Why exactly do catering recruitment agencies keep sending me the same curriculum vitae’s, why do I always end up with the usual suspects? Okay, so that is how I am phrasing a statement made to me by a head chef recently, it’s not verbatim but it’s close enough. In fact it was said in a backhanded complimentary way; as an explanation for why this chef was seeking my help with the suggestion embedded that we were likely to be, somehow, a cut above these slovenly under performers. But, as the song goes “it ain’t necessarily so.” Sometimes “how” you use catering recruitment agencies is as important, if not more important, than “which” agency you use.
This head chef was inspired to get in touch with me because, he said, the catering recruitment agencies he was dealing with were sending him the same old candidates. It didn’t take a whole lot of digging to learn that these agencies were all in his locality, so in coming to us, who are not in his locality, he was hoping to get chefs who are either unknown or otherwise not found by the catering recruitment agencies with whom he was already dealing.
There is an old saying, at least I think it’s old, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” I think it applies here, the agencies my chef friend had been dealing with would be all too aware that they were competing against other local recruitment agencies and, to an extent, perhaps even competing against the employer too.
Catering Recruitment Agencies – When Employers Come Calling
When it comes to recruiting chefs, employers have many different motivations for approaching a recruitment agency. Sometimes they want something, or somebody, very special, someone with talents which are out of the ordinary. Good chef recruiters love these type of assignments, at least if they are any good at their job they should love them. However at other times employers will come to catering, or chef recruitment agencies, because they are desperate. They have, or they feel themselves to have, exhausted all other conventional methods. They have “rung around,” they have advertised, they have tweeted, they might even have used local media to broadcast their vacancy; whatever they have done it has failed, time has been lost and the situation is becoming critical, might indeed be beyond critical already. There is a good chance that they hate the idea of using a catering recruitment agency; to some owners, or managers, using agencies to hire chefs is analogous to using prostitutes for sex. However, similar to prostitution the use of chef recruiters is a good deal more common than is admitted (so please don’t feel bad about getting in touch with us, your friends probably have already, only they’re not telling you).
Tempting and all as it is to pursue the analogies between prostitution and recruitment (another blog post brewing for later on, I suspect) it’s time to impose a little narrative discipline and get back to the subject of why my friend ends up getting the same chef curriculum vitae’s from numerous different catering recruiters. So why?
We Never Use Catering Recruitment Agencies…Except When We Use LOADS of Them
The reason is in fact stunningly simple and to a very large degree entirely down to the way many caterers and hoteliers and restauranteurs use recruitment agencies. They use them promiscuously (in the sense of a lot) but very, very, very late in the day; in other words when they are desperate. By promiscuously I mean that they shop the vacancy to several recruitment agencies and by very late; okay well perhaps that last part requires little in the way of explanation.
Be Early, Be Average, Be Paid
So this chef job vacancy arrives on the recruiters desk only at the point of desperation. The recruiter will have sniffed this out and will know that the rewards in an assignment like this one will go to the swift, rather than the best. They know they are in competition, so will they compete? Yes they will, but this is not a competition to find the best, no, this is a competition to gather together the curriculum vitae’s, and permissions, of all the “least viable candidates” in the area who can be assembled quickly and dispatched to the client. Once the catering recruitment agency has dispatched these curriculum vitae’s, to the client, they have taken them off the table for their competition, leaving them, the competition, to fight over what is leftover i.e. non-viable candidates or worse duplicate candidates. With proper vetting the last category shouldn’t occur but it does happen that candidates will, on occasion, withhold the information that they had been applied for this position by another agency. This almost never assists an applicant, indeed often it is to their disadvantage, but it is, nonetheless, hard to eradicate completely. People don’t always tell you the truth, it’s a fact of life and its a fact of chef recruitment too.
In Chef Recruitment it Often it Pays to be Fastest, not Bestest
Okay, so the idealistic, or perhaps naive, recruiter might well continue looking hard for superior candidates, he, or she, might even find some; but the chances are that by the time they do, find some, the job will already have been filled by one of their competition’s least viable candidates. Remember these types of assignments favour the swift over the best. The term least viable candidates is one not without it’s the derogatory connotations, this is both unintentional and unavoidable, sorry. Least viable candidate does not mean bad, or useless, it simply means that they have the least, in terms of credentials et cetera, to credibly be applied for the chef job the client is so desperately hurting to get filled. In terms of our story though, the story you were reading now, the least viable candidate has one shining virtue, they’re early to a game that’s in the final few minutes of extra time. If the client doesn’t hire, and fast, the most viable candidate, from a selection of the least viable candidates served up to him in a hurry by the agencies, he/she might well be facing insurrection in the kitchen or a mass exodus of chefs as the toll of covering shifts, to make up for the deficit in chefs, begins to bite.
Want Better Results? Change Up Your Game!
So while it was tempting to go with the flow and join in with this chef in dismissing the quality of service provided by the local agencies he’d been complaining about, I decided to resist temptation and explain that he, or his boss, were the one’s who’d set in place the conditions that rewarded such performance. I explained that I could set out to do an exhaustive search assignment, market map, compile a long list and set about whittling it down to a shortlist before beginning a campaign reach out to the best chef talent I could find for the job. I explained that I “could” do that but in this case that I “wouldn’t” because the likelihood is that I’d be several days into the assignment when, if I were lucky, I’d receive a call to let me know that they’d filled it with a chef from one of the other agencies. I might have a candidate, or a few, of greatly superior quality but if there’s no vacancy anymore then the quality of these chefs is irrelevant. In case you’re wondering what unlucky is, unlucky is when you don’t even get the call and only learn that you’ve wasted your time, and everyone else’s, when you start putting candidates forward. It’s only then that you get to hear the dreaded words “oh, didn’t anyone call you?…sorry about that…we filled that position a few days ago.”
You can hate the player, and you can hate the game, but if you are a catering recruiter your decision is one of whether to play or not. If you are a restauranteur, hotelier, or caterer you can change the game or you can do as you have always done; if you opt for the latter the results you’ll get will continue to be disappointing, no matter what catering recruitment agencies you use. Sometimes how you use recruitment agencies really is more important than who you use. This just happens to be one of those use case scenarios.
The moral of the story is that leaving it to the last minute to bring your chef job vacancy to a catering recruitment agency, only to then give it to several, can end up leaving you paying top dollar for mediocre results. I certainly understand that the instinct to save money in a tight market is both prudent and natural; I’d probably feel the same way too. However as some of the antiheroes in HBO’s superb show “The Wire” might say “you gotta know da game” and it is you, as the client, who sets the game up, we’re just “da playerz.” Plan ahead, be decisive and make your move early.