Jan 262011

I need to know the kind of chef I am working with in order to make a good job match.  So do you.

Your career is best served by job selectivity: You look for and choose jobs that suit you best.  In order for this to work, you need to know what you are looking for. If I work closely with a chef, I take some time to get to know who I am working with. It’s always surprising to me, how little those people have thought about themselves.  True, some people just follow their star and end up in a fabulous situation they never dreamed of, but most successful culinary professionals took time to figure how they worked and who they are and what they needed to get where they wanted to be. You  need to get to know yourself.

First you determine what these might be by defining your interests and motivation. Among others those might be:

  • Naked ambition – desire to be “big”
  • Acquisition of skill and knowledge (technique, product, volume management, communication).
  • Money
  • Life style
  • Security and stability
  • An exciting and interesting environment
  • Resume equity – names to pave your path.
  • Professionalism
  • Location
  • An opportunity to work with a specific style
  • Visibility
  • Title
  • Training and advancement.
  • Exciting cuisine
  • Structured, highly systematized environment / possibility of creative input or autonomy
  • A learning opportunity
  • Culinary values such as seasonal cuisine or integrity of style

There are many more. Some are contradictory. You cannot, for instance, decide as a starting cook you want money and resume equity. The highest pay goes to the jobs with the least visibility, and some limit other choices.  You need to be realistic.

You need to give yourself a review. You are, in the end, the boss of you, and this is the time to use your supervisory  power over yourself. What do you do well? What aptitudes do you lack?  What skills do you need to build? If you have had jobs you didn’t like or have not worked out in a job try to determine how you, your current skill set and your general nature contributed to the situation. Forget fault. Look for reasons.

Where do your natural aptitudes lie? Some people are naturally highly organized and analytical. Others are spontaneous and intuitive.  Some are detail oriented and thrive with small, individual projects, while others have inborn oversight of large spaces and the ability to create sense of chaos. Some  have golden palates, while others can keep a kitchen running like a clock. What are your strong and weak points? Beware of categorizing yourself as what you want to be instead of what you are.

What you are not is even more important than what you are. The things you lack can either be learned (organization and communication are absolutely acquirable skill sets, and an analytic mind can create as impressive a menu as an inspired talent) or avoided.

Half of the art is to determine if and where your desires and your skills meet and to keep an open mind, so you can choose from as many appropriate paths as possible.  The other half is to figure out what will not work for you, so you don’t put your energy into a job that will give nothing in return.

When you are looking for career steps, look for something to provide a challenge you are sure you can meet, not what you want to be able to meet. At the same time seek out locations which will use and appreciate your combination of skills. A gifted saucier may be able to manage a sandwich arcade, but the title of Executive Manager will not keep him happy for long. A manager without strong financial skills may be able to coast along for a while as a GM for a location requiring them, but she would probably be happier and more successful in a position with growth and learning potential, where she does not have to reinvent the wheel and scramble to keep up .

An old bridge adage says, “Play from your longest and strongest suit”. It works in careers, but with a caveat. A position which does not add to what you know will not be satisfying for long. While you select restaurants for your probability of success, you want them to give you a future as well. Like a driver looking five cars ahead, your career choices should point to the job after next.  Always ask  yourself, “What do I get out of this besides rent and groceries?”

What does all this mean pratically for you?

  • You don’t broadcast your resume to anyone who is looking for someone. You are worth more than that.
  • You don’t interview as if you were in an oral exam. You take time to find how much of a match the spot is for you.
  • You research the operations you want to approach and take time to seek out businesses that can meet your specifications.
  • You work with  your recruiter to determine what is a good match, but always thinking critically.
  • You target your resume to the level of position and type of operation that will push you forward.
  • You put as much focus on your career as you do in buying  a new car.
  • You think beyond the paycheck and the title as you make decisions.
  • You analyze every job offer not only in respect to how much you want it but how well it fits  you.

A well built career is a work of Art. It takes thought and time and a stubborn streak. You have a right to one.