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.






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.

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.


Dec 172010

Or tips for hiring, if you are on the interviewer side of the desk.

Somewhere beneath the layers of dates and facts that a resume contains there is a stratum of personal insight provided by the guy who wrote it. Sometimes it’s in the cover letter, sometime it’s in the resume. Whichever, they often reveal more than they were intended to.   Interviews are an even better source.

The subtext of resumes and interviews gets  pretty complicated, but there are a few basic slip ups that continue to knock me off my chair, even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times.

I just received :  “ Let me assure you that you can not go wrong with an individual like myself.  “

Well, ummhhh, no. First of all, if chef tells me  I can’t go wrong, I can be 100% positive that if I hire him, something will  go very wrong, and I’ll be licking wounds.  Why, furthermore, would I accept the assurance of a person I have never met? He thinks I’m stupid? One click and he’s in the electronic round file.

How do I know this means trouble? Mileage.  And then there’s the issue of the man’s absolute certainty (if he is certain – I suspect he’s just posturing) that he is the right hire for any job I have, since he doesn’t know anything about them.  Nobody is.

Yesterday’s jewell: “I suspect you’ll find very few candidates with a background such as mine and it’s one I’d like to put to work on your behalf;” it smacks of arrogance and mind boggling naivety and lack of understanding of the number of qualified people who pass any one spot on the planet over even a short period of time.  It also reminds me of the classic retort of “Thank the powers” to the jingle, “There’s no other cheese like Velveta.”

This woman is just downright insulting. What she claims  implies that I don’t get around much to see any candidates as good as she thinks herself to be. – thanks Sister.  Translate her self assurance, however, and you come to  this: “I am more special than anyone else you have spoken to or will ever speak to,” which boils down to a nifty piece of the much touted narcissism epidemic.  I don’t think I’d want to work with the her. Would you?

Here’s where these two collide: They are silly enough to believe that I (or you or your uncle Joe) is hair brained enough to take them at their word, and none of us are that, are we?  We recognize clumsy manipulation, or we at least sense it.

Did I mention interviews? Yes, I did. In interviews you see more of this assumed bonding and maladroit manipulation: Someone you have never met thinks that they have the mystical power of making you believe everything they say,  just because they say it. With five minutes of introductory pleasantries you are suddenly in their power. “Let me tell you the truth,” says the management candidate, fixing you with a pupil through cornea stare, “I left the restaurant because (fill in the blank)” If you for one minute don’t  think the person in front of you is lying through his or her teeth, let someone else do the interviewing. As soon as someone says, “Shall I tell you the truth,”, as if they are letting you in on a secret, I wonder how many sociopaths the planet can handle, as this is yet another person who’s apparent default mode is lying.

The young woman fixes me with a self assured and disturbingly come hither optical lock,  resting her chin imposingly on her hand and purrs, “I like to turn no’s into yes’s”, when I explain to ther that she does not have the qualities I seek. At this point I would like to turn her into a toad, but  instead I diplomatically end the interview. I hardly ever kick anyone out of the office any more.

I love interviewing people. I meet great individuals who sometimes turn into friends. I see those I admire. I find young chefs scared to death and somewhere in the process our minds meet and we start doing business together. I despise the part, however, whether in an interview or from a resume, where a candidate or applicant starts trying to manipulate me.  It’s bad practice to tell strangers what to think. “Trust me”, “take my word for it” don’t work in print or in interviews.  If you are applying for something, take that to heart. If you are hiring, you probably already do.