Just when I think I have wagged every finger about every bad decision and misconception someone comes along to remind me that there are more out there.
An acquaintance assures me that if I just meet his friend, who has been the manager of a café with lackluster reviews for the past five years, that I will see her potential and find her the back door to a better job and a better future.
I assure him that I cannot. I am in fact nothing but the extension of my clients’ desires and needs, and the fact is that my clients do not want someone with potential rather than a proven history of activity in their segment of the industry – whether that is fine dining or high volume chain operation or bakery quality control. In other words, they don’t want someone who thinks or knows they can do it. They want someone who has done it.
My friend’s friend would, I believe, be very happy to “take a step back” and use her skills in a better environment but at a lower position. Again, this is something I cannot do. My clients, on the whole, want someone who is working their way up not in quality but in title, not someone who has reached a higher goal in some other branch of the industry.
There are some rules to getting to where you are going. I have written them in different form before, but let’s make them clear.
1) You have more options early in your career than you do once you have set a path.
2) You choose the kind of place you want to work in at the start or, let me say it again, early. If you want to be in high end dining or high paying volume quality restaurants, that’s where you need to take your first jobs. You need to stay in that environment.
3) You can’t throw in your lot with a corner café and expect to be taken on, even as a server, in a Michelin restaurant. It doesn’t work that way.
4) If you are trying to ratchet up your career, few recruiters will be interested in you, as they will have to make a “sale” to a client of a product (that commodity would be you) they cannot really trust, since you have no history in the area to which you aspire. ). I have learned the hard way that this brings grief to me and generally to both employer and employee. I suspect that most recruiters will agree.
5) Exception: If you are very young and want to work your way up from a pretty subordinate job, you have a fair chance. Recruiters don’t figure into the algorithm, but they don’t need to. Everyone loves puppies and is willing to train them more than they love and are willing to train unknown older dogs. There may be some begging involved, but it has been done.
6) Employers generally want someone “on the way up”, not someone who has been up and is trying the catch him or herself on the way down then turn around.
7) Where you start your career geographically is also important.
8) Leaving a more desirable segment of the industry often means you will not be able to return.
To you this means? Obviously early choices are very important. That the biblical concept of “straight and narrow” also counts in restaurants. Why?
The pervasive rigor necessary in all high end properties can’t just be picked up – it has to be in muscle memory. Employers suspect, generally correctly, that someone in a more casual or smaller environment than theirs will not have developed the habits and “moves required to fit in with the flow or their kitchen or dining room.
The good news is, as usual, that the culinary industry is a field where rules and generalizations apply, but only mostly. There are not a lot of exceptions but enough of them to make it worthwhile trying to get into a better niche. (Assuming that you think it is better. There are a lot of high end chefs and managers who back out to open that neighborhood cafe and live happily ever after.)
People do transcend barriers between job types from time to time, so there’s no reason not to put a little effort into it. I’ve even done it successfully a couple of times (but more times extremely unsuccessfully). Those with a gift, a great temperament can and do manage to change their trajectory, but the effort will be yours. Go Craigslist, Monster, back door hopping. You can’t expect a recruiter to work for you (Remember – we work for the client) Nobody else can retool your career. It’s not their job. You are the beneficiary, so you need to do the work.
Given that, the obvious best strategy is starting out in the industry neighborhood where you want to end up.
Good Luck to you.