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.