February 17th 2020
The skills chefs need today – and how to assess them in interview
by Rosina Bucknall Chef, Catering, Industry Advice
“How do we get the best chefs?” We hear variations of this question every day – evidence of the pressure contract caterers are under in light of industry talent shortages.
It’s obviously a multi-faceted answer (encompassing salary, benefits, location, culture and more), but your approach to CV review and interviewing plays a vital role.
This checklist summarises best practices for assessing chef skills – helping you go beyond trial shifts to increase your chances of hiring people who stick.
There’s so much front of house work in contract catering, whether it’s theatre-style cooking or client engagement. The requirements increase as chefs move up the ranks, but these skills often aren’t evaluated systematically during interview.
This can be an area where people outside of contract catering excel, bringing expertise from restaurants and hotels that have a big emphasis on customer experience. A top tip we give contract caterers is to consider candidates who bring these transferable skills – because they can end up adding tremendous value.
To assess communication skills, probe into experience involving customer contact and stakeholder management.
Questions like these will help you extract the right information:
It’s worth delving into the job description a bit to consider how the role might evolve. For example, will it involve being front of house? What are hours like at the site? How flexible is the menu? How much client contact is there?
When you’re reviewing CVs and considering interviews, have these elements in mind. Some chefs, for example, don’t want to be front of house. Others put a lot of value on work-life balance, and want specific hours. Recruitment is a two-way street, and you need to know that your chosen candidate will give you the flexibility you need, and vice versa.
Here are some ways to assess flexibility:
When you’re assessing the contribution a senior candidate will make to the site and the company, consider the HR hat they’ll wear. After all, head and exec chefs play a role in junior chef retention – and you need people who will foster the right culture (inside and outside the kitchen).
Success in this area does depend on the business’ processes and structures, but here are questions that will help you assess candidates’ approach to performance management:
(We run HR courses for chefs specifically focused on conducting appraisals and putting together personal development plans. Get on the email list so you find out about the next date.)
With contracts being run on increasingly tight models, financial skill assessment is a valuable addition to your senior-level hiring process. This means probing into areas like how savvy they are with ingredient procurement and how comfortable they are with terminology.
Questions to ask include
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