Wednesday, August 12, 2009

551 Resumes

All the bad press, sour statistics and droning talking heads can best be summed up by the email I received the other day:

‘Dear Chef,

We met several years ago when you were working at X restaurant. Last year the company I worked for moved me to another restaurant. Things got very tough financially for the group and since I was last in, I was the first to go. I live in Boca, have a wife and two children and am a very hard worker. Can you help me find another job?

Lost in Boca’

You can talk statistics all you want; 14 million unemployed in the nation right now. But nothing brings it home quicker than a compelling story from someone you know in real need. The frightening thing is I get at least one email like this a week.

As my story has unfolded over the past year I’ve found myself in this very same scenario. Since my last full time position was eliminated a year ago July I’ve been right in the mix and discovered for myself how tough it is to land a job right now.

Someone told my ex wife of my predicament and she said, ‘Nothing to worry about, Adam is always working.’ It’s true, whenever I found myself out of work, for whatever reason, I was employed within three weeks – the ink on the Cobra plan hadn’t even dried. This time, it’s been a little different.

Emotionally these circumstances can take their toll, leading to questions about self worth, skills, abilities until one is left with a simmering doubt that will not be of any use in securing a job.

It’s imperative that one keeps they’re head up, shoulders squared and completely confident of their skills and the ability to execute at a high level or a prospective employer will sense the doubt, taste the bitterness or hear the frustration in the answers to their questions.

Get up in the morning, have a routine – any routine that gets you geared up, mentally clear and focused and grateful that another day has risen and opportunities exist out there, somewhere.. Be workman like, even if you’re working from home; dress appropriately, pack or plan a healthy lunch, take time for reflection and then get back out there!

During a recent interview I was asked, “So you’ve sent out 10 resumes a week for a year? Why do you think you haven’t been hired?”

A good question with many answers.

As with any recession and there have been at least 5 in recent memory, labor is always a lagging indicator. Business dries up first and then staff starts losing jobs. Once business comes back many operators will hold off hiring new staff until the last moment, hoping to recoup losses incurred on the way down; thus the lag in labor numbers.

In the news they’re quoting statistics now that the jobless rate went down last month – the first time that’s happened in over a year – but the real truth is that some of those folks have stopped looking; instead contracting their expenditures and relying on government programs to keep their lives together.

The Hospitality business is hurt more than most because we rely on the good fortune of others to fill our pockets; all across the board restaurants are suffering – special occasion, fine dining, resorts, fast casual – the only sector to hold their own is fast food because they have the resources to weather the storm and offer deeply discounted meals which appeal to the price conscious.

My best friend who is a chef at a 5 Diamond resort in the west has seen the organization lose 6 chefs in 12 outlets and none of have been replaced, none.

None of this however is news to any of us; for the most part we’ve witnessed it with our own eyes. In talking with Dave yesterday, the worry was clear on his face, ‘The street has really taken a pounding.’ He realizes that if he’s to survive he needs to aggressively alter his business model and offer a more competitive menu as well as tighten his staffing levels – ‘In the end, I still want to open.’

Some operators, sensing an opportunity, have drastically slashed salaries; having done so with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. Some have gone out of the box as far as their compensation plan offering wellness programs and housing in lieu of payment for a start up. To a professional who is at the beginning of their career with little or no financial obligations that may be a very rewarding way to go but with anyone with a car, house or child support payment it could prove to be a precarious place to start over.

Some have had such a huge response to their open position postings that they, quite rightly so, have decided to take their time during the hiring process – sorting through the candidates, interviewing up to four times, having mystery box cook offs, theoretical menu writing for a ‘sample’ restaurant, one has even asked that applicants send a YouTube type video so that they can get a sense of the candidates’ personalities as well as the ubiquitous Minnesota Multiphasic personality and IQ testing.

Recently I went on an interview where the respondent had had 551 resumes sent in, in the first week – 1,000 after 10 days. This brings up a great question – how can anyone review accurately 1,000, 500, even 200 resumes? The answer is, they can’t, after a while the eyes start to glaze over and the words start running together – ultimately the brain locks down in information overload. Resumes are, after all, just a bunch of words on a page – nothing more.

So what happens if you sent your resume in on day 2 of the posting and you’re now number 321? Any chance at all that your qualifications will be seriously reviewed or does it now begin to look like an exercise where the manager is looking for key words, code phrases, or lack there of?

Would a gap in employment in this economy speak to anyone’s capability or skill set? Probably not, yet most managers would quickly give that resume a pass.

So how does one go about being noticed?

Well let’s first talk about a strategy for finding fulfilling employment.

First and foremost consider your resume. Does it speak to your talents, strengths, passions and the asset that you could be to an organization? If not change it, there are some employment sites on the inter net now that will do resume critiques – they’re trying to sell their services but you can still get good feedback without having to pay for an overhaul. Right now be very careful about over stating your past positions. I was told by a prospective employer that I might consider ‘dumbing down’ my resume. I was shocked – after 20 years of earning my laces I was being told to tone it down. I didn’t know if I should have been offended or just depressed but he was right. In this economy employers will first be concerned about one’s longevity – it costs money to hire and train staff and no one wants a staff member to jump ship 2 months down the road once they get a better offer, no matter how convincing they are during the interview.

‘Owner’, ‘Partner’, etc. are all red flags to some employers – it can be very intimidating to some if they think that their crew knows more than they do – we know that that’s dinosaur thinking but we’re about finding a job and putting food on the table, first. is a great site that polls listing from other sites into one place; you can even set up a ‘search agent’ to scan listing and have the results emailed to you. is similar but is a fee based program that, from what I’ve heard, has some impressive results

Still and all this is just detail – a resume will not get you a job nor will endlessly sending resumes out get you to an interview.

It’s about your network! We in the business make fast and hard friendships with the people we work with but we’re the worst at keeping those friendships fresh and up to date. After all we’ve got businesses to be run and money to make and very often it comes down to putting your attention and intention on your present circumstances. SOS, Taste of the Nation and other events like it are great because it gives professionals an opportunity and an excuse to network and find out what’s been going on over the past year. But in this day and age we cannot be that complacent if we are to be successful in this field – it takes constant networking and being in service to other.

Unlock your rolodex and fire up your Outlook; it’s time to reconnect with some of your compatriots and brother sisters in arms. Touching base with them is a great first step; let them know your situation and make sure they have a copy of your updated resume. Very often if they don’t know of anything within their organization they may know someone who’s looking for help.

Very often savvy recruiters will send an email extolling the virtues of a position that they’re working on. Sometimes they’re fishing to see if you’re in the market for a conversation but in order to be politically correct the email will state, ‘If you know of someone who may fit our profile…’ What they’re really asking is if you’re interested but if a friend or old co worker gets a similar email and they have your resume on file, the chances of them playing matchmaker are very good. is a great place to start, a ‘FaceBook’ for professionals if you will; post a profile and then ask co workers to write recommendations for you – there are also some great on line associations and groups to join and network. I include my own for a reference:

One of the very cool facets of this website is that it links to other job seeking websites and on a particular posting will have an ‘IN’ icon next to it; this usually means that the company or one of it’s employees in listed on Linked In and you can follow up on your resume submittal making reaching out to a current employee.

Upon hearing of a job opening at a restaurant I immediately started searching my memory to see if I knew someone on the inside. It turned out that someone I knew worked as a manager there and was able to give me some valuable insight about the operation and the players involved.

Ultimately one needs to get past the ‘gatekeepers’ of the position posting to make contact and start to establish a viable relationship with the person with the final say so or else you become just another name on a piece of paper.

Think outside the circle – when Matchbox 20 wanted to get signed by a record company they posted themselves in the lobby of the building where the record company was located for a couple of days and handed out free slices of pizza with their debut CD.

Once, with the help of an insider at the company I catered a business lunch for the CEO and his team of bankers as a way of introducing myself and marketing my skills. is another great professional networking site.

All these are meant as jumping off spaces in order to get the word out to your network that you’re looking for a new opportunity – to a certain extent you can also use your FaceBook account to do the same. Always be professional in your networking and ask permission first before you send any information out – nothing is more annoying that an email blast to no one in particular; this is about establishing, cultivating and honoring professional relationships.

In every case always end the conversation, as my dear friend Clive Solomon would coach, ‘Do you know of anyone else that I could contact and would it be okay if I used your name in the introduction?’; polite and professional –always.

Professional Organizations and Charities are also excellent venues in order to connect with people in the know when times are tough. Search for, and join a one or two professional organizations that speak to you and attend meetings regardless whether you’re working or not. If you have extra time on your hands volunteering for a charity that you can be passionate about can have a powerful effect on your community in times of need and can be a great boost to your self esteem and ground you in the fact that you may be better off than your circumstances may permit you to believe and find a new job or opportunity in the process.

Lastly I want to talk about the greatest resource you never knew you had – your vendors. Vendors appreciate loyalty and if you’ve been doing business with someone for a long time and that relationship is something that you can count on, ask the question.

What’s happening on the street?

Have you heard of anyone opening a new restaurant?

Have you heard of anyone who might need someone?

They are your secret police, your CIA, in the trenches and in the know. They’ll help for several reasons. First it makes good business sense; if it’s an account they service, they’ll want to see a friendly face in the new position – if it’s an account that they don’t service, they may just get some new business. They make it their business to know what’s happening in the street and if you haven’t asked them then you’re ignoring a great resource.

I recently went on an interview; I had submitted my resume and written a great cover letter. Then the manager received my resume from a vendor, he asked only one question – ‘Is this a guy I should be talking to?’ Brendan said, ‘Yes.’ When I asked the manager whether he would have called me without the vendor recommendation he shook his head slightly and said, ‘I, I don’t know’. But here I was and I had a shot.

Nuff said.

Thanks Brendan for your belief in me when I had little and your support when I needed it the most just because you care.