Jul 252011

What to do it your resume is too long.

The adage that a resume should be one page is accepted as gospel and absolute horse feathers.  A resume should be as long as a resume needs to be to tell a potential employer what he has to know to decide to hire you. It you have two restaurant jobs, your resume can neatly fill the center of a single page and no more. If you have been at the game for twenty five  years, it’s going to be longer. In general I expect resumes to stop at about two pages, but there are exceptions. They should not be voluminous. I have received documents of twelve and more, and that’s just too much.

Remember that today’s business reader has an attention span of perhaps half a minute for incoming information, and if he picks up something he thinks will require fifteen, he’s likely to drop it in the “Sometime when I have a moment”, pile, which never gets read. You really have to get his/her attention by showing a selection of strong points in a brief span of time. So what can you do it you have an endless resume?

Lots. First, take the term “need to know”  and turn it around. Ask yourself what is not important, and cut it. For some help with this look again at what employers want and do not want to know.

Then start on some serious triage: The art of good writing is cutting everything that does not contribute. It’s also the art of good resumes.

Weed, Cut, Hack

Cut everything that doesn’t relate to your profession: high school (it’s generally assumed), all extraneous courses, cook offs attended, any of the “don’t want to know”  points.  Leave out the silly ‘references available on request” line. Any employer knows that he can request references.

Remove as much of your introduction or summary as possible. Aim for maximum three lines (you could do four or five, if your resume were not already way overweight, but you need to slenderize it.) Better yet, remove it all. Use your cover letter to address the most important points (awards, community participation, etc) Cut anything that pertains to your performance (as opposed to your duties).  “ I excelled in keeping food cost low” should land on the cutting room floor. “Responsible for costing and pricing”, on the other hand, can stay. Cut all sentences where  you say your are good at something (I am a terrific communicator), your beliefs and anything that is not simple fact. The facts should suffice to get you where you want to go.

Edit Style

Edit the remaining entries to telegraph style, changing all sentences with “I” or “my” to terse lists. Your goal is the verbless, pronounless resume. Responsibilities:  All kitchen administration functions, menu creation and delivery, costing, pricing and customer interface.  Choose the four to five most important points.

Detail Triage: Keep  only the important awards, media, events, etc.

Select and cut lists of awards, participation, etc to show only the most meaningful:  Some awards received: “James Beard, 2001 / The Golden Fritter, 2001, 2002, 2003 / George’s received Michelin 3* 2001-2005.” If you have a couple of good ones, leave the also-rans for an off hand comment at the interview. (“Well, of course, there were others…”)

Do the same with press coverage: Press coverage includes Good Morning America, Gourmet Magazine, New York Eater. Copies available.

If your job duties are repetitive (for instance, if you worked at seven different Hyatt locations), you don’t need to describe everything you did in every job. The last five years should suffice.   Even better, if you were with one company, list it only once with  your current position and a note you were promoted from chef de partie or roundsman  “with all attendant duties” through the ranks to Executive chef.  You can work this with various locations, but do keep any statements about exceptionally rated properties or unique positions and responsibilities.

Format down:

Keep all fonts to 12pt or below, but not too small to read.

Restructure all bullet lists to short, run-on paragraphs, also in telegraph style. You need some white space (to make the resume readable) but use the Paragraph function of Word (Mac has a similar function) to alter the space between lines and paragraphs.

Change your header to put your name, phone number and email on the right side, your address on the left.

Pictures are never good. If you’ve got them in your resume, ditch them. (Side Note: they are required on CV’s, which have their own rules.)

Combine and condense.

Your most recent ten years should be clearly stated and described, but earlier employment, unless it is for some reason important, can be just the name and location of the property, your position and date of employment.  You can resort to a combined paragraphs for non-management postions, something like:

1991-2001 Worked all positions from dishwasher to lead line cook in Chez John (fine dining – Atlanta, GA), The Old Oak House (Steak Restaurant, Cleveland, OH), the Green Roofed Inn (Relais Chateaux, Burk Burnette, TX)……….  Slip in points like volume, ratings, or a well-known mentor as necessary. Try not to leave this out. (Read about the importance of provenance.)

Save even more space.

1991 – 2001 Employed at a number of restaurants from fast food to white table cloth in all non management positions.

Take stages out of your job history and add them to education.  A short paragraph is more effective than a long bullet list.  If you are more seasoned, they stages may be superfluous.

Don’t list consultancies, if they were simultaneous with full time employment. Save them for the interview or add just one line like: “Consultancies: During the past years I have consulted to both high end and QSR properties including the Black Cow, Moonraker’s Dream and Chez George.” Don’t include moonlighting or extraneous catering.

In principle, you should state all the jobs you have had. If you don’t ,  you can be sure someone will say, “She worked at Benoit. I am positive.  What? It’s not on her resume. There must be a reason?”  In practice, however, there is an understanding that stays under three months are pretty much trial events, so if they don’t leave you with a gaping hole (Which you should not fill by stretching other positions), just leave them out.

Use your head:

What you are doing in editing your resume to a manageable size is essentially allocating space to the most important data. We can compare this to cleaning your desk or your station. Only the necessary matter can be allowed to stay on top. You can assume that the person who reads it has some  knowledge of the industry, so you can determine what  you can keep on the surface, and what you can omit. The better known a property, for instance, the less resume real estate you need to spend on it. A Grand Hyatt, a Ritz Carlton, Morton’s or Gramercy Tavern, for example, should be well enough known to anyone reading your resume, that you can spare words, while you will want to give some details for a country Inn or one off mountain resort.

The Resume is an introduction, not a production. You do not have to be exhaustive or even complete. The interview serves that purpose.

The focus of your resume (and your interview) should be what is important to the employer. It is not about  you. It’s about her or him.

Much of what clutters a resume can be put in a cover letter. Remember, though, that these are not always read. Like  the resume, your cover letter should be short and reserved for a few important points.

Even the best resume cannot cover up for a sporadic, unfocused career with two jobs a year.

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.

Apr 132011

My dream reply to an invitation to assist a chef in finding employment:

Dear Chef:

You write: “I am interviewing professionals to assist me in securing a position as a Chef or Manager in the restaurant industry.” Bing, wrong answer.


1)      You do not interview us. We interview you. The choice is not yours, it is ours.

2)      Unless we feel that you possess universally attractive qualities for our clients, we will put off interviewing you until we have a job available. Life is triage.

3)      We do not assist you in finding a job. We assist our clients in finding chefs. There’s more than a small difference between the two approaches. Let’s put it this way, we are not your advocate, unless we are absolutely convinced that you are in every way we value a righteous professional.

Why? Well, for one thing, you don’t pay us. Our clients do. We are a free service to you, and possibly a valuable one, as it is in our interest to hook you up with something that works, preferably for a long time, so we won’t send you to something for a quick fee. That’s the standpoint of most search firms, although there still a few rogues among us.

We would call you immediately, if you were a prime candidate, but you are not.

Why? : 1) you are currently not employed and have been for over half a year. We do represent people between jobs if we know them or if their background impresses us, but an unknown, unemployed candidate can be a bombshell. Being unemployed can indicate many possible problems, and at times we do not have the time or the desire to discover them.  2) We don’t know you and have never heard of you, and we have heard of many good culinarians.  3) you have had five jobs in the past four years, so we cannot really with a straight face suggest to our clients that they pay us on your good word that you are looking for something permanent. 5) You are arrogant. Really, you are. Life’s too short. 6) You think you are more important that we do. Don’t get us wrong. We want our candidates to have a strong sense of their value, but we don’t like the feeling that they are trying to manipulate us based on that sense. Trust us, your note says exactly that. So do all the applications telling to call ASAP or to look them up on Google and download their resumes. We have a small button which rates them. The title of the field is “No”. (we also have a “Yes” field). So we will just store this information in case we run across you again, so we will know not to reach out.

Finally, I do not have time to educate you. Your school should have explained the job search process to you and told you something about professional job search behavior. Maybe they did, but our job is not to provide refresher courses in the field.

The good – no –  great news, is that there are plenty of fish in the sea and someone will find you more attractive than we do. So, best of luck in your search. It might help, however, to brush up on recruiters, so have a look at what our business site writes.