Career and Interview Advise for Chefs

chef career advice

A few years ago I wrote an article offering advice to employers on how to correctly interview chefs.

It has been shared on LinkedIn 1000's of times and I still receive positive feedback from employers and chefs to this day.

Several chefs also asked me to write a similar article from the chefs perspective with advice on how they can best write a resume and prepare for an interview.

First some background.  I am a culinary grad from Johnson and Wales who worked both in the US and abroad for 15 years in the kitchen.  I opened my own restaurant, was regional Chairman for the South African Chefs Association and picked up a few culinary awards along the way.  In 2004 I started Hospitalio Recruitment which has been recruiting chefs for the world's best hotels, restaurants and cruise lines for the past 14 years.   It has been a pleasure and honor to work with so many talented chefs and be part of the process as they took their next step in their career.  I hope these few tips gleaned from those experiences can be helpful.


So here we go!

Resume writing, interview, and career advise every chef should know

Only 3 things really count on your resume.

  1. the quality of the place you work
  2. what you did there
  3. how long you worked

Most everything else is filler and does not need to be on there.  Employers are only looking at the above 3.   If you don't have quality places on your resume, putting fluff on there is not going to help.

The quality of the place you work is the most important.  Its better to be a commis cleaning lettuce a renowned restaurant or hotel than to be Executive Chef of a poorly reviewed tourist trap.

The standards you learn as you climb build your foundation as a chef and the better the place you work, the stronger the foundation.   How long you worked there is also something the employers are looking for.   As a rule, unless you are doing a stage in a Michelin star restaurant, you should always complete at least 1 year at a place.  Sous Chef and higher you should work 2 - 3 years on average.  Employers look for stability and many chefs don't have this.  If you do, you will climb the ladder faster and go higher in the long run.  There are many chefs out there who don't think about the employer but only their needs.  This may work at the lower levels where there are lots of positions, but at the top, there is only one chief and all those chefs under competing for it. I have recruited for many top chef jobs, with hundreds of very good applications and its always the ones who have mastered the top three above that get the job in the end.

Of course, what you did there is also important.  Don't be a Sous Chef in a place for 20 years.  Every 2 - 3 years you should be promoted or move on.  For Exec Chefs I say max 5 - 6 years in a place unless you own it.

I left culinary education off because although its important and should be on the resume, not everyone has it.  Yes, it does help with a foot in the door and climbing the ladder in the early years.  But if you don't have it, then a few years in very high-quality kitchens should quell any questions employers have about your training.   Just ask Thomas Keller who never went to culinary school and became one the world's top chefs.  If you have it, then put it on there.  If you don't see point 1 above.

Keep the resume simple

90% of employers and recruiters now using software to track the 100's of resumes they receive.  You must use word or .pdf and keep the resume free of colors, logos, images and more.  This will only make it harder for them to upload.  If they cant they will often just give up. If you are not sure what your resume should look like, just google resume sample, you will see 100's of options but they are all black and white and really just focus on what, where and what you did.

Bullet points in the resume should focus only on unique factors about the job.  Every head chef should be responsible for food cost, hygeine, managing the kitchen, you don't need to put these on your resume.  But do feel free to list any awards that you received at a place, how many outlets or covers, F&B turnover, size of your kitchen team and the type of cuisine.  Those help the employer get a better idea of where you worked.

Don't resign until you find a new job.

If you are ready to move, start your job hunting while still employed.  Quitting your job and then trying to find a new job creates a few issues.

  1. Employers should not contact your current employer for a reference.  But if you resign they can and if your reason for leaving is you and your boss were not seeing eye to eye, the recruiter may get a weak reference from them.
  2. If you leave it will raise quesions of why did you just leave.  Questions are never good when competing for top jobs.
  3. It puts pressure on you to find another job.  Often finding that perfect next job is just around the corner, but if the financial pressure of being out of work becomes too much, many chefs will take a job in a not so great place just to get working again.  This lowers the quality of your resume and can start a vicious cycle of you losing out on good jobs and having to accept not so great ones which mean less time there.  This hurts the resume and the offers become worse and worse and the resume quality sinks. It can be a difficult downward spiral to get out of, I see it all the time.

Always turn down offers to interview politely.

It's a very small world out there.  If a recruiter or employer offers you a job you are not interested in, just be polite, give feedback on why and thank them for their time.  Also, if you do interview for a job but change your mind for any reason just let them know.  Nothing is worse than a chef who goes AWOL in the middle of the job interview process. Not responding or being rude can close a lot of doors down the road when the right opportunity does come along through that same person and they no longer wish to deal with you.

You need a food photo portfolio

This is a must have these days.  The chefs landing the good jobs all have one.  It shows the employer right at the beginning that you are a. up to date with food trends and b. are up to date with technology.

The easiest is to create an instagram account for your food photos.  Then just take photos of your "show" dishes with your phone whenever you make one and upload it to the site.  Over time you will build up a nice portfolio and you can just put the link at the top of the resume.  I recommend only put shots on there that showcase your skills/plating etc. We don't need to see a buffet dish of broccoli 🙂

Research the job and company before the interview

Assume that when you interview the employer has already reviewed your experience.  Now they just want to know if you are a good fit personality wise and that you are excited about the job as they are about you.  Researching the company and job online and telling them what you like about their company and the job will improve your chances of being a finalist.

Be nice and never bad mouth your employer

Always be nice in the interview, I am afraid there are still chefs that think that a bad attitude will somehow help them in the interview.  It doesn't and many have lost great job opportunities because of it.  If they ask you about a previous employer, never say bad things about them.  For example, which sounds better to you:

Question: Why did you leave your last job.

Answer 1: They were not treating me well, things were promised and not delivered, so I felt it was time to move on.

Answer 2: I really enjoyed my time there and it was a pleasure working with the team, but it was time for me to take the next step in my career.

There really is a right and wrong answer, number 1 is wrong.

If you speak badly about an employer, even if you were right in your critiscm, the employer will think what if that person doesn't like it here?  That question mark can cost you the job if several strong chefs are competing for it, and with the good jobs, there always are.

I hope this advise helps,