How Chef’s Years in Kitchens can Wreck their CV’s

A very common type of phrase which we regularly see on chef’s curriculum vitae’s is a variation of the following: “Seasoned pro” or “seasoned hospitality professional” or “a chef with more than 20 years experience.” So, you might well ask what’s the problem with that? And the answer is that there need not be any problem, but in some circumstances it is a problem and I would like to tell you why, moreover I’d like to tell you what you can do about it.

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The problem with Chef Job experience

Experience is a marker of time, nothing more, nothing less, it’s what you do with that time that’s important and unless your curriculum vitae tells a story of a chef who remains engaged and interested in his/her craft those years of experience will do you in.  To a lot of potential employers 20 years experience isn’t anything more than one years experience multiplied by 20. Okay as chefs it’s understood that the early years, particularly during apprenticeship, cannot be simply chopped down into mere one year segments of time. It’s takes a chef several years to gain competency in knife skills and many of the core techniques of kitchen work, this is understood. So let’s assume that you have apprenticed in very good establishments, you have augmented this flying start to your career by following up with roles of increasing responsibility in very good establishments. You’ve gone from apprentice chef to commis chef to chef de partie to sous chef etc. At  a certain point the temptation is to take the foot off the gas, while this is understandable in a highly competitive job market it’s potentially career suicide in the long run. And isn’t that precisely the problem? For many chefs there is no long run, at a certain point too many chefs end up leaving the industry.

The modern CV can “do for” more experienced chefs

I don’t want to overdo describing the problem but if it could be encapsulated in a short pithy phrase it would be: “what have you done with your career lately?” Nowadays the standard for curriculum vitae’s, whether for chefs or for anyone else, is to put your most recent experience up top.  – As an aside, if you need help or guidance with your curriculum vitae please go to our curriculum vitae resources pages. – That means that potential employers will have their eyes on what you have been doing the last few years and not upon the brilliant training you had 15 or 20 years ago. This is a common mistake chefs make, it’s probably a common mistake all job candidates make not just chefs, but it is a critical error in thinking. Potential employers actually place surprisingly little value on your training, well this is true for later on in your career, but quite a lot of value on what you have been doing most recently; typically the last two, three or four years. So if you haven’t been working in a demanding or challenging job in an exciting environment within the last few years then it will be very difficult for you to gain employment in such an environment. Employers will think that you have been taking it easy and of course their suspicion would be that the reason you’re taking it easy is that you’re not able to cut it in the most demanding environments, producing the finest food, anymore. Are they wrong? Well unless you can get that job you will have a hard time proving them wrong. So what can you do?

Extending your career, making experience count

Leaving aside the truism that good chef jobs get you more good chef jobs there are one or two things which you can do that will give potential employers an inkling that you haven’t given up, that you remain fascinated with food and engaged with your craft, so what is it, what is it that you can do? Quite simply up-skill. If you have taken less demanding chef roles as time has passed you need to use the extra down time that you are enjoying to add to your skills base. You can gain these additional skills in tiny bites or in big chunks. You can take on quite serious degree level courses, if you’d like to use the heavy weapons. Or you can sneak a short course in sous vide here, a chocolate workshop with Valrhona there, the choice is up to you; the point is that in addition to refreshing your skills, and staying very contemporary, you are also putting down markers. You are putting important signs into your curriculum vitae that the passing of time isn’t a negative, no, quite the contrary it is this amount of time that has enabled you to up-skill and take on the younger competition in the jobs market. Following a career strategy like this your experience really can become something very worthwhile in the eyes of potential employers; this type of career play means you have things to offer that younger, less well experienced, chefs do not. Yes younger chefs can offer energy and enthusiasm but by following this advice you too demonstrate that enthusiasm is a quality you retain and, better again, you have the skills a lot of the younger guys have not had the time to get. Alternatively you can sit back and get picked off, because the day you stop adding to your skills base is the day that 20 years experience, or 30 years experience, is really only one years experience times 20 or times 30. Yes that is a very reductive way of looking at things but it’s also quite common way of looking at them too and as a chef who is looking at an extended career your best bet is to deal with the way things are, not with how you would like them to be.