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.

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.

Feb 182011

(even if you aren’t – you  may get the hang of it.)

During a recent Advisory Board meeting for a local food and beverage program a number of  Human Resource executives all expressed the need for the school to teach the students the importance of maintaining a professional appearance and reputation even before they began their careers.

They were speaking, of course, about Facebook and Myspace pages and comments, but as the conversation continued it became obvious that younger job seekers are remarkably naïve regarding the necessity of a professional image.  They don’t yet understand the consequences of an unprofessional image on their chances of working with the best companies, which in turn influence their entire careers.

The initial focus of the conversation were sites like Facebook, Twitter,  YELP!, FourSquare, etc, where posters still believe that comments, pages liked, videos and pictures are private.

Unfortunately, opportunities to shoot your career in the foot do not stop at social networking. They abound.  Every way in which you present yourself tells potential employers what you are about. One agent related the story of a candidate who drove up with a bumper sticker saying, “One mean b**ch”.  The interview lasted five minutes, thank you very much for coming. “She may have been a perfectly nice person,” she stated, “but we couldn’t take the risk.”

A candidate who reports in from a series of bars or a different bar every night opens questions of substance abuse.  Employees who gripe on line about their employers or staff dare new employers to wonder about their team abilities.

Stumbling on a video of a chef berating a female cook took him off my list of candidates.

Another HR Director noted that she is shocked, as I also wrote a while back, at how many applications she receives with suggestive or just plain offensive e-mail addresses.

I have dinged people for their comments on public forums – “Why do I know that it’s the best place in town? Because I’m the Chef!” thanking my stars that this ego maniac was kind enough to provide me with insights into her personality before I wasted time picking up the phone for an interview.

If someone is already on the phone and gets a voicemail message with a drunken scream or something equally disturbing, there is a good chance they will hang up.

By the time you reach sous chef status, your high school indiscretions are generally forgotten, but after that your record is your record and it is visible. Anyone hiring these days does a few quick key strokes to get an idea of you and the places you’ve worked  and in the process they will come across your comments and public presence. This is, by the way, not a privacy issue. The Internet is the most public of places.  Even those spaces with privacy filters may be seen and reported in casual conversation.

Despite the common belief to the contrary, the Food and Beverage Industry – restaurants, hotels, clubs et all- is an adult business which seeks professionals.  Where professional skills do not yet exist, employers look for professional attitudes.  For the best career, you need the best jobs early, and mindless public behavior or appearance rarely leads to them.

So what to do?  Erase the compromising pictures and the sophomoric posts. Google yourself and erase any damaging traces you can.  Change the voicemail message to a simple request, leave your T-Shirt stating that  cooks do it with whatever in the drawer in favor of a pressed shirt when you go on an interview, scratch the offensive bumper stickers off the back of your car and control your visible environment for  any and all inappropriate messages. The world does not need to know everything you do and everything you think. Keep anything you would not say in your boss’s office to yourself or share it face to face.  In other words, grow up or at least act in public (which is also the internet) as if you were.. In other words, be professional.

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.

Jan 242011

Choosing the right job in the right kitchen:

Part One of Two

In your career, you are special. You have you’re a unique set of talents, aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses combined with a body of knowledge and set of skills formed during your working life. They may lean towards the systematic management of large numbers of people or towards the fine tuning of intricate flavor combinations.  There will be any number of people more or less similar to  you, but nobody exactly like you.

You are also special and unique in your goals and expectations. If you are young in the industry they  include developing your future and your skills. If you are seasoned, you want to put what you have learned to use. There are any number of people in some ways similar to you but nobody just like you in the labor market. You are one of a kind.

So are most jobs, from the job description itself to the nature of the clientele to location and demands of the physical space. Out of twenty jobs, there may be one for you, or none or three. If you are reading this, the short odds are that you are considering your career and a possible move. Another set of short odds says that in the process, you are not thinking about matching you to a kitchen or restaurant operation, but that you are sending out a dozen resumes to anything that looks like a possible match.

If you are already being selective, congratulations. You have figured out a lot more than most people.

Part of the motivation of changing jobs is always an improvement. Most people see this as increased compensation or title, but there should be more – companies where you can progress, managers from whom you can learn or challenges great enough to move you forward but not too great to put your success in question should be part of your career thinking.

Defining what you want and what will benefit you, not always the same thing,  is an important part of your job search.  You owe yourself the thought and time it takes.

As a special unique professional with specific goals you need to target your search and your choices, then to act on them. Stay tuned for more on you working in your own best interests.

 Stay tuned.

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.

Dec 152010

Business cards, you may have heard, are no longer kept in books albums with  unwieldy plastic pages or in dozens of boxes, nor are smart people spending their time typing them into their laptops. After various card scanners – Neat Receipts  and the less buggy and more efficient Cardscan among them – had moderate success in the card storage market,  new apps on smart phones are allowing people to store and access their contacts by category just about anywhere.

I can, for instance, give you a list of seven chocolate makers or dairymen  in two minutes or find half a dozen sommeliers in the Miami area on my Ipod. If you gave me your card, I can reach  you from the road or from Munich. If someone calls me and asks for the address of a restaurant supplier in Kansas, I can pull him out of a pile in seconds. You want that. (Well maybe not a call from me, but being available or having your information available is one of the key elements of being successful in this odd business.)

During a week of card database restoration after my 2500 item card list was taken out by a rogue hard drive I have developed a sharp sense of the essence of good and bad business cards and what makes them effective. Let me share:

  • If you are between jobs and looking, you should have a card. If you have a card from  your employer,  you should also have a personal card with your permanent contact information. If you have a second business you should have a card for that. It’s how people find you.  Your card is your best advertising. People store them and pass them along.
  • Have your card printed professionally. Nothing speaks dilettante louder than a hand knit card on fold and tear stock.
  • Have it designed by someone who has a sense of look and proportion. Having seen the effects a company  like Noise 13 can achieve with  an image, we are believers. Our favorite printer, Red Dog Graphics,  and many other printers also offer design services.
  • Your printer will charge you a set up fee for putting your card on a plate. Make sure you get a copy of the set up and keep it in a safe place. I have one on a keychain thumb drive, in case I need cards away from home.
  • Use dark print on light background or vice versa – similar tones like dark grey on black or cream on white can’t be read by scanners. Your print should also contrast with your logo.  While scanners easily read really tiny print, some people can’t. You need to keep your print  small but not microscopic.
  • Fold over cards and dual sided cards are a great way to get more information into the small space allowed, but put all of the important contact information on one side.
  • Repeat: Everything that you need someone to know about you – Company name, Title, phone, email etc – belongs on one side of the card.
  • Use standard card size. Over-sized cards tend to get put aside and lost. Small ones can’t be found. Card shapes, on the other hand, are expensive but eye catching. A rough edge can make it interesting.
  • Don’t confuse cute with effective. A card printed on a beer coaster or a Chinese puzzle box won’t make it to or through the scanner. A fortune cookie is a great gimmick, but not a card (you can, of course, do both.)
  • Don’t go too wild with fonts. Fonts that look like trees or swishes, medieval scripts and crayons in the form of letters are not recognized electronically, nor are wild scripts or funny fonts. If you do have an exquisite, artistic and illegible card face consider double sided printing with the same information in a simple font on the back.
  • The fewer colors used in printing a card, the less it costs. New methods may change that.
  • You are working on small space, so your graphics should be simple and leave space for information.
  • You don’t absolutely need graphic, or at least not pictures. If you are an individual without a graphic, there’s nothing wrong with putting your photo on the card. It helps people remember you and find the card, if they are looking for you.
  • Add a Skype number if you deal outside the country. Consider adding a Google Voice number (this is a permanent number which relays to multiple phones.)
  • Explain what you do or are. If your company is “The Blue Bloom” something like “Purveyors of Fine Wine” or “Ambiance Consultant” belongs below it.
  • Be generous with your cards. I hear back from people who got mine ten years ago.
Nov 112010

Or how to showcase your talent  subtly:

Every now and then somebody says that as a professional you have to be humble. Depending on what they mean, they are very wrong.  When you vying for a position, the last thing  you want to do is hide your light under a bushel. If you have qualities, your job search is the time to let them show.

The employers you apply to don’t want you to be humble. They want to know what you can do and why they should hire you.  Most don’t want anyone who appears arrogant, and that’s your conundrum: Strutting your stuff without appearing full of yourself. Showing your value without appearing arrogant is your goal, not humility or even modesty.

You have every right to be proud of your achievements and skills, and your pride and self assurance should be visible  in your life in the industry as well as your job search. Quiet self assurance, on paper or in an interview, is impressive, but putting it on paper is challenging. It can be done, though.  Here are a couple of tricks. Or really one: Share credit and don’t brag.

1: Bragging – I received five stars for my fine cuisine at La Chose. Not bragging: During this period as Executive Chef La Chose received five stars. Eh voila! You still get all the credit, and you have shown yourself to be a team player to boot.

2. Bragging: I opened this prestigious restaurant. Not Bragging: I was the opening chef/sous chef / manager for this five star restaurant.

3. Bragging: I brought down the food cost and increased sales by 35%. Not bragging: During my employment as Executive Chef the restaurant’s food cost was reduced by 12%, while sales increased by 35%.

4. Avoid the first person singular  if you can in any way. That, for those who don’t love grammar, the words ” I”, “me”, “my”.  Instead of I was voted the best restaurant, try “We were voted the best restaurant.” Or: The Plains Dealer readers voted Chez Shorty the best new restaurant of 2001. If you were voted best chef (obviously something you don’t share), try to avoid the pronoun. (“Voted best chef of 2007 by Foodstuffs Journal”)

5. Self praise stinks. Rather than stating on  your resume that you are “an exceptional leader,” a “skilled culinarian” or a “gifted chef”, let your history speak for you. Few employers give much credit to statements like “I am a consummate professional and an exceptional manager.”  They will see as much if you say you managed a staff totaling 75, training college students where experienced staff was not available, or that your duties included creating maximum cooperation between the service staff and kitchen to assure guest satisfaction.

As you see, it’s easy to display your achievements without “hogging” the credit. You show yourself to be a team player as well as the splendidly talented professional you are.

It’s not what you think you are that impresses employers, but what you can prove you have done. Don’t hesitate to lay it out clearly. If you developed a green waste management program  (or better  if you worked with the management team to develop one), let it be known. (“My responsibilities included working with the local utilities commission to develop a .etc.)

What if you received awards? That’s different. If they advance your case, state them. If not, leave them for an interview.

Every so often someone in an  interview says something like, “I’ve had the privilege of working with a terrific staff.” I know I am dealing with a star when I hear that.

Oct 142010

Every now and then someone sends me a Bio. Sometimes they send me a Bio and Resume combined, which is redundant. Now and then I get a CV. I find this strange, if it’s not from somewhere outside the country.

In the United States we use resumes to tell future employers what dandy specimens we are and why we should be allowed to play in their kitchens and dining rooms for money.  Resumes are supposed to provide as much information about your working career in as little space as possible. Resume is an English word with French roots, which means essentially summary or synopsis.

The British, being older as a civilization and probably classier than we are, use  the CV, or Curriculum Vitae.  It’s a Latin term which means a summary of your life, so a sort of pre-death, fill in the blanks  obituary. You might notice already a difference between the two: Your resume is about your trade and career only. In the CV you provide photo,  your birth date, your age, your marital status, your health, nationality, whether you own a boat or not and other information which, when  you consider it, has nothing to do with your ability to keep fifteen cooks in line and flip an egg.

In the US we not only don’t care about all that stuff, we aren’t allowed to ask.  Egg flipping and staff herding experience trump the color of your eyes in the US.(“colour”, if you are British.) . Of course Italy, France, Germany and a lot of other nice places use them, but they don’t have our laws. Be glad we don’t have theirs.

Some people like to call their resume their CV, because they think it sounds more sophisticated, but unless  you put on “wellies” when it’s raining, wear your “vest” under your shirt and see a “Mac” as an outer garment rather than a semi synthetic meat patty with lots of sweet stuff *,  you’re better to stick with “resume”. “CV” has an irritating and pretentious ring in America, and you’re probably not that kind of person.

What puzzles me is the use of a  Bio instead of a resume. Bio is short for biography. It’s an English word, thus not linguistically pretentious, taken from Greek (Picture of your life), and it’s a sort of (supposedly)  third party essay about what a whiz you are and how you got your passion from your Granny’s kitchen and how many people thought you were a phenom when you cooked for the King of Abzkadzia at the age of twelve.  Theoretically they are written by someone else – a marketing person who knows how to pile up adjectives like a $25 banana split. They are generally a bit gushing and little specific (Good resumes are specific).

Intended for marketing and media use, they are expected to be over the top and possibly just a smidgen beyond the boundaries of truth. They are not intended for job search use.

Of course bio’s are also the tool of preference when gathering investors for a restaurant. They want the story more than the facts, and if you’re hustling a service with a web site, you had better have a credible bio available.

Once in a while I am asked to write my bio. I stink at it , so they are rarely publicized. Knowing my own value, I am not driven to prove anything to anyone, and I am distrustful of anyone who can stand up and say with a straight face, “I am the best, I rock, My Food has been praised by sultans and pashas.”  I couldn’t write that stupid paragraph about how great I was going to be under my picture in the yearbook, and I’m glad I don’t have to read that today, so I just don’t have the skills or lack of modesty it takes to put a whopper out there.

Other people’s Bio’s for a job search make me queasy.  Self  promotion generally does. Of course, if you restaurant uses one to promote you, that’s different – let them.   The general public loves them. Actually if you’re good enough to for someone to pay for your bio, you probably don’t need one, anyway.  The best way to do it, by the way, is to just tell a good writer about yourself and let them put it together.

You’ll also want a bio  on hand if you have frequent congress with the press. A one paragraph bio should probably be in your box of tools.

Another issue with bio’s is that of property rights. If a restaurant pays someone to write your Bio, it’s not yours. It belongs to them, and using it for a job leaving the restaurant isn’t quite kosher. Of coursethey are not  going to use it after you leave, but then by the time  you leave a place it’s going to be old news, anyway.  The next one, if you need one, will be better.

Perhaps there’s a moral in here. Maybe there isn’t.

Small linguistic bonus: How to frazzle a Brit.

* If you really want to get a Brit’s attention, wait until he has had two drinks at the bar and look  for any woman in colored slacks, preferably pretty, although not an absolute requirement, behind him, then say, “Hey, look at that girl in the bright blue/pale pink/flashy yellow pants!” Five’ll get you ten that he falls off the bar stool as he whips around.  The British seem highly confused as to which garments go outside and which underneath.