Can you ask that Chef when would it suit him (or her) to come in for a Chef job trial? That was the sentence which told this budding, as I was then, Chef Recruiter that things had changed quite a lot in the chef job game since I was last working in kitchens. Since then as a Chef Recruiter I’ve set up countless chef job trials and with one exception these have been at the request of a client. As a Chef Recruiter I quite like these trials as they’re almost always a positive signpost in any chef recruitment assignment. Clients usually only ask Chefs in on trial that they’ve a serious interest in and often this leads to a level of comfort being established between Chef and prospective employer conducive to a job offer being made. This we like.
Chef Job Trials A Fashion or a Durable Aspect of Chef Recruitment
Yet when my own career as a chef began it was quite different. Back then you interviewed for a chef job and if you were lucky you got an offer, if you accepted that job offer you were given your start date. Once you got yourself into the kitchen you got busy, if you knew what was good for you, making a positive impression and, if you were a very quick starter, after a few days your value began to show, in my case it was usually after a week or two (not everyone is fast off the blocks). If you failed to make a good impression at all over the first week or two the outcome then, as now, was very simple: you didn’t keep the job.
Who Benefits most from a Chef Job Trial?
So what value does that one day, as it usually is, chef job trial offer either the chef candidate or their prospective employer?
Because this request is almost always made by the prospective employer it’s tempting to suppose that the benefits of the chef trial is entirely the employer’s. And yet what can they possibly hope to learn about their prospective new chef in just one day? Yes there is an opportunity to check whether certain basics are in place, knife skills and the like. But is it reasonable, or is it even worth trying, to see how that Chef performs under stress on that one day job trial? Supposing you as an employer did that, what would you learn other than how well your prospective new employee performs under stress on his or her first day in an entirely alien environment, with a menu not familiar to them, while at the same time they attempt to integrate with a kitchen team with whom he, or she, has never worked before. Serious productivity is highly unlikely as is worthwhile insight to how that Chef will perform for you over the long term.
That last, more extreme, scenario is, in my experience, more often hypothetical than an actual. Usually these chef trials, at least this is what I get from the feedback I received from Chefs, are quite tame affairs and, as such, usually provide the greater benefits to the prospective Chefs, rather than to their would-be employers. Why is this the case?
Could it be a Chef Employer Trial?
If you think about it for a little while there is so much more of the business, by that I mean the kitchen, its culture, how it interacts with front of house etc, on display for the chef to see, than there is of the chef on display for his prospective owners to see. This enables the Chef trialist to determine whether they like what they see, or not. It is simply much easier for the trial chef to be, to coin a phrase, on his or her best behavior for the day than it is to transform a working kitchen into something likely to sell the job to a wavering candidate; assuming, of course, that this kitchen isn’t ideal already.
Perhaps that’s why, in my experience, Chefs who go for a days trial, into the kitchens of a client, almost always end up with a job offer but don’t always accept it. Of course that’s not necessarily a bad result for any hospitality employer either because they’ll know the bad news sooner rather than later.
Chef Job Trials an Imperfect Predictor of Success on the Job
Despite my very best efforts I haven’t yet been able to discern a pattern which identifies whether Chefs who go for a trial are more likely to succeed long term for our clients. I don’t see any great trend emerging just yet but maybe when we’re a few more years in business I will be able to take a dive into a deeper data set , when I do I’ll certainly be revisiting this topic here.
My own opinion on the Chef job trial is that they certainly don’t seem to do any harm, and might even do some good; there is though one circumstance where insisting on chef job trials can, and often does, deprive clients of the opportunity to hire highly talented chefs.
Job Trial Flexibility and Intransigence: When to Yield
That’s when the candidate is unable to make it into the business to do a trial. Usually the reason for this is either geographic, the Chef is currently working in another country. Finances can play a part too; unless the employer is prepared to “put some skin in the game,” by picking up the Chef’s traveling expenses, it can be hard for a chef to justify the outlay of time, perhaps loss of earnings, and the added expense of travel and accommodation. This is especially the case when the Chef has other options. What are you going to do if you’ve a solid job offer in your hand from one employer and another who’s asking that you finance flights and accommodation to do a trial in their kitchen? Presuming that the quality of the businesses, and potential job offer, are roughly par then it’s a no brainer, you’ll take the offer and pass on the Chef job trial.
This is a hazard employers need to carefully weigh before digging their heels in and insisting on a trial. This is also where careful reference checking and research on where the chef candidate has been working can obviate a lot of the risks of making an offer in the absence of a job trial. If the Chef CV – Resume is strong, the references check out and the quality of the businesses the Chef has been working in are equivalent, or perhaps even better, than your own then you need to seriously consider the possibility of tabling an offer while forgoing a trial. To an extent we’re dealing with a misnomer as most chefs know that for the first few weeks/months they’re on trial anyway.
Doing What’s Best
If there’s any takeaway I can offer it’s this, Chef Job Trials are, at worst, harmless and at best allow an employer to check for the presence of certain basic skills. They probably aren’t a great predictor of longterm value or “cultural fit.” Insisting on them as policy can, under certain circumstances, deny you, and your business, talent that may be hard to source locally because the Chef is distant and getting to you is both impractical, expensive and less attractive than hard offers they may have in the bag already.