Aug 012013
 

Stop me if you have read this before:  The first thing employers and recruiters look for in an applicant is quality. The second is stability. This is done with a quick scan of dates and locations. If the ratio of years  to jobs  is less than about 1.5 (That is, a new job every year or less) most of us will pass and go onto the next, even though that chef’s background is not nearly as exciting.

I just took a second look at a resume I passed over two months ago, knowing that  I could not present  his  background of short stints in great locations to any of my clients. Being a bit disappointed about it, I read further into the resume hoping for something that would make  him a viable candidate. This is what I read.

3/2010-3/2011   Sous Chef                         The Priory:
Award winning restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)
4/2011 – 3/2012 Chef de Cuisine            The Rectory:
Three meal restaurant at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (duties,etc)
4-/2012 – present Chef de Cuisine         Jacob’s Ladder
Michelin star dining room at the Winnepeg Resort and Spa. (and so on)

He has been in the same location for 3 ½ years – which I missed, as all I saw were about 11 jobs in the past decade.

I feel less bad about missing the details knowing that my clients would have missed it, too. I  have had to explain similar resumes to my clients too many times to believe they will be faster than I am on the pickup. In fact, I frequently make notes in their emails that kitchen a, b and c were either all on the coat tails of a mentor or all belonged to the same company, and I still have to explain it. That’ s my job, but my candidates would do themselves a great favor it they would stop expecting everyone to connect their resume dots;

The Point: If your background includes multiple properties under the same company, chef or group or within the same hotel or resort, make it very clear on your paper.

Here’s how:

3/2010 – Present Winnepeg Resort and Spa (Five Diamond Property)
Sous Chef : The Priory – Award winning restaurant.
Chef de Cuisine: The Rectory – Three Meal Restaurant
Chef de Cuisine: Jacob’s Ladder – Michelin star dining room

See? Same information, but presented so that the reader cannot possibly miss your remarkable tenure. With this three year stint, by the way, and your collection of ten top restaurants you become immediately irresistible to the job of your dreams. Really. You move from potentially explosive material (“gee..what’s wrong with this guy..he can’t stay anywhere more than a year”) to absolute catnip. Trust me. I know this stuff.

How easy was that?  This holds true whether you worked for five hotels in a management group,  half a dozen restaurants in a corporation or have moved around from unit to unit in a resort. A slight variation shows that you followed your mentor for five  years. (2009 – 2012  Worked under Chef Adam Fritzenphal at the following properties).  Add whatever details the next employer will want to know – who you worked under,  the nature of the product you served, your duties.

I have said before that it is in your best interest to consider everyone receiving  your resume either tired, stressed or even stupid and to kindly make your positive points crystal clear to them/us. Putting things clearly is your job. We don’t miss every beat, but you don’t want the beat we miss to be you.

Dec 312012
 

I just received a resume from an old friend in the industry. He is interested in one of my positions. I haven’t got a clue if I can hook him up or not for a very simple reason:

Like so many experienced chefs, that is, chefs with over twenty years under their belts, he has chosen to place what he feels is the most impressive information at the beginning of the resume and sort his previous positions accordingly.

This leaves me as an employer or recruiter with the job of figuring out the puzzle..in which direction has he guided his career, what is his current track record, etc.

None of us in the people industry really like playing connect the dots.

Therefor let’s do a snappy summary of the best practices for presenting your job history on paper.

1)      State your most recent job on top. List previous positions historically going back in time.

2)      If you are currently in your position and have been there  for at least three years, you  have no need to give the months, although I still prefer them. Shorter positions, however, should be presented with the months of employment. (10/04 – 9/06 for instance)  This will usually work in your favor.  Your job history is a history.

3)      Positions going back more than seven years or so do not need months, with the exception of positions in prestigious or celebrity restaurants. These should always show exactly how long you worked there.

4)      If you worked at different branches of the same company, you should list the entire time you worked for the company with the separate locations indented with months and years below.

5)    You can (and should) also use this trick if you followed one chef mentor or restaurant owner through more than one property. The point you want to make is stability or commitment.

6)      Simultaneous positions can be listed in succession with a mention that they were both at the same time.

7)      If you interrupted an ongoing position to take a stage elsewhere or attend formal culinary training, there is no reason not to list the entire period of your employment there with a note that there was a six month interruption for whatever reason.

To summarize, my clients and I, or anyone who is hiring, is more interested in your current career trajectory than  your illustrious distant past.

The best you can hope for if you try to put shine on your career by placing the cherries on top is mild exasperation. It is more likely that  you will disqualify yourself for trying to get something past them. In other words, we don’t appreciate being messed with.

To quote a very smart client regarding this situation,  “I don’t care where he was..I want to know what he did with it, what he is doing with it, and where he’s going now.”  Let that guide you.

 

Jo Lynne Lockley

Oct 142012
 

I just received a resume I can hardly read. Written in all uppercase Copperplate Gothic Bold (the script of 80’s western themed menus) with no indentations, it is painful to read. Since he’s been at his current job for less than a year, I am also not motivated to look further, which I probably would, if it were easier.

Despite the massive amount of resume information on this site, perhaps a simple check list is in order.

When you finish your resume and have slept on it, run through these points before you send.

1) Did you remember to include all of your contact information including your email address.?Have you provided substantial information about you r places of employment including size, kind of food, numbers and responsibilities?

2) Have you proofread and spell checked the resume and handed it over to someone else to proofread?

3) Have you included the correct dates for all jobs including the months?

4) When you look at it at arms length, is it attractive, centered and well formatted?

5) Have you made it easy for a potential employer to read?

  • Are employer, date and title descriptions highlighted or made easy to distinguish from the rest of the information? (can it be scanned in a few seconds?)
  • Have you used space – either spaces between lines or indents – to set the descriptive part of the job entry apart from the title portion?
  • Is the font large enough and clear enough for the reader to take in easily?
  • Does it look professional?

6) Is it too wordy or long winded? Does it contain information which has nothing to do with the job? Can it be cut?
7) Did your spell checker (or your girlfriend) incorrectly edit any of your technical terms (Sioux Chef, Garden Manager)?

That’s it. The Easy Peasy Resume Guide should get you through the rest, and the Resume Philosophy guide is available, if you want to go all out.

Here’s wishing you good and easy resume writing.

Aug 072012
 

A resume is an information tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Use it to inform.

When I am looking for a chef the first thing I need to know is what are his skills sets, what is his history, what kinds and volume  of culinary production, development and organization he has practiced, the scope of her culinary specialties and the level of quality, complexity and rigor in the kitchens where she has worked.

“Top kitchen serving exceptional food” doesn’t help. Whoever reads your introduction, also known as a resume, needs facts. Probably about 40% of the submissions we receive lack them.

Most list restaurants with geographic locations, the title at that location and the scope of the applicant’s duties, all of  which are very important. Some of them list what the candidate feels are his strong points, which is not important or even useful, unless one is looking for signs of puffery or delusion.

Some just list their responsibilities in introductory bullets, leaving the poor recipient to play a game of connect the dots with a short list of employment below (Where did she manage a staff of 70? When did he create the menu?), which most of us simply won’t bother to do, so the resume goes to a “whenever we get to it” pile, and we rarely get to it.

Most people who consider you for positions will probably have a pretty good idea of the nature of the food and the size of places only in their own immediate area or if the places you worked are famous. If you were at Coi in San Francisco or Gramercy Tavern in New York, they should have an idea of where you worked. The same holds true of a Fairmont resort, a Ritz or a TGIFridays – they are all common concepts.  But if your last position was sous chef of the Blue Moose in Minneapolis or Sean’s Seafood Heaven in North Carolina, a boutique hotel in Maine or a conference center in Boulder, an employer in Santa Barbara will recognize nothing, so she probably won’t be interested.  You need to help the people you want to work for to understand what you did at each specific location.

That means giving them information about all of the points mentioned above. After or before  you tell them your title, you need to tell them about the place: How many outlets did it have (only one is a given),  what kind of food was produced, how many seats? Was it casual or formal? Was it part of a group (as in chain) or free-standing. How many covers, if it was a single location. What was the banquet volume, if you were in a club or a hotel. Did it receive national or state recognition (media)?

A job listing could read something like:

Or perhaps

..and the reader will see that you have experience in multiple event locations, have done mainly Mediterranean or Lithuanian Fusion cuisine, that you know volume or the precision of a small highly staffed kitchen creating an exclusive product. Or that you know how to strategize a trendy menu for volume delivery with a limited labor pool.

The format is not binding, nor is the information chosen here. You should know what part of your experience will be useful to an employer. If you need to provide more, do so. Don’t get fancy. Don’t get wordy.  If you send out a resume to someone who (you are absolutely sure) knows your past locations, save space. It’s  your resume and your call, but you need to state the necessary facts if they are not obvious – and more often than not they aren’t.

 

 

Jul 272012
 

When you are right you are right. Apparently I am that.  I recently stumbled onto the site of a group which makes software for recruiters, both corporate and independent. Reading down it I found just about everything I have been pounding on for  years, but their focus is different: As The Sovren Group points out, resumes are often read and selected by electronic systems, which read them. They are also entered into databases electronically, from which they can be mined. (We do this, but not electronically, so we can get a feel for our candidates.) My point, generally, has been that some things are simply unappealing or annoying. Theirs is that these same things will prevent your resume from being added to the searchable candidates and thus you from being considered.

Sovren provides  a long and detailed piece of extremely valuable information, which you should read in full and then bookmark. Here is a summary of some but not all of Sovren’s tips with a few comments about non automated systems. (I am a non automated system).

Note: Before running out to write a new resume, just check the one you have against this list and tweak it as necessary to create an electronic version. (or to make it easier for the rest of us to assist you in your job search.)

1)      Use ONLY Microsoft Word format. (I have suggested in the past that RTF is acceptable, but Word is definitely better. At all costs do NOT use PDF for your resume.

2)      “Don’t get fancy”, cute, or clever. You are sending professional information, not ptrticipating in a science fair fair. do not use all caps except in section heading (EXPERIENCE), do not separate letters with spaces to emphasize them (J O H N or J_O_H_N) , do not use small caps or fancy lettering, do not underline, use NO graphics (including cute bullets), do NOT use long bullet lists. I cannot stress enough how valuable this is for non automated systems as well (which we usually call “people”).

3)      NO PICTURES.  No photos of you or your food, no little chef hat bullets, no drawings, no logos, no lines or frames. NOTHING., NO GRAPHICS PERIOD! Graphics are for amateurs. (I delete them – an annoyance to be sure – but Sovren’s reasoning is that pictures cannot be databased – true story: a very fat chef from India broke database with a huge picture, causing me days of repair work, and I have detested the man ever since) – but Sovren speaks of electronic processes, not human sentiments. If you are submitting for a European job, then submit the pictures they require as separate documents. (look at the site to see what pictures look like to the robot.) Further argument: Many submission scripts limit the size of resumes sent and will exclude those with pictures.

4)      No Headers (they are an annoyance). No footers. Every thing goes in the main body of the resumeThis goes for all systems. Just put it in the body. If you are too lazy to type it in a few places, then how in earth would you expect to handle daily mise en place or produce accounting? Headers seem like a good idea. They aren’t.

5)      Put all of your contact information at the very top of the resume. That’s FIRST – the VERY first. Not in an artsy line at the bottom. As a person, I appreciate this, too.

My addition: Make sure it includes your city, your zip code, your phone (mobile preferred) and your email. If you want the job, PUT YOUR EMAIL IN YOUR RESUME.  

6)      Do not put your information in an attractive line across the top of the resume, but name above address above phone number above email. (More important for reading bots than people)

7)      Never use tables.  Never use columns.  I rarely mention this and don’t mind columns (tables can be a pain), as I feel that it is easier for candidates to work with, but the company is correct. They store and send badly, often placing employment dates first, followed by all employers and experience. See the piece for examples. (I am fine with columns for references, but apparently the reader bots are not.)

8)      Don’t write your resume in Excel. (see points 1 and 3). Excel does strange things to data.(This is my rule, not theirs, but just use Word.

9)      Don’t use templates, especially those provided by Microsoft Word or other office program.:  (Exemption: The templates on this site conform to these rules except for one using a table.) Templates contain “fields”, which will turn up as “Field”  or “Name” when your resume is electronically parsed rather than your name. (A note on templates – they are generally fine for anything not read by an automated system, but do be sure to fill in all the fields and delete phrases like “Put your name here”.)

10)   Don’t use fields: As the writer of the articles notes, if you don’t know what they are, they you don’t have to worry.  Resume  writers, however, often use them, so try the Test below to make sure the correct data shows for robots.

11)   Write your dates ad Jan ’01 –  present rather than 01/01 to present. I disagree here, since the latter is shorter. This has an impact on only non US hiring.

12)   Include your experience and skills used in your job description, under the listing of the employer. What have I been saying all along? Not in initial bullet list, not in separate paragraphs, but right under the job listing.

13)   Do not use blank lines in your job descriptions. Use them to separate the name of the place where you worked from the description and separate employment listings with blank lines.

14)   Use only one basic font:  really, that makes the resume easier to read. Times new Roman remains the most practical.

15)   Test your resume by saving it to .txt format and reducing all fonts to 8. (look up help if you don’t know how) and open it to see how well it scans and reads. If it is not what you want, then you can (my tip, not theirs) write it using Notepad or a text program, copy it to a Word document and format it then.  (note: Your font size should not be eight but rather about 11 for most submissions..this merely shows you if a bot will read it.

16)   Use standard capitalization. That means writing your name as John Jones, streets, etc. (see nr 2 as well)

17)   Be consistent: Use the same format for all categories (Education, Experience, Press..whatever you have on the resume.

18)   Justify left:  They missed this one, but you should not center your jobs and experience. Even if the reader robots get it, it’s hard for human eyes to follow.

The purpose of the Sovren FAQ was to assist  you in creating a resume that can be adequately parsed by an electronic data entry system.  I have noted the few cases where sending it to a person makes a difference. The Sovren Group, that is the producer of a resume parsing system, suggests that you keep two resumes, one for electronic situations. The problem is that you don’t necessarily know when that will be the case. (Sovren has a list of the job boards using their software on their site) If you send a resume to any group with then broadcasts it to all subscribers, they obviously you should follow Sovren’s suggestions to the letter.  This software is costly, so it is used mostly be groups which seek a numerous easily definable traits an a very large group of candidates – I would expect chain restaurants to use them as well.

It is interesting to note how much  of what is good for the reading robot is good for the flesh and blood reader.  While you need to be more careful of the visuals in the direct resume, readers will still appreciate the clarity required by automation. If you take the suggestions above and tweak the resume so that it can be read quickly and easily, it will work for both.

I suspect that some of the rules given by Sovran will fall away in future software generations, but as you are seeking a job now, they are worth considering.

The argument that your resume may  not stand out is simply wrong. Is I said above, you are communicating facts, dates, skills and your work history. It is not an art competition.

More good stuff to read on resumes: (At least I hope so)  I do urge you to read the Sovren site, which is more complete and explains the logic behind the suggestions as well as providing more tips.)

The Soveren Group: How to assure that automated recruiting software can read your resume:

Chefs Professional Agency: The philosophy behind a good resume:

Chefs Professional Agency: The Easy Peasy Resume guide with templates (acceptable to electronic resume readers)

More on resumes from this site:

 

Jun 292012
 

In a recent  online exchange a chef or someone who wants to be opined “If you have passion, that’s all you need.” [sic to be a qualified chef.] Obviously this is not correct – you need a heap of knowledge and experience and more, but the statement suggests  why so many job seekers insist on stating their passion in resumes and cover letters, where it rarely does much good.

 Why?

1)      It is a cliché. Everyone uses the term, whether or not it applies to them, which means it will most likely not impress a reader or might even have a negative impact.

2)      Most employers are not looking for passion for most jobs. They are looking for dedication, hard work, skill, creativity, knowledge and an unfaltering palate.

3)      Passion in its actual meaning indicates lack of reasoning and unwillingness to compromise. The truly passionate person can be impulsive and disruptive. Employers seek reasonable staff with ability to compromise and communicate, a measured view of the entirety of their station or their kitchen and a great deal of peripheral vision (something which the narrow focus of passion negates).

4)      For professionals working in corporate environments or chains or places where creativity is not the first requirement of the position – a chain restaurant or assisted living facility for instance –  it simply rings silly.

5)      It  can exclude you from consideration for jobs which might be exceptionally suited to you, some of them requiring a high degree of creativity. The owner of a new restaurant really wants someone with a high common sense to emotion ratio. Passion suggests otherwise.

6)  It impresses the wrong people.

Not choosing “passion” to describe yourself does not mean you are not committed or even passionate, either with a large “P” or a small one (meaning enthusiastic). It simply means you are using the space available in your resume to get through to the person who reads it. 

So what if you are or believe yourself to be very passionate? How do you convey it.

If you really are passionate about your culinary career – you suffer fire in the belly, food is the sole focus of your existence and you would push your sister under a train is she stood between you and a box of organic pigs’ ears, then your background will show it. At that point, go ahead and say so if you must, but you really won’t have to.

Passion always shines through in interviews. The really, really passionate candidate usually shifts the conversation, given the chance, from himself to where he has worked, the food, the chefs. Joy is always visible and thrilling. It also comes through in reference checks.

 But what about the cover letter, the resume?

There are many good ways to describe what you feel about cooking and your love of your job, not the least of which is “I love my job.”   Roget’s Online Thesaurus offers a wealth of terrific phrase for “love” (and some really awful ones) .

adulation, affection, allegiance, amity, amorousness, amour, appreciation, ardency, ardor, attachment, case*, cherishing, crush, delight, devotedness, devotion, emotion, enchantment, enjoyment, fervor, fidelity, flame, fondness, friendship, hankering, idolatry, inclination, infatuation, involvement, like, lust, mad for, partiality, passion, piety, rapture, regard, relish, respect, sentiment, soft spot, taste, tenderness, weakness, worship, yearning, zeal

Try looking up “passion” for yourself.  (noting that some of the synonyms are  hardly how you would describe yourself) then click on any of the words you fancy. Eh Voila, more resume resources. (Added bonus – it will provide you with some good ammunition for interviews).  (For that matter try looking up “gourmet” or “food” -  it’s a great resource for any communication.

So try this thesaurus inspired replacement:” My devotion to food combines the highest regard for produce and products with an uncompromising dedication to  quality.”  A bit over the top, but at least it says something.  (There will be another piece on more creative resume writing later).

Even better, figure out what you really mean and say it.  Try to forget all the resumes you have read, because what you have seen often enough for it to stick in your head impresses less than what you write about you.  Try sitting down with a yellow pad or a recorder or talking to a friend and telling them what you actually feel about what you do, why you feel that and capture those thoughts. One of them is likely to be the key phrase of your presentation.  I am the luckiest guy alive, said one of my chefs once. I love to go to work and I hate to go home. Reformatted that might be a great beginning for an introduction. (I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a chef. I can’t wait to get to work and I enjoy every minute of it.) 

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 182012
 

I store resumes in a database I created and refined  over the years.

The Readers’ Digest version of a database is an electronic filing cabinet containing folders with distinct bits of information about a thing or a person or a customer, which can be selected to call up a list of  things or people or customers meeting a select set of criteria. If, for instance, I need a chef with background in Indian Food who does volume banquets and lives near Dallas, I can enter these criteria into a form and pull up a list of such chefs.  This is not the whole process of finding a person, but it gives me a place to start.

My database, which has about 200 characteristics, contains two simple check boxes, “yes” and “no” in the search options, “yes” signalling someone of exceptional interest (most candidates have neither “field” checked)  in and “no” tagging a candidate as better avoided for any number of reasons.

Most of the “no”s are set before I ever speak to the candidate, usually on the first reading of the resume, although they can be triggered by red flags in a conversation or from research. They keep me from wasting time on that person. I have found it not in my own or my clients’ interest to waste energy on questionable applicants.

The main reason for “No” is resume content which does not correspond with my understanding of the world in which we function – for instance a claim to have been mentored by a great chef who was never in this country or two simultaneous jobs in distant locations.  There was the San Francisco chef who claimed to have the first four Michelin stars in the United States. An Indian chef claimed to have been the chef of the Georges Cinque over a decade ago. If it doesn’t wash it doesn’t wash. (An inquiry showed him to have been the violin player.  Who knew they had one.)

I take most training claims at face value, checking them only if the candidate moves into a final round, but there are enough fishy claims in the background portion of resumes to put a lot of them in what is essentially my electronic round file.  As a rule, the more “impressive” the claim or usually claims, the more questionable they appear.

One of these just arrived. A woman outside of the independent restaurant area seeking a logical job on the East Coast. The resume looks fine, and had I not given training a quick look, I might have called her at some point for a suitable position.

But then:

Under training this person lists two things. 1) A degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. 2) An apprenticeship at not one but TWO of the most prestigious restaurants in Paris, albeit no formal or completed training in Paris, or for that matter, in the US. (In France apprenticeships are accompanied by a two year course in a trade school).

She might, of course, be mistaking a paid stage (which I suspect the “apprenticeships actually were) for an apprenticeship, which ends in France in CAP certification, which she does not claim, but then… With a platinum BA she should and probably does know as much, so she is ..how you say in English??..ah, yes, lying. Or mildly obfuscating.

She also lists among her accomplishments a French literary prize (“French Book Prize”), a fact unknown to the great Google, although an author with the same name, now long dead, did receive one.

So what? Everyone does it.

Actually they don’t. Smart employers in the area these people work know the facts and the turf they occupy and will see the ruse. They will either be amused or annoyed – after all, it is slightly insulting – but they won’t bother with the candidate. Nor will I.

The woman has a decent if not stellar history – a fact which further puts her training claims in question – and would be a possible candidate for a job, but her attempt to pass for something more than she surely is raises a lot of questions, one of the most interesting being whether she actually deserved any of the positions she lists, or whether she obtained those  on the basis of false assertions and was able to muddle through by manipulation of people there who were well acquainted with the needs of the job.

Equally important is what the claim indicates about attitude. Those who con their way through their careers invariably believe they are more clever than the people reviewing their history. Some may be (although not realizing that employers use Google wouldn’t support that theory very well), but really, would you want that arrogant mindset in your kitchen? I doubt my clients would.

A little spice, as a good chef knows, goes a long way. Too many claims of prestige, unless they correspond to the rest of a candidate’s career, raise suspicion.

If one has had the wonderful  experience of spending a week at a restaurant like Noma or Le Notre, then stating that one did so is sufficient. It shows determination and dedication, and I, at least, would probably want to speak with you and ask what it was like.  Inflate it beyond its context, however, and you are more than likely going to trigger a few red flags and end in the undesirable pile.

Actually, there’s a certain amount of Darwinism there. It’s a beautiful thing.

Dec 142011
 

At last count there were sixty two posts and a large number of  job search resources on this site, which means some of the important stuff is going to slip through the cracks.

Let us therefor reiterate a few absolutely essential details for your resume.

1) Your contact information. All of it.

  • Your address (nobody is going to use your resume to burglarize your home – you can truly state your address.)
  • The City, State and Zip code. People like me use this to track down candidates and find candidates who are appropriately located for jobs. If you are moving, put your new information.
  • Your telephone number. Don’t worry – putting your phone number on your resume will not bring in hundreds of calls. (Dream on), but of someone is interested, they will want to speak to you. You want that, don’t you? Isn’t that why you are sending your resume out?
  • Your email. People (like me) keep resumes for years and occasionally remember someone who might just love a current opening. Your phone number may change, but you can probably still be reached by email. Put it on your resume.

2) Actual information about where you worked and what you did. Not that you are award winning or wonderful.

3) Dates with months and years.

4) If you used a template (and why not?  There are some very nice ones on this site) give it a final run through to make sure that you have removed all instructions like “your address” or “describe experience here”.

And that’s it.

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.

 

 

 

 

Aug 122011
 

Chefs Career Tools: References

Available on Demand – The standard redundant ending of any resume. Why write it?  Every employer knows that he can have the references if he wants them. You won’t be hired without them.

A future employer will probably contact several references including a formal HR phone call to confirm your employment, people he may know personally and references you provide.

Who should you choose as references?

Your references should be people  you have worked with or for. Supervisors, employers and colleagues from the both sides of the house are your best choices. If you are a chef, your references might be the catering manager, the GM and perhaps the sous chef.  If you are a manager you might give the owner, the HR Director or accountant.

People who you know but have not worked with are not references. Even Al Capone  had friends, who would have sworn up and down he was as honest as the day is long and wouldn’t hurt a flea. Your priest, your banker or your old Boy Scout troop leader are not good choices.

Your previous working relationship with your references should be ongoing and daily. If you worked for someone or with someone at an event, they are not suitable.

Is this legal to require references?

Absolutely. People lie a lot on resumes, and it is not only a future employer’s right but his duty to his staff to confirm your claims and screen your suitability for his particular operation.

When will they call references:

Employers  usually call for references when they have a feeling that they are interested in you.  This will generally happen after your first phone contact or after one or two interviews.  Some may take these steps before calling you to see if the time for an interview is worth their while.

What about confidentiality?

If you have concerns about discretion – if your current employer could find out about your job search from someone else on the list, you should state that clearly in  your cover letter and on your resume. (To maintain confidentiality please do not contact references before speaking with me.) Employers rarely step over the line in questions of confidentiality, but a polite reminder is wise.

What kind of  information do employers look for?

While nobody expects any candidate to be perfect in all categories, employers generally realize that your performance in previous positions probably determines how you will work in the next.

As a matter of fact, hearing from a reference that an employee is not as strong in one area as in others makes a reference more credible.

1)      Confirmation of your statements: What you have told them about your employment is accurate and not invented. Dates, titles, duties.

2)     Your Rehire Status. This is occasionally useless, but it is a way to get a read from  an otherwise tight lipped corporate environment.  Actions such as not giving notice, repeated incidents of inappropriate behavior or unreliability will result in a negative rehire status, which can but doesn’t have to limit your future employment options.

2)      Are you competent or skilled or talented  – usually for a specific set of tasks or environment? (Volume, cake decorating, five star cuisine, costing, you name it.)

3)      You  play well with others. They seek information on  your relationships with your supervisors and subordinates. They hear this in the voice of the person who answers the phone and in random comments“We were really sorry to lose her.” “I wish we had a place for him.”

4)      Is  your attitude  toward your work and the people around you positive?

5)      You are clean, organized, punctual and reliable (work habits)

6)      You fit the profile of their property.

7)      You are honest and do not bring any issues with you which damage them, their staff or their business. (No drugs in the walk in, didn’t steal bunches of parsley or silverware, doesn’t grope passing servers).

References are not a report card. They provide some basic assurances about your professional persona.

Where and how should you state your references:

I think the most elegant way of handling references is a lost at the end of the resume or on a separate sheet, if you want to speak to the hiring agent before exposing the people you worked with to their questions. An extra sheet can be taken to an interview.

The entry should give the person’s name, telephone number, possibly an additional private number, the references current position plus his or her relationship with you when and where your worked together.

As an alternative you can name one or two references following each job descriptions on  your resume.

Problems:

Large businesses and corporations discourage (and forbid) sharing information about past employees because they fear their deep pockets are tempting for potential litigants and they will face a case which will have to be settled or make them pay for attorneys for years. Reckless defamation suits rarely end up in front of a judge and are rarely won.

Some business will not give references. A few, the Cheesecake Factory for instance, require a future employer to pay a confirmation service for date and title confirmation with no statement of hiring status.  That seems to me plenty of reason not to work for those firms – you worked for them and the least they could do is acknowledge you – but if you are in that position, you need to arrange with colleagues to speak on your behalf. Managers and coworkers who have moved on to other positions are your best bet. This is, by the way, a very good reason to keep in contact with the people you have worked with.

Some jobs end on a sour note. That happens. If this is the case, you can communicate the issues civilly to the person who interviews you – don’t wait for them to ask – and explain that there are other references available.  You would also be surprised at how professional employers generally are when discussing past employees.

Line up your references:

As a courtesy to your references, give them a heads up and ask their permission. If they say no, then find someone else. If you can’t locate them, try Facebook or Linkedin. (It is always amusing to hear someone say, “He chose me as a reference??!!|)

The Un-Reference

Also known as the back door reference.  Supplying  your references to a potential employer  shows you to be confident in your past performance and willing to be looked at closely, but it doesn’t guarantee that the employer won’t talk to other people. Don’t count on stacking the reference deck.

Unless you are restaurant cannon fodder –   staff with little responsibility and easily replaceable – the employer will probably try to find out more.  The Food and Beverage industry is tight and incestuous. The probability that the server you once fired or the dishwasher you were kind to works for the new opportunity is fairly high. If they do, they will probably be asked about you.(Another reason to be nice to people).

Everyone knowing everyone in the chef and restaurant world, furthermore, the new employer probably has connections to any number of people who worked with you here or there, and they will call them and just drop your name, then listen for the joyous, “Oh, JOHN!! How is he?  He’s a great guy!” or “Ooof. John, eh. Did he lose another job?”   Again, be nice to people.

“But slander is illegal!??”

If it is true, it is not slander, and slander is not illegal. It is actionable (a civil matter rather than a criminal issue).  The First Amendment still counts, and you can’t sue someone for revealing documented facts about a past employee.  People don’t go to prison for revealing what is written in your file, as long as it is not private information, but they can if they state unfounded opinions or if they practice reckless defamation.  It just isn’t easy. A valid claim of reckless defamation requires three things.

1)      The person telling the lie did so knowingly.

2)      That person receives some form of benefit from telling it. This may be a promotion, it may be money. It could possibly be the satisfaction of revenge. (It’s called “reckless” for a reason.)  Ex employers are more liable for damages, if they tell a potential employer that you are a terrific hire in order to get you off their unemployment rolls.  Many years ago a company which spoke highly of an employee who later injured (or killed?) a winery worker had to pay the damaged parties half a million dollars.

3)      It causes you substantial damage - you lose your job, you cannot get a job. You are offered less salary. Your reputation is ruined.

What employers cannot say is “I think he did drugs” or “I wouldn’t trust him,” opinions in other words. Anything that is documented, however, for instance an assault on another employee or a failure to appear to work is fact and can be shared. “We had to replace him while he was in prison for murder,” is perfectly legal. It’s a matter of public record. An employer can also say we were not satisfied with his speed or the level of  his food knowledge.

Your personnel file may also contain medical or personal information, which a previous employer is not free to share with anyone. He cannot discuss anything about health issues or your family issues impeding your performance.  If you don’t know what is in your personnel file, you have a right to see it, and you should have a look.

Usually, however, employers bend over to say nicer things about employees than they deserve. Truly negative statements are generally expressed in silence. A recent candidate we reviewed, for instance, had an impressive resume, but the most we could gather from employers was “Well, he worked here.”

Nobody is perfect.

Do not expect all  of the references your employer receives to be glowing. The employer doesn’t. Continual 5 star references are suspicious. What we all know if that people grow up, they make mistakes, chemistry happens and unhappens and someone who will be a great fit for one position may not have been for another.  Jesus Christ, when he returns to this earth, is not, trust me, going to look for a job in a kitchen.

What are some reference red lights: (Avoid them)

Sometimes I will discard a candidate after looking at the references and finding some of the following.

1)      No references for recent positions.

2)      No  phone numbers. Only email addresses such as joesdiner@yahoo.com I would expect Joe@joesdiner.com

3)      References all outside of the current and last positons: Purveyors, friends, etc.

4)      References who contact me. (this is just plain spooky.)

5)      Family. (I have on a couple of occasions found that the person giving the reference was a sibling or an in-law. We drop the candidate.)

6)      Prestigious names at restaurants where the candidate has not worked.

7)      Suggestions that a candidate was “Mentored” by a reference for  whom he did not work.

8)      A large number of written references but no contacts. Nobody does this any more in the United States. It is still, however, common in Europe. Paper can be easily forged. (We have seen some phony telephone references, too).  Written references can also include deceptively negative statements: “He did everything to the best of his ability,” etc.

A job search is not a popularity contest or a reality show. It is a process to find a place whose interests and opportunities coincide as well as possible with your own abilities and desires. The referencing process is part of this process. In the ideal situation you want the people who provide information about your to be frank and as objective as possible. It is disconcerting to know that someone is talking about you, but really, the truth is that most of them say things nicer than you would ever expect. (“SHE said that about me???? )

Your comments and experiences are appreciated. Please feel free to contribute.