Fifty Minute Classroom

Jun 29, 2022, 3:37
Practical Tips on Finding and Securing Employment

Practical Tips on Finding and Securing Employment

31 January 2022

Applicants still must perform at the top of their interview game even in this current labor shortage.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
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Your students will soon be looking to turn their culinary skills into gainful employment in the job market. Here is a painful reality for some: Unless you teach them how to get and keep a job, the technical skills taught are in vain. You might feel you don’t have time to teach these skills or they are not part of your curriculum. Yet remember, even if your students are potentially the next Bobby Flay, their culinary skills are useless if they can’t find employment. Your students still require minimal interview skills to be hired even during the current culinary and hospitality labor shortage. I have heard colleagues who turned away applicant after applicant even though they have multiple openings solely because the people poorly presented themselves in the interview. Here are some practical tips on how to secure a culinary position.

Practice interviews
Remember, it is likely most of your students never had a job interview. You can provide them with practice interviews.

  • Demonstrating proper interviews. Ask your hospitality friends to come and participate in demonstrations and mock interviews. If this can’t be done, use someone from the counseling or career office. I used to have someone interview me twice. For the first interview, I would come out slovenly dressed, not shake hands, not have a resume, look at my cell phone, and even take a call in the middle of the interview. During the second interview, I would come in properly dressed and shake hands, sit down and be attentive, and not touch my phone. I then asked my students which version would they hire?
  • Record mock interviews. Record the mock interviews if possible and go over them in front of the class. The more times a student practices interview skills the better. Again, it would be great if you could have people from the field, career counselors, etc. run the mock interviews. Worst case scenario would be to have students interview other students.

Create a résumé
Your students might not have any work experience, but they have items for a résumé. Volunteering and classroom cooking competitions and skills (particularly preparation and cleaning) are all things for a résumé. Have them beef-up their résumés by attaching photos of classwork and letters of reference from you or other respected people. If your student has a ServeSafe certification, that should be on the resume AND a copy attached. Prepare a résumé template and require students to complete a résumé as their homework assignment. Then, grade it!

A note on photos: photos, up to four, should be attached to their resume. You don’t want your students whipping out their phones in an interview. And the photos should be of finished items not of your students standing in the classroom or being the photo’s focal point.

Encourage volunteering
Encourage students to volunteer at the local food bank or soup kitchen. They can also help at a hospital or senior center. Even if they aren’t doing food work, this will lead to references and, more importantly, show an interviewer the student already has a work ethic. 

Complete an electronic audit
What will a potential employer see if he or she looks up the student on social media? Would it be a sloshed minor holding a red cup and extending a middle finger or pictures of the student making food in your classroom? What about the student’s e-mail address? I know someone who has the e-mail [email protected] This person can’t figure out why calls for interviews aren’t flooding the phone. Speaking of phones, make sure your students have voice mailboxes set up and the outgoing message is appropriate for a potential employer. 

Encourage your students to know about the employer. Examining the company’s website and reviews are a good start. Also, visit the location a few days before the interview. Not only will the student be more relaxed on the interview day after having scoped out driving times and parking, but the student can even phrase a question to show he or she was there. (“I noticed when I dropped by you are busy at dinner on Mondays. Are you that busy on other days?”) The fact your student took the time to visit the establishment may impress the interviewer. 

Interview demeanor
There are a myriad of books and postings about how to be interviewed. The first rule of protocol that must be stressed to your students is NO CELL PHONES!!!! Leave them in the car. If they must carry one, turn it OFF—not just on silent. Tell your students not to use their cell phones as a clock or for displaying photos. OFF, OFF, OFF—and completely out of sight.

Although the culinary profession tends to be more “out there” and hip than many other professions, the odds are the interviewer will be more conservative than the student. The interviewer does not want to hear F-bombs or text phrases like OMG or LOL. Nor does the interviewer want to see boxers, bra straps, purple hair, etc. All of this is obvious to you and me, but unless you repeatedly and blatantly tell this to your students, it won’t be obvious to them. When your students comment about chefs on television you need to remind them not only is television not real life, but they might be meeting people who are not chefs. They might be interviewing with corporate recruiters, human resource people, or the front-of-the-house manager.

Application practice
Teachers, I recommend you go to a local restaurant and get an application. Copy it and have your students practice on it. Most applications for entry-level positions are basically the same. Employers notice how long it takes someone to complete an application. In today’s world, you might want to take this one step further by downloading an online application and having your students fill it out. Many forms are surprisingly difficult because these blanket forms cover all position levels, not just entry-level.

Prepare questions
Every interview will end with the interviewer asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” This puts inexperienced applicants into a panic which causes them to slip and make mistakes. Request your students create and practice at least three questions. For example, “I really like what I know about your company. Is there a chance for promotion?”

Applicants are universally nervous about asking about pay or benefits. These are valid questions for interviews but need to be tactfully handled. For example, “How much will you pay me?” is out. But an interviewer would welcome something like: “I am very interested in working here. I think I would be a great fit. Would you mind telling me about the salary and benefits?”

The last question, as the applicant is shaking hands or leaving should be: “I really would like to get the position. When can I hope to hear from you?”

Please note all the above questions are phrased with an introduction of how the student wants the job.

Follow-up needs to be taught
Writing thank you notes is great but even I am realistic enough to know your students probably won’t do that. A thank you e-mail for the interview is a good touch. More importantly, a phone call two or three days after the interview is often rewarded. “Hello, this is Adam. I interviewed with you on Tuesday for a prep cook position. I am taking the liberty of following up.” I know many chefs and managers who consider this phone call as the deciding factor. They are waiting to see if the person is really interested enough in the position to follow up.

Teach how not to give up
Students tend to give up in two situations. First, they feel an interview went so well they know they got the job and stop looking for others. I told all my students you never stop looking until you have a definite offer that includes a start date and being told how much you will be paid.

On the other hand, students often give up after they get several rejections. I advise them to just keep going and tell them stories about how difficult it was for me to get my first job after graduate school.      

In conclusion, if you can’t do all the above and you only have time for one, I recommend practicing interviewing.

Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 17 years.