May 172012
 

Sometimes my clients contact me with openings whose description is cut to one or two candidates as neatly as a Seville Row suit. These are usually candidates with narrow but very valuable skill sets, so ideal jobs for them are hard to come by, as are ideal candidates for those positions.  In nearly every case I have said to the candidate, “I don’t have anything suitable for you at the moment, but I will contact you the moment I do.” Because I consider their skills valuable, I only contact them with jobs that will not waste their or the employer’s time, which means not a barrage of weekly, “Please try it”, which would at least show clients I was looking.

Generally as soon as I have identified a match I reach out and wait for a return call. And wait. And wait. After about a week I will get a message and will try to call back. If I am foolish enough to hold traffic for the candidate, I will probably lose the job, so I move on. The next time she calls, I will simply tell her that I had something ideal but she didn’t have the courtesy to reach me (usually not in those words) so I may give her a call next time, but that depends.

I would feel bad about this, except it is what I hear from my clients constantly. “We keep calling people, and they don’t return our calls.” What’s going on? Should they start texting? Are job seekers really that lackadaisical about the opportunities out there. Or should I say full of themselves?

Apparently yes. And they are too stupid to breathe. I can’t get cell phone connection in the kitchen, says one chef. So? You can pick up your message, or no? I had another appointment, said a candidate I knew had not turned up for an arranged interview.  Neither of them is gen X or Y. What’s up?

I’d bring it down to priorities, and I’d like to say that their priorities are screwed up, so let me give you a few rules and facts:

1)      Anyone providing you a possible advance in your career, whether it pans out or not, is doing you a favor. The least you can do is acknowledge it promptly.

2)      Despite the number of creeps out there in all areas of the hiring industry, employers, recruiters, wing nut entrepreneurs, there are a lot of decent people, who deserve the same respect they try to give you (in my case by not calling with inappropriate jobs).

3)      This is a small industry. If you burn one bridge, the chance of others going with it is great.

4)      Nobody is afraid to hear “no thank you.” If a call suggests a job you are not interested in, just say so. Don’t just pass the call. Life is not Twitter. All communication brings with it an obligation.  If you don’t need the job and just let the call slip, then you will have at least one less ally when  you do need one.

5)      If you have actively asked someone to keep you informed of upcoming jobs you need to be accessible. I have written about this many times. It means checking your cell phone, You don’t need to answer when a call comes in, but call back as soon as it convenient..or inconvenient for that matter.  Don’t let your possible job calls go to a home phone answered by teenagers..they get lost. Be prepared to step out and talk in the alley way, if you don’t have a place where you work. But DO call. If you can’t communicate, let the person know.

The market is looking up at the moment, but that is no license to get sloppy or cocky about opportunities, and, frankly, manners never harmed any relationship.

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.

 

Mar 132012
 

Imagine you are at a party—-

Or at a bar and trying to make time with the person next to you. Or, for that matter one the beach. It doesn’t matter, but you are communicating and trying to impress him/her/them with your personality, your savoir affair, your knowledge and just your great you-ness.  Or better  yet, imagine them trying to impress you. Here’s what they say:

“Hello. My focus is and inspiring people to become better.”

“Hi, there. Employing a  Transformational Leadership  approach by enhancing motivation, morale and performance is my method.”

“Hi. My name is Jake. I provide the framework for unparalleled service. Instilling this kind of dedication in others is my expertise.”

How likely are you to take this dude home, to invite this woman out to dinner, to want to wake up next to this full of him/herself , messianic, inflated  popinjay?

I don’t know about you, but if we were at the beach, I’d probably whack him upside the head with my sand bucket and run like crazy. These are NOT great pickup lines. And yet, people try to engage me with these and similar jewels of maladroit self-promotion all the time.

It’s a pretty stupid way to try to start a relationship. Perhaps if we back up a bit and view the potential employment introduction process from another angle, namely that mentioned above – a first approach to an interesting person you are attempting to impress, we can make more sense of a good way to get there.

First, then, the people who read our resume are  just that – people – the kind who sit on beaches and go to parties and talk to people at bars or PTA meetings – and they have the same kind of reactions to what others say  in their work as they would in real life – in the above situation their reaction would be a wincing gag reflex with a thought bubble saying, “Gee, what a pompous, bs’ing jackass.”  Fortunately for them/me, in the hiring process there is no need for a pail of sand upside the head. “Click, Delete” is quick and effective.

Of course we know why you are doing this: 1) You are trying to impress us, and 2) you are in your deepest essence  a pompous bs’ing jackass. (In real life we use a slightly different term.)

The latter quality is something you might want to suppress,  but how would you do that?

For one thing stop telling people you are God. No matter how secure you are in the knowledge. It creeps them out. For another, don’t talk about you-the-oh-too-fabulous-person, talk about the thing you did or the place you did it. Where you worked, the people you worked with.

Back to the beach: How would, “Wow! That water is so warm and calm. Don’t you just love it here?  Oh, by the way, I am Jake/Sally (extend hand). The Bar:  Did you just hear that thunder? Or was that a garbage truck tipping over?”  Point: It’s not about you.

The same applies to the initial written contact with people you want to work for. You are courting them, not selling them a used Edsel. You are angling for a first date, AKA interview, and possibly a walk down the aisle, or at least an extended fling. A basic rule of the approach either professionally or personally is: Don’t be repulsive. The “I am the best person I know” type of introduction generally repels. Let’s try a slightly formalized wording on the cover letter.

“I’ve been fortunate in spending seven years at various restaurants of the Food Ville Corporation in which I have learned their policies of responsibility sharing and staff respect. Food Ville’s operations are highly staff and guest centered with a focus on guest satisfaction and smooth front / back functioning which permits frictionless operations in high quality locations of up to 400 seats. I am seeking an opportunity to move forward with the skills and philosophies learned in their employ.”

See? Not about you. I’d read that one without wincing. That’s progress.

Do, however, remember, that the job of a cover letter is to explain things the reader NEEDS TO KNOW, and that more is always less in writing them.

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 242012
 

Accessibility is the key to a good job search approach

 

When you are seeking a new position, you want to be as easy to reach as possible.  If the person you wish to hire you can’t gain easy access to you, you won’t have access to their job/s.

What you need to do to be accessible:

1)      Resume format. In order to know about you, people need to read your resume.  Avoid special resume programs and obscure word processors (Word Perfect is now an obscure word processor). The most universal format is “Rich Text Format” or .rtf. Any file can be saved as rtf by clicking on the “Save As” option when you save the file. After .rtf you can rely on Microsoft Word, although some recipients may not be able to open the latest version. Everyone can read Adobe .pdf files, but they are not optimal, as they cannot be annotated or saved unless the recipient has the software, and some database systems cannot store them.

2)      Make sure you include your phone number on your resume.  

3)      Make sure you include your email on your resume. We have said this often. The recipient may print your resume and discard the email, so put it up front. If you don’t want job search information in your usual mailbox (where it should not go if it is a company address) open a free GMAIL or Hotmail account for your job search only.  Most accounts can be forwarded to any other you have.

4)      Make yourself accessible by phone when you are available. This means:

1)      Do not use a home phone with an answering machine for your search, especially if it is shared with others.  You need a cell phone which makes it possible for you to receive and record calls.

2)      If you can’t speak to an unknown caller, let the message go to voicemail and call back when

it is convenient, rather than picking up in a meeting or during service.

3)      Answer all calls within a reasonable period of time, usually within 24  hours.

You want to make it as easy as possible for potential employers to reach and communicate with you.

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.

Dec 262011
 

In any day’s supply of resumes there is one which attempts one way or another to manipulate the recruiter or hiring firm into direct contact.

They read something like, “I am a qualified professional with the best abilities for your position. Please contact me ASAP, or, “After twelve years in the industry I have experience you will not be able to appreciate until you speak directly with me. I can be reached at xxx xxx xxxx. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.”

The irony of these approaches is that rather than being contacted ASAP, the writers are unlikely to be contacted at all.  Of course you want the employer to contact you, as you have an edge, but strong arming is never a good approach. The employer or recruiter will always take some time to look at the facts presented in a resume and possibly in a cover letter, to research past employment locations and compare candidates before he picks  up the phone.  When they have their facts straight, they will call the suitable candidates, but not before.

There is really no reason to state that you want to speak to the recipient of your resume or application. You indicate that when you send it. If you must, however, there are more polite phrases.

“I would be delighted to discuss the details of the open position at your convenience.”

“I hope to have the opportunity to discuss your open position with you.”

Or better yet, just leave it out.

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.

 

 

 

 

Oct 032011
 

 

 The good news: Things are improving.

The bad news: Not for everyone.

The fear of a double dip recession seems to be waning, and the dining public, whether because they are doing better or because they are just tired of pulling in their belts, are opening their wallets in restaurants again.

Hiring is up:

That means that restaurants are hiring once more, although not with the enthusiasm we saw four years ago and not at the prices. It is still very much a buyer’s market, with some positions going up to twenty thousand or more under the highest compensation of the restaurant boom years.

New restaurants are opening in most of the major dining areas, partly because property can be had and leases can be closed at attractive prices and partly because many qualified culinary and FoH professionals have preferred to open their own locations rather than continue to battle a bleak employment market.

What is more important is that restaurant professionals are beginning to reach their heads out of the trenches, so there is circulation in the job pool. One of the main causes of low availability of jobs during these last years was not that so many locations were closing or cutting back, but because fewer chefs or managers were daring to leave their positions to move on or up, resulting in a stagnant employment situation and a great lack of available talent. Think of the employment market as a game of musical chairs in which nobody stands up.

Improvements are not universal:

While this is changing, the change is not complete, and the improvement in the job market is not universal nor does it cover all jobs equally.

The currently most sought after position is that of sous chef.  Serious pastry chef openings  are still rare, and I question whether the pastry earlier pastry chef frenzy will ever be seen again.

Good chefs for some parts of the country are in high demand, but the market shows extreme regional differences. Florida appears to be the worst hit location for chefs and managers, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and New York, among other destination restaurant cities, are increasing hiring.  Texas, which did not suffer terribly during the worst of the downturn, continues to require qualified staff. Oregon, Washington State and Colorado all seem to be recovering nicely.

Internationally the main job creation appears to be in the United Arab Emirates followed by China, then the rest of Asia. This is an excellent time for qualified professionals – the sweet spot is for chefs de cuisine and Executive Sous Chefs – to launch their careers in some international five star properties.  These all require completed professional education, a stable background in recognizable restaurants of quality, usually at least two years minimum in each spot. Since only the USA follows equal opportunity employment standards, foreign employers can set requirements for nationality, age and gender. Most foreign jobs will go to chefs between about 29 and 42 years of age. Most prefer European training to American, although American chefs are sought after in some places.

It is going to be interesting to see how compensation develops. In “progressive” areas like San Francisco, where municipal and state mandates eat up large percentages of operation profits, some of the costs are likely to be taken from the salaries of the middle and upper food management.  The exploding cost of food, furthermore, is going to put pressure on salaries in a zero sum game, where raising prices will cause customer loss.

The Depression feeling of the age continues to influence menus, customers preferring simpler and less intimidating cuisine with few new attempts at cutting edge food and still limited opportunities for chefs who have put a great deal of effort into developing the newest and most complex cuisines. At some point this will change, but for the moment positions requiring small staff quality comfort menus vastly outstrip those requiring cutting edge, labor intensive processes.

Since so many chefs and managers have remained at the same location for the past three or four years, stability, which is often desired, is now expected. Those who have changed frequently will be competing with professionals whose resumes show a higher level of commitment.

There are a large number of self employed chef owners among the job seekers, With a few exceptions, the market is not welcoming them, nor is it welcoming those who have been independent contractors or consultants.

What this means for you:

1)      It is less risky than it was to seek another job, but there are still not so many available that you will find a safety net of other opportunities if the new position does not work out. This means it is important to determine that any change is well within your competence and with a solid business.

2)      Regional differences in hiring make it hard to move to some areas of the country, and job seekers in those locations will find that the ration of available positions to job searchers is low. You should not, thus, relocate to San Diego or Miami, then look for a job.  Even in the more active employment markets local candidates are generally preferred to those who have not been working in the area’s culture for some time.

3)      Salaries offered at new positions may not meet or exceed current compensation if you have been at a location for several years.  The competition for desirable positions is high, and all employers will take your salary requirements into consideration when making their choices.

4)      From the employer perspective, there are still some “deals” to be had in staff. Offering too little, however, creates the risk that a competitor will recognize and lure away your “bargain” chef.  Those who accept exceptionally low salaries, furthermore, generally reveal themselves to be worth what they are paid.

5)      While most of the weak restaurants have been culled from the herd, there are still some hangers on, who hire chefs just to get to the next month. While common sense and caution is important for everyone in the hiring process at all times, care in choosing a financially sound operation is especially important during times like this.

6)      Despite the state of the economy, the prime rules of job choice do not change. Choosing for quality and professionalism is always the best policy.

7)      We have no guarantee that we are really out of the worst of the financial crisis, despite the growing consensus that the double dip recession is not going to occur. Now, in Oct 2011, the weakness in the EU could have a profound effect on all restaurant markets. Keeping this in mind, choosing employment with strong businesses makes a lot of sense.

8)      Restaurant pastry chefs may indeed not come back for a while, although they eventually will. At the moment extreme pastry is getting a great degree of press (Foe gras ice cream, berry and estragon napoleon, etc.) but the overall demand that does exist generally involves highly developed bakery skills. Hotels, on the other hand, continue to hire and train pastry staff and will presumably continue to do so. Those early in a pastry career should consider these realities when choosing their path.

Above all the current economic situation of the restaurant industry means for you that you will continue to need to make you choices in the direction of your overall career and your next job decisions with more care than we assumed necessary a few years ago.

Oct 012011
 

I just got off the phone with a potential client, who provided an extremely insightful  view of the value of background checks. That is, the on-line or professional services which provide information on DUI’s, criminal records, credit checks and the like.

“The background check,” she stated, “is essentially an integrity check. If someone has a single DUI or has defaulted on a loan, which can happen in these times and this industry, and he tells me, I can be fairly comfortable with him as a candidate. If he hides it, that’s a different matter.”

In other words, it is more important to this company that their employees be honest than that they be perfect.

Honesty is a highly effective job search strategy.

Job seekers with flies in their professional ointment generally try to cover them up, leading interview conversation away from unfortunate incidents and stretching dates to cover periods of unemployment, or inventing stories and excuses.

This is a mistake because:

  • Most people who hire often can recognize cover ups
  • Incidents covered up in the interview process which surface later can be grounds for immediate termination.
  • Not all employers see incidents as an impediment to hiring.

In my opinion and experience the best way to deal with the flies in job history ointment is to bring them up as early in the process as possible, so that the positives which follow receive more attention and remain in the memory of the interviewers. People tend to weigh what they hear at the end of an interview more heavily than what they hear at the beginning.

At the very least, it is wise to be open if you are asked at the end of an interview if there is anything else you need to share.  You want employers to hear these things from you rather than from anyone else.

Avoid excuses.  You can explain facts surrounding employment impediments, but you should never try to blame  someone else for your situation.

The same logic applies to your professional weaknesses. Nobody can do everything perfectly. The last candidate I would want to hire is someone who thinks he can. Good self assessment is high on my list of interview positives.  It allows me as a recruiter to direct candidates towards positions where they have a high probability of success, and it allows employers to know what to expect in a new hire and to determine what additional training or support to offer.

Employers, once they have identified a candidate with a work history they like, are quite likely to forgive weaknesses, or even welcome them. To quote one, “Great, then she hasn’t learned any bad habits. We can teach her our way.”

Aug 162011
 

One of the most distressing events in my business world is the failure of what I am sure is a perfect chef/restaurant pairing because of a misunderstanding between the parties. In theory it is my duty to navigate the choppy waters between resume submission and hire, but as the saying goes, “There is no foolproof system, as fools are so ingenious.”

Dougie just called and sent an email about the great candidate I had proudly sent his way. “He’s really angry,” says Dougie. “Who else do you know.”  The young  chef is cut to order for the restaurant: On the cusp of success as a chef, seven years as sous chef in some very fine properties where he was highly regarded, followed by a couple of years in two appropriate locations, where he got his “chops”.  Talented, knowledgeable and hardworking but still flexible. And mad as Hell. Unfortunately he seems to have taken it out on Dougie. No match.  DRAT!!

YoungChef has a right to be angry. His last position essentially abused him through lack of honesty (that never happens in this industry, does it?) and lack of professionalism, and his current location promising to be the next French Laundry decided it wanted to be a cafeteria within a month of hiring him. You can’t blame the guy, but he’s doing himself no favors.

So what’s the problem?  “Mad as Hell” comes through in an interview.

 I understand resentment, I really do, being a minor principessa of the  Kingdom of Grudge at times. Nothing is as hard to deal with as betrayal, and if you are cursed with the heart-on-your-sleeve gene,  keeping it to yourself is a daunting challenge, but it’s also a necessary skill. Being furious – justifiably or not – can deep six a job and a career.  An interview is a professional exchange in which emotions can be extremely damaging. You need to deal with your emotions before you go into a phone conversation with your next possible employer. How?

 You can tackle your resentment by  gaining some perspective on what you have experienced.

No matter how evil or sleazy or just unpleasant your past employers have been,  and how exasperating failure to achieve the success your expected in a job setting, there are always ways to see it in a mature and rational light, and you need to find them. A couple of suggestions:

1)      Realize that there is a difference between guilt and cause. Sometimes things don’t work out, and even if it feels better to blame personalities, it’s counterproductive.  Look for reasons instead.

2)      Understand that you may have contributed to the lack of success. There are lots of ways – expectations too high, not listening clearly to what the employer said in the interview, a little arrogance, etc etc etc. Taking responsibility for these things is not the same as blaming yourself.

3)      Accept the unfortunate truth that there is as much sleaze factor in this and in any other industry and console yourself with the fact that you can leave the bad actors (if that is the case),  they are not family or in-laws, and you don’t have to see them every Thanksgiving.

4)      Consider the possibility, if you feel your employer lied to you, that he or she probably believed every word said – the best restaurant, absolute support from the staff, etc – and is as horrified as you are that their own dream is foundering.

5)      Be a realist. The recent recession has torpedoed many  high aspirations.  A lot of well meaning attempts had to be rerouted for some businesses to be able to survive at all.

6)      Get over yourself. Look forward, not backward. You are getting out of the bad situation. Don’t project your frustration on the stranger interviewing you.

7)      You learned a lot working in a negative environment – you now know better questions to ask about your next job.   You have had the opportunity to compare methods and discard those you found impossible. That’s called growth.

8)      Remember that for all the anger and pain a poor job relationship or even deceit may have caused, the job paid your rent and groceries for a time. You had an exchange – labor and knowledge for money.  It worked. It was, in the end, just a job and not a good one, but you had a roof over your head and a kitchen or dining room to play in.  You don’t always hit the sweet spot, but you had a job.

 The other component of getting your anger out of your job search is working on your  presentation.  You need to speak to the person you want to work for calmly and positively, to avoid any manner of projecting your pain and your anger on someone who will otherwise not employ you.

 Preparing what you will say helps. I am not a fan of rehearsed interviews, but where emotion is part of the mix, it is important t work out a “schpiel” and get it down pat. Run it by your roommate or your cockatoo a few times to be sure you don’t falter or turn red and purple with rage as you do.

If you are asked why you left your last jobs, don’t vent.  Most of the time something like “It simply did not work out,” or, “It was a poor fit,” is enough. If  pressed for details, revert to the cause- before-blame strategy  and provide the reduced version, as in:

“In the end we discovered that our philosophies are fairly incompatible,”  covers a lot of ground. If asked, go into dry detail: The restaurant was financially challenged from the beginning and I was extremely uncomfortable in compromising the quality of the food we served past a certain point. He simply needed a chef with a different attitude.

“There was an issue with the existing staff, which I was unable to resolve, as I was given no authority to discipline them.”

 And take a piece of the old southern “bless her heart” trick.  “Georgia is a slattern, slime sucking bottom dweller of a man eater and family breaker with the soul of a Tasmanian devil and the mind of a newt, bless her heart,” seems to pass for polite conversation and sincere concern in some parts of the country.  “ They were unable to finance the level of competent staff for their aspirations. It’s such a pity with a restaurant of such great potential,” (= “bless her heart”)  should function  on about the same level. “Too bad. They have a terrific idea,” should do equally well.  “They mean so well,”…is often enough.

This is not hypocrisy; it’s maturity.  The truth doesn’t require complete revelation, but providing appropriate information rationally and honestly.  There are some things your future employer doesn’t need to know. An interview or pre-interview is not anger therapy. Keep your ire to yourself, smile to make your voice sound friendly, and remember that “Discretion is the better part of Valor.”

Your comments, criticism, tips and shared experiences as well as your tips are welcomed.