentation.

25)   Kindness and graciousness have a great deal to do with the careers of the truly grand chefs. I can’t think of one I  know who doesn’t possess both qualities. If they don’t come naturally to you, work on them.Here’s the tip: You are never the most important person in the room. The most responsible, yes. The lynch pin, for sure, but from your perspective, the person you depend on to get things out, to get things done or your customer takes the top dog title.

26) Talent is only the beginning. It provides you the opportunity to be a great chef, but it doesn’t make you one. The rest is a mixture of knowledge, skill, character, commitment  and experience, which takes years to acquire.

27) Just because one kind of job is prestigious or popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Celebrity is far from being much let alone everything. For most of us there is or should be life beyond the kitchen and the food media. On the other hand, however, if your goal is a recognized and celebrated location, possibly your own, then you need to start by working in them.

28) Put dignity at the top of your goals. That’ s not pride. It’s the ability to deal with unpleasant situations with your chin up, not to lose face by “flipping out” at tough moments, to leave without baring your emotions if you must. Afford it to everyone in your kitchen.

29) Don’t ignore problems. Listen to your people but not continually (ie, don’t let whiners whine). Defuse or deal with their issues. If you do not, they become your issues.

30) Understand the difference between pride and arrogance. Know your value and insist on dealing and being dealt with accordingly, but don’t be dismissive of those you might think of less importance than you assume for yourself.

31) Take care of your brand. Don’t sell it early to projects that offer good money but will reduce its value later on. Don’t diminish it by behavior that plays into stereotypes. You are your brand. It is what you can sell until you retire. It is what will put you in the desired positions or keep you from them.

32) Manage your career by keeping the long view. Always think of how your decisions will impact the long term. There are few situations where you an sit back and take the easy way out in the food industry. If you go towards industrial food service, you will probably not be able to return to fine dining. Hotel chefs are rarely hired in restaurants. Five years in domestic service sends chefs back to the beginning of the restaurant queue.  These are generalizations, only, but generalizations are true for most people. Most of us are most people and not the exception.

 

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.

Oct 072011
 

Depending on the job coming up, you will be asked to do a tasting.  The tasting may be Market Basket, a creative tasting which you can partially prepare, or simply a run through of some of the property’s signature dishes.

Generally tastings show a few but not all important aspects of a chef’s abilities: Sense of flavor, work habits, quality of food and timing, and to some extent how the candidate deals with people. As snapshots rather than extensive exposes of a chef’s talent, they are limited.

We have seen a lot of candidates who are very well suited for positions fail to get them on the basis of the tasting. The following rules should help you to do well in yours:

1)      Determine what the employer is looking for. This is the most important rule.  Be sure you know what the company wants and expects. Listen very carefully. If they stress local ingredients, or French style or comfort food, they mean it.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Take notes. If you have a question before the tasting, write an email.

2)      You should never miss a tasting. Rescheduling is permitted only in the case of death or influenza. Plan an entire day for local tastings. If you need to travel to it, expect to get there the night before. Never stand a business up for a tasting, especially if they have already secured ingredients. There are too few bridges in the restaurant community to burn them with extreme rudeness. (Not showing up for a tasting is unforgivable.)

3)      Know the parameters of the exercise: Are you to create the menu, will it be their menu, what should you prepare or bring? For how many will you be preparing? How many items do they want? What is the timing?

4)      Stay within your comfort zone. Prepare items you know.  A tasting is no time to challenge yourself.  Choose items you can create easily and have often prepared.  Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, never do anything new in a tasting. Avoid last minute changes.

5)      Be painfully aware not only of taste but of presentation.

6)      If possible, do a run through of the tasting at home.

7)      It is policy to take your own coat and knives.  Avoid items which require special utensils or hard to find ingredients. Be sure that the kitchen has those basic utensils you will need.

8)      Be respectful to everyone in the kitchen. You are being watched. It is not unusual for employers to ask employees what they thought of a try out chef. You are a guest in their kitchen.

9)      Stay calm and stay neat.  Work cleanly and professionally. Do not expect anyone to follow you with a rag.

10)   If possible, check out the space in advance. Arrive early to set up correctly.

11)   Relax.

12)   Go into the dining room when the tasting is finished, unless they come to you or you are asked not to.  Treat the employers as guests. Ask what they thought of the meal. If there were any issues, tell them.  Explain and discuss the dishes you created and prepared.

13)   Clean up after yourself. Thank the staff you worked with. Thank the potential employers. Even if you think things went poorly, smile. Shake hands if hands are offered.

14)   If you are offered an alcoholic drink at any time during the process, decline it politely. Do not have a drink at the bar afterwards.

15)   It never hurts to send a  “Thank you” email.

Jun 072011
 

Obama’s resounding campaign slogan, YES YOU CAN, wasn’t exactly original. If you occasionally watch Univision any of the Latino television stations,  you might know that it was the watch word for one of the early reality contest shows, in which a group of winsome Latino youth vied brutally and melodramatically for a place in a telenovella.  “Si, Se Puede” was written on walls, chanted and shouted at every opportunity.

It is also reminiscent of the beliefs of the seventies and eighties, may they rest in peace, which suggested that you can, just because you are you and definitely special, use passion, paper clips and chewing gum to “Follow your Bliss”, a thoroughly misunderstood statement by Joseph Campbell, one of the smartest men who ever graced Public Television.

Campbell, who meant that you should do what you like in a rational framework – possibly as a hobby -tried to explain what he meant on numerous occasions, but nobody listened, as they were all, greedy as we Americans are for the easy path, following their bliss and have their way.   I see a lot of this widely misinterpreted “Follow your bliss” line of career and business decision making.

I received a call yesterday from a woman who had left a job “in finance” five years  ago to become a caterer, trusting on her initiative and belief in her own intelligence. Five years later she isn’t making the cut and wants a job directing a catering firm.  On my assurance that I unfortunately couldn’t do that, she accused me of damaging her project by “dispiriting” her, taking the wind out of her sails. She didn’t want to be “disheartened” after getting a head of steam up to conquer the world. Apparently my job in all this was to cheer her on to glory.

It’s not the first time this has happened:  When I told a woman living with five children in Arizona that I could never find a job for her which would allow her to support them with her background (her skills merited a bit over minimum wage at that time), I learned that Oprah said everything was possible, if you just put your mind to it. Well, that’s good to know, isn’t it?

The Mind over Job Market thought process rarely bears fruit. True, there are a few people who achieve  fame and glory through a combination of ignorance, arrogance and purest self- deception, plus the media’s greed for anything that looks like a saleable story. Today’s New York Times article about ex bankers having instant success in the gluten free bakery business against all odds is proof, as is San Francisco’s annual chocolate salon, where something less than a hundred instant chocolatiers, some producing extremely good product, prove that you don’t need a lifetime training as a chocolatier to have a business. (But not proving that you can keep it running for ten years..they follow the first innovators like Michael Ricchiuti and Joseph Schmidt, who got there first with entirely different sets of rock solid trade and business acumen and are not going to cede their market.)

Of course you should approach a job search with a positive attitude.  Undermining your efforts with undue pessimism will handicap your search.  But overestimating the value of what you bring to the market will bring little. Understanding who will appreciate your background but not waste your skills is key to a successful career.

Positive attitude and realistic  goals are not mutually exclusive.  They are the golden combination for a successful career curve.

Skills, training, provenance and experience are the basis of moving forward. The best of the best in the field, whether Michael Anthony or Jacques Pepin or Thomas Keller, spent many years working on the requirements of the job. They did not achieve their success on the basis of a positive attitude.  With the current job market including a fair number of people with solid to golden provenance, any self-made caterer or chocolatier faces very stiff competition in a supply and demand market. If your background lacks the substance sought by employers, no amount of self-delusion and motivational thinking will place your resume on the interview pile.

The belief that it can is called “magical thinking”,  the mindset that you can make something true because you think or say it is so. It’s a bit like clapping your hands and saying “I believe in fairies.” It does not work.

So: Stay upbeat in your career pursuits, but set yourself reasonable goals. Use setbacks to calibrate your expectorations, and stay grounded. Follow your passion or your bliss with the clear understanding that it will not happen without an  investment of time and learning under other professionals.

Most of all, listen.  People (me) taking the time to tell you why they cannot deal with you rather than shining sunshine up your skirt are, among other things, honest.   You don’t have to accept their opinions, but the slightest intelligence requires taking them into consideration before discarding them. They do not mean to be mean or dispiriting. They are just telling you the truth as it applies to them and their place between you and a vast industry. It is not their job to be your advocate,  your  emotional support or your cheerleader.

As for my caller, I truly wish her luck. She is going to need it.

Apr 152011
 

The longer I recruit in restaurants, the clearer it gets that a large number of people seeking restaurant work do not understand the process well. We, the recruiters in the field, are perhaps the most mystifying part of the system.

The idea that recruiting is easy is only one of the abounding misconceptions regarding what a recruiter is and what a recruiter does. “How it works”, as the common terminology goes.

We, all of us, get ample proof in emails showing that the job seeking public misunderstands our position in the culinary galaxy. Here are a few points you should know.

1)      Recruiting has become a more or less legitimate field, notwithstanding a continuing number of rogue individuals practicing. On the whole you can expect professional behavior from recruiters.

2)      The Recruiter’s first loyalty is to his client, not the candidate. He is not your advocate or agent. The restaurant pays the fee and gets most of the recruiter’s time for that.

3)     The recruiter is a conduit for his or her client. He or she carries out their instructions and adhere to their laundry list of desires and requirements. He will almost never submit a candidate not matching them..

4)      Discretion is or should be a given for all parties. The recruiter does not reveal conversations with your employer to you or vice versa. He is a two way fire wall. Since, however, there are still a few rogues and scoundrels among us, it is always wise to state clearly  in your  submission that you except discretion and your search should confidential, with your permission to submit your data to any position.

5)      Recruiters prefer candidates from sources of trust. They know, however, who is where and what to expect from the places candidates show on their resumes. They will respond first to candidates who fit their current or frequent search profiles, and those who have background they feel will be in demand. Other candidates are generally kept on file and contacted as appropriate.

6)      Most have been around the block a few times.  They are not stupid.  They can tell bad excuses and don’t want to hear any excuses at all.  Even if you think you are sweet talking them, they are jotting down facts in the back of their heads. Recruiters are not obliged to keep abuse of their services confidential.

7)      Recruiters practice due diligence and get references using a variety of tools and their own connections. In signing with a recruiter you tacitly agree to this. (It is on our web site.)  References should follow candidate contact.

8) Once you work with a recruiter you represent them as well as yourself, and your behavior reflects on them. Since they may be in charge of the search for the next place you work, it  is unwise to behave badly.

9)      There is a difference  between Recruiters and Head Hunters. Head Hunters want to churn as many candidates as possible and are bottom line oriented. Recruiters value their long term reputations and subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath: Before all, do no harm. Calling a recruiter a “headhunter” is akin to calling your attorney a “scheister”. Some younger recruiters find the term very cool. It’s about as cool as the term “cool”.

10)      Unless you have specifically requested it, a recruiter should not broadcast your information or send it out without your knowledge and permission.(that’s what a headhunter does.) If you ever have any questions about this, make it clear to any recruiter that you must be informed before submission.

11)      Recruiters cannot always give you details about positions. If you believe you have been submitted previously to a job, you can point it out. Otherwise you should never discuss one recruiter with another.

13)    An ethical recruiter will not, on receiving your information, inform your employer that you are seeking a new position and ask to fill yours, but it has happened. It is also actionable (you have a fair chance of receiving damages through the courts if one does and you lose your job.)  A recruiter should  not discuss your search with any other candidate.

14)   You pay nothing to a recruiter. In the United States you do not pay to get a job. Some domestic and apparently some temporary firms charge a subscription fee, which they use to check your background. It should be less than $100.  If there is a cost, you will sign a numbered contract stating your rights. Offering you a job and asking for the fee is illegal and also cause for litigation, if it puts you between jobs. In this case you can simply refuse to pay or call your District Attorney’s office.

15) Recruiters usually require a certain amount of expertise and seasoning from their candidates.  If you  have not profiled yourself in the industry, you may do better without a recruiter. While you are still a line cook or a pastry assistant, for instance, you are most likely your own best advocate.

Look for more information on recruiters, what you can and should expect, what you should and should not do in future posts. A more complete discussion of the field and how it applies to you, the candidate can be found at the Chefs’ Professional Website.

Feb 012011
 

In the middle of a list of various employer types I find myself repeating  policy as a determining factor of whether a job will suit you or not. It seems more sensible to investigate it rather than just list it repeatedly, since the policy level of your working environment determines your level of satisfaction as much as anything.

POLICY:  management or procedure based primarily on material interest (Webster’s Online Dictionary).

For our purpose, policy is ‘written policy” as in your employee manual or the company mission statement. Of course you have policies of your own, such as using no brown edged lettuce or thanking the dishwasher, but official policy is different. Official policy is written in stone and followed precisely by the businesses that employ it. It determines, for instance, that all purchasing decisions must be run by the GM or that specials must be tested by the owner before they are put on the menu, or that no chef jacket can be worn outside.

Policy is not intended to bring the best out of each member of the team, but rather to prevent the one idiot in the group from doing the worst. It thus hamstrings the creative and insults the responsible. Most of us dislike policy, because it limits our liberty to act in what we perceive to be the best and most productive manner.

Small restaurants rarely have a great deal of written policy. With fewer employees, they find it possible to oversee the actions and ward of tragedy before some fool sets anything on fire or brings a sexual harassment suit. (Small restaurants also find themselves disproportionately before the Labor Board.)  By the time a business employs eighty or two hundred individuals, however, policies creep in to take on controls that individual managers may  not be able to oversee. Once a restaurant has several units, policies are nearly inevitable.

There is a valid argument against policy: It is the cheap replacement for good managers and good manager training. If every restaurant (cyclotron, airport, broadcasting company) had and trained competent, alert, intelligent and humane managers with the duty to bring the best out of any and all employees while recognizing and dealing with the worst of the pack, policy would be unnecessary. I agree completely,  with the caveat that there are not nearly enough of these great managers to go around.  Ergo your corporate rules and employee handbook.

Policy, in absence of brilliant management, protects staff and owners from idiots and sociopaths, genres not lacking in our industry. It shields the business both from losses due to crackpot decisions or thoughtless acts and liability. Call it CYA, if you prefer. All successful restaurant groups professional restaurants have instituted some level of policy to guarantee standards.

The downside of policy is that it removes crucial decision making from the human competence to a set of rules.  Once written it needs to be universally applied with no exceptions. since once policy is broken for one employee, regardless of the reason, the business cannot use it to discipline another.  It can’t just be resorted to for acts with bad outcome and put aside if the same action has no impact or even raging success. Because this blind application is so challenging, more and more companies these days are paying compliance experts not only to write their policies and train their management to carry them out, but to assure compliance without personal prejudice.

Since policy in its intent to prevent the worst outcome often causes the collateral damage of preventing the best, it creates for you, the professional artisan seeking the perfect fit, a serious conflict. On the one hand, operations which employ a high degree of policy tend to be more stable, more professional and less chaotic than those run on good faith and belief in people. They know what works and that’s what they want done. On the other, policies clip wings and tie hands. They are insulting, because they suggest to us all that we are not intelligent enough to make the right decisions, even if only intended to target the inept or unprincipled few.

Of course, policy need not be the enemy of  quality. It can be the codification of high standards rather than simply mindless, petty wonkery. The Four Seasons group, one of the most highly regarded hotel groups for quality and professionalism, is also one of the country’s high policy employers. So is Restaurant Gary Danko. Bonne Appetit’s policies require among other things that most of the product served must be local and sustainable. Of course, that’s not really policy. It’s codified quality standards. On the whole, the more professional operations tend to have a higher level of policy, but not necessarily.

When seeking your place in the business, you need to determine what you can live with in terms of policy vs. entrepreneurial autonomy. Good luck with that.