You have a chef job vacancy and the very fact of your being here is a sign that you are taking the matter of filling this chef vacancy seriously. Whether you’re using a Chef Recruitment Agency or not, the earlier in the process you get to this point the better it will be for you and your business. If you are new to making decisions about hospitality and catering staff, especially chefs, then it may, or may not, come as news to you that our industry is in the midst of a staffing crisis especially a chef staffing crisis. Furthermore any realistic analysis of demographic and labour trends will tell you that this crisis is set to worsen. The good news is that being new is no disadvantage to hiring well, if fact it can even be an advantage. It is beyond the scope of this article to suggest possible solutions to this chef shortage, not that we’re short on theories. Instead we intend to accept, as a given, that chefs, as a commodity, are scarce, are likely to remain scarce and to propose constructive and progressive ideas to assist the hospitality employer in filling chef vacancies, and in filling them in a timely manner. If you’re currently on the verge of interviewing chefs then this guide to interviewing chefs in an age of scarcity be worth a visit.
The Chef Job Vacancy – Hiring Amidst Scarcity
In our experience the overwhelming majority of hospitality employers recognise and accept that the business of getting and keeping good chefs is now becoming a pain point almost beyond endurance. Yet despite their experiences most employers continue to approach the business of attracting chef talent with an “abundance mindset.” What this means, in practical terms, is that employer behaviour – when it comes to hiring chefs – is nearly a decade behind what they know and understand, at least in the abstract, to be the case in reality. To put this in more concrete terms, hospitality employers “do,” and “behave,” as if they were still in a buyer’s market for chefs. Consequently the “time to hire,” grows ever longer and quality of hire sufferers. To cut some fat on this paragraph, they are taking a bad situation and making it worse.
Hiring Chefs As If Your Life Depended On It
There is not a whole lot any single catering business, or any single hospitality employer, can do on their own to change the chef market itself, however how employers operate within that market will determine whether they end up as winners or losers in the war for culinary talent. So, lets start at the beginning: The Chef Job Vacancy.
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It is often the case that the manner in which a chef job vacancy arises can determine how good a job employers typically make when seeking to fill the position. In the case of a new venture, or a new opening, a good deal more thought usually goes in to defining the job requirements. It’s more common in these situations to encounter performance based job descriptions i.e. “Year One” job descriptions, as opposed to what we, in our business, refer to as “Day One” job descriptions. We’ll get to these in more detail a little bit further on, so please bear with us.
You Chef Employer Brand Is Not As Good As You Think
On the other hand well established businesses very often tend to handle their vacancies with far too many assumptions, and so, they often work from a job definition which is almost entirely focused on “Day One” criteria. What compounds this problem is that established businesses almost always overestimate the value, and attractiveness, of their “employer brand” to potential applicants; stated another way, they’re trapped in a “sellers market” with a “buyer’s market” mentality.
Embracing The Reality of The Chef Shortage
Any attempt to move hospitality employers on from an intellectual, or theoretical, acceptance that this chef scarcity is a real, and a likely enduring, fact of life to the point where they begin to make real, lasting and substantive changes to their chef acquisition strategies needs to begin by bringing some clarity to what the old “abundance mentality” looks like in reality. Remembering, of course, that an abundance mentality towards chef acquisition, when chefs are scarce, is a recipe for consistent failure. So what might this recipe look like? If the following, by no means complete and exhaustive, list looks all too familiar then you’re almost certainly still stuck with an abundance mentality.
Traits of an Abundance Mentality in Chef Job Definition
- you believe chefs “should” want to work for you
- your chef job ads are boring
- you check what salaries others are advertising at and use that as your benchmark
- your chef salaries when advertised are stated as being at “the going rate” or “the industry standard”
- your criteria are almost entirely experience based
- you omit, or don’t even consider, job performance criteria
- you exclude great people because their experience is “too light”
- you exclude great people because they’re too old
- you overvalue first impressions
Abundance Mentality To Scarcity Mindset
The premise of the abundance mentality to hiring chefs is that there’s a chef surplus (there isn’t) and the trick is to generate a surfeit of chef job applications and to then work from the assumption that from there it’s simply a matter of weeding out the weakest and hiring the last chef standing. Usually this weeding process begins with the chef job definition which then, almost inevitably makes its way into the chef job ad copy [if you need to advertise a chef job then clicking that link might be a smart thing to do] thus weeding out potentially excellent chefs even before they apply. Yes this approach will likely succeed in weeding out unwanted or irrelevant applications too but for that to be anything other than a net negative we need to be in chef job market in a state of oversupply. We’re not and we won’t be again for the foreseeable future so consider, is filtering out perhaps five or six unsuitable applicants really a good idea if in the process you’ve weeded out one or two high quality and high relevance applicants. We don’t think so.
The Chef Scarcity Mindset
Now that we’ve nailed down the abundance mindset, at least in part, let’s contrast that with a scarcity mindset to chef recruitment. Taking a closer look, a scarcity mindset to chef recruitment recognises that the demand for culinary talent outstrips supply, accepts that a change of approach is required and puts in place a series of measures to ensure the company’s talent pipeline stays supplied despite the scarcity of chefs.
Here are a few traits of the scarcity mindset to chef recruitment.
- You believe you’re responsible for making your position attractive to chefs
- You make your chef jobs ads interesting and appealing
- You factor in the cost of a poor quality hire to your business before deciding on a salary range for a high quality hire
- You NEVER use phrases like “going rate,” “negotiable,” or “industry standard” to quantify your salaries
- Your job criteria are weighted in favour of performance based job descriptions i.e. Year One not Day One descriptions
- You include great people who would otherwise be excluded in purely experienced based job criteria
- You don’t make age a hiring criterion
- You take measures to counter “first impression bias”
Day One and Before Day One Methodology to Year One Thinking
Day One and Before Day One are hiring concepts which describe what chefs “must have” on day one and what they’ll get on day one. Year One is what the Chef actually “does” on the job i.e. the work itself and their career prospects beyond day one. If the work described is important, meaningful and exciting then it is more likely to appeal to higher quality career orientated chefs. Day One descriptions, which are the norm, omit this information entirely in favour of, exclusionary, experience based descriptions.
As a chef recruitment agency we’re often the first place employers come after their Day One, Experience Based, chef job marketing campaigns have failed. We know “how” they’ve failed because when the client/employer gives us the job details we’re almost always given a Day One, Experience Based, chef job description with a list, of varying lengths, of “must haves.”
It’s at this point that we always attempt to work with the client to tease out some “Year One” information we can use to market the job more effectively. As a specialist chef recruitment agency we have, at least mechanistically speaking, the ability to market the job more effectively through sheer brute force i.e. we have the means to get our job ad copy in front of a lot more chefs than any of our clients do alone. However if we don’t get at least some Year One information from the client we’ll be squandering our own marketing and not doing a very good job for our client.
Starting Over – The Blank Slate
Now let’s now go right back to the beginning. You have a chef job vacancy. You want to fill it. You want the best talent available or likely to become available. If you’ve embraced the scarcity mindset to hiring chefs you’ll know to skew your job description towards Year One criteria and to deemphasise Day One criteria. We use deemphasise advisedly because we’re not saying this should never play any part in defining chef job hiring criteria only that in the hospitality and catering industry the fashion, which has never gone out of fashion, is to focus almost exclusively on Day One, experience based job criteria.
In switching gears you’ll describe the chef job, what the job involves and the milestones and the business targets that your chef will be required to meet. You’ll also define the resources the chef will have around him or available to help him succeed in your business. You’ll avoid ephemeral or vague terms when it comes to specifying salary and instead offer solid, numeric, salary guidance; career orientated chefs are not solely motivated by money, but terms like “going rate” or “industry standard” are strongly suggestive of “bargain hunters” and this is a major turn-off for better candidates. When it comes time to writing chef job ads you’ll remember that “you’re selling.” Often at this stage a lot of hospitality employers are looking out the wrong end of the telescope; they think they’re “buying” and so therefore there’s little point in devoting the same attention to chef job ad copy as they’d devote to, say, ad copy for their restaurant or, in the case of a hotel, for a weekend break. That’s an example of the abundance mindset to hiring chefs and it’s been failing for years.
Embedding the Scarcity Mindset Beyond The Chef Hire
If you’re ready to incorporate these ideas into your thinking you’ll imbue your job definition with performance based thinking, carry that over to your attraction strategy i.e. chef job marketing and job ad copy, your interview job style and your “on boarding” program. Remember this is about more than merely attracting the right chefs to your job opening, it’s about getting the right one to say yes, it’s about settling them in and it’s about improving your chef retention rates over the long term; one chef at a time. Adopting a scarcity mindset for the attraction phase only to abandon it for the chef job interviews or any subsequent negotiations or upon their acceptance can, and almost certainly will, introduce an unwelcome element of cognitive dissonance which can leave your star hire wondering if they’re in the right place after all. Embedding this approach into all phases of the hiring process won’t make the chef shortage disappear but it will make you, and your business more competitive and more successful in a market where what you’re looking for and what you need, good quality chefs able to do the work that you need them to do, is in short supply.
Photo by Sarah_Ackerman