Choosing the Next Job – The Struggle for Survival
Chef Shane back again from sunny Phuket.
In this article we carry on from my comedy of career errors to that impenetrable jungle of career options. The topic is very relevant to all of us at all levels.
It is also a controversial one, which will either get me flamed and ridiculed, or held aloft and paraded through city centres. (Possibly by my more inebriated peers. But I am used to other chefs by now. Just don’t bruise my legs too much!)
Such is life.
You may be wondering why this schizophrenic author has changed from fluffy holiday articles to ‘the meaning of life’. Simple reality.
As some of you may know, I have just started a new job.
Yes, overseas. And certainly there were a number of options on the table.
Well, I am sitting here on my one day off, writing this article as I look out over an azure sea, reflecting over the last week. Let me tell you, life could be worse! I landed on my feet in a great spot with a good company.
The journey to get here was quite hectic, and not one that I see discussed in many chefs forums.
This surprises me, as it happens to 100% of chefs.
Why do we discuss the things that don’t really matter, but struggle along alone and silent with the things that do?
Being between jobs or deciding to change jobs can be quite a daunting or frustrating time.
Nobody likes to lose income or be without work.
The process of finding a job is not so hard, but one finds oneself with either too many options or none at all.
I also struggle with the issue of ethics each and every time I make a move.
It becomes a bit of a mental struggle.
Working is very easy.
This is what we are trained for.
Finding clarity of mind when faced with a number of options is somewhat harder, and my TAFE course didn’t really prepare me for it.
What to do when you find yourself faced with 3 great jobs with different salary levels, cultures and property styles?
What happens when you are offered one job but the other is yet to respond?
What do you do when one place sends you a contract, but the one you really want says you are the top applicant, just give 5 more days?
What happens when an aggressive agent takes too long to “make it happen” and another better option “comes up” in the meantime?
These are just a few of the interesting things we should discuss over a beer and laugh about.
At the time though, they are far from interesting, and you won’t be in the mood to laugh.
Recently I found myself at a loose end.
I had been singled out for one job by an agent who contacted me (unsolicited) and put me forward as a candidate for a prominent five star hotel pre-opening in a country which I was VERY interested in. The GM took a couple of weeks to call, but was “Very Interested”
During some weeks of non-activity, I had applied for another job with great professional GM and management team, and a good location, but perhaps not the standard of quality of property and money I was looking for. Apart from that, it was a good opportunity. We discussed salary and a new offer was made (but not agreed to – just under consideration).
The five star hotel GM by this time had interviewed me, and I was the number one candidate.
I was being pressed for an answer by the second property, which was more than reasonable.
The agent confirmed that I was in the running for the job I really wanted – just needed more time to finalise the offer.
I declined the second option, and then the agent called and said “Sorry – the GM had an internal application and is going with it.
Same but different – fast forward a few weeks later and I had another agent who had called me saying the client was looking “urgently” for an Exec Chef in an exotic foreign location in an old established 5* hotel that was VERY expensive.
I had to be able to “move quickly” as they needed to get this “sorted out” – they needed someone on board ASAP.
I told him to proceed and put me forward.
The day after, I got a call from another 5* hotel in Asia who were interested to talk with me about their pre-opening.
A week and a half later, still nothing from the “urgent, move quickly 5*”
The Asia job wanted me to do a food tasting which went well, and I then met with the GM.
That also went well, and I was given some very positive feedback, and a “give us a few days to come back with something concrete”
At this point, the EAM from the “move quickly” job had interviewed me, and we got on like a house on fire. The salary was well over $7000USD and they wanted me badly, but the EAM was unable to make any decisions on his own. The style of the property was not exactly my taste either.
A few days later, a firm offer was made – they really wanted me. Pending a call back which took days to come. Following the positive response from Asia, I declined the “move quickly job”
The “something concrete” came back from Asia – it was a “No”.
Interestingly, I became the asshole with the “move quickly” offer which ended up back on the table as their candidate ALSO pulled out after committing- but they still continued to muck me around a bit more.
They tried to fly me out without a visa, failed to call back on time, and didn’t seem very organised.
The money however was phenomenal.
During this time, my current opportunity came out of the blue from a good friend within my network. After meeting with the main man (within 2 days of contact, and precisely on time at the agreed spot) and being very impressed with him, his ability to make decisions, and the project itself, I accepted it.
With the second round of the “move quickly” offer (now one and a half months into open ended negotiations) I was expected to be “a man of my word” and decline a perfect offer because a month or so ago I had expressed interest in a position which proved to be very hard to pin down, and was becoming a bit “Monty Python”
As you can see, it is not simply a process of “chef finishes job, chef looks for new job, chef starts work”
Now I am in a position which I think is perfectly suited to me, in a productive team, with an experienced boss, within a well run company that understands its target market and surrounding environment. It took a month and a half.
At the time, it all seemed so confusing, with many different options open to me, with pressure and enticements from all directions.
Now it all seems so clear.
The point of this week’s “chef.a.go.go” is merely to say “Look at the big picture” (Just like last week’s, but from a different perspective)
I think I made the right decision. I am very happy here.
I took a pay cut to come to where I am now. My working environment is awesome. I understand what my boss wants, and more importantly MY BOSS understands what he wants.
The main man is empowered to make decisions, and makes them promptly and sticks with them.
My living cost is low. My disposable income is quite OK, and buys a lot where I am.
Possibly more than in the one with the very high salary.
I can send money home easily, and the visa process is all above board and legal.
The team I am working with are motivated and want to learn.
The resort is properly conceived and executed.
The country I am in is somewhere I really want to be, and the whole thing is a major bonus on my CV.
THESE are the real issues.
Salary is irrelevant – can you send the money home, what is the tax, and what is the cost of living.
Also, will the employer actually meet their commitment, and if they don’t, do you have any recourse?
Is your working environment conducive to your health and wellbeing?
We are all culinary slaves for sure, but is $8000 a month worth the possibility of being shot, stabbed, burgled, or worked into an early grave with poor or no medical expertise near you?
Or being stressed with staff who don’t give a damn, and an insular management who have no idea what they are doing.
Consider that a happy chef in a good environment is focusing on creativity, teambuilding and culinary excellence – not on survival, or coping with myriad problems, cultural obstacles and lifestyle issues.
The “Must move quickly” job kept mucking around, and the Asia 5* missed appointments – warning bells should go off if they make an appointment to call on Wednesday at 6pm and you get the call Thursday at 3pm.
The way a company handles your recruitment, and their own appointments and procedures is often a good indication of the way they work.
If they miss appointments, forget your details, or fail to communicate as they agreed, forget them.
Life is too short.
If they treat you like this when they REALLY WANT YOU, how responsive will they be when you are on board? If they can’t get YOUR hiring or interview right, then how about when you need staff for your department? Why will they suddenly improve?
How will it fit into your CV?
Does that “perfect job with great salary” become a benefit or a burden when you move to the next job hunt a few years down the track?
At the end of the day, write it all down.
Make a column for each prospective job and add the pros and cons in terms of lifestyle, future, money, and the feel you get about the place. Weight some areas more than others. Like the next paragraph for example. VERY important.
Work also from your heart.
If you have a great feeling about a GM or owner, explore it some more.
Working with someone that shares the same traits and perspectives is liberating. It is important that you are allowed to do your job, and are empowered equipped with the right staff, tools, resources, budgets and permissions.
If your future boss inspires you with his vision, has sound budgets and business plans, and assesses all aspects of you as a candidate, this will reflect in general business practises and you will probably be very happy.
Make sure that the place suits your skills and culinary direction.
I would be pretty miserable working for a traditional restaurant, or somewhere that takes too many shortcuts. I like it clean, fresh and contemporary. Opening tins of demi glace would just gut me, and having a lobster thermidor as my signature dish would demoralise me.
For others, the reverse is true.
Be true to yourself.
This newsletter is REALLY long, and seems to go nowhere.
This isn’t a tutorial – more of a discussion, and a topic raised for debate amongst the network.
These are only a few of my experiences and observations, and they don’t even scratch the surface.
I’d love to hear your stories, opinions and feedback, as this topic does really seem to be the “dirty laundry” of our trade.
I am far from the Godfather – just a dude in Phuket lucky enough to have been around a bit.
Please – share your experiences, and opinions
Chef Shane – The Culinary Globetrotter
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Saturday, September 6h, 2008
Well I guess I was choosing the wrong hotels to stay in.
Never mind, life without 24/7 internet access is not that bad and internet cafes are generally not that far away to get that must have “web fix” every now and again.
I spent a couple days in Guangzhou, caught up with a few chefs.
I consumed a number of nice meals- the feeding frenzy began with a Turkish lunch followed by Vietnamese, Japanese and South American BBQ.
Guangzhou has an abundance of culinary options available. A welcome addition to my diet- Chengdu is struggling in the field of dining options.
I took the early train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong- Kowloon.
Due to the fact that the size of my luggage was abnormal I was forced to hail a cab- my hotel was on the Island side.
The Kowloon / Island thing is just as bad the Melbourne / Sydney rivalry.
I made it to the hotel in one piece – I got an early check-in as well as a complimentary upgrade to a suite. Not a bad effort!!!
Hong Kong was my base for one night. In the evening I caught up with Chef G. for an Indian dinner- what a feast, the food was A1.
I headed back to my suite, repacked the bags, set the alarm to ensure I did not miss my pre-booked taxi to the airport.
Well and behold the cab failed to appear, as a result I was forced to find an alternative mode of transport. I made it to the airport on time, had a fairly speedy check-in.
Departure was on time, touchdown in Manila was on time.
My pre-arranged taxi was awaiting me at the front of the arrival hall. Made it to the hotel in record time due to the fact that it was a designated public holiday, hence the traffic congestion was not as heavy as one expected.
To cut a long story short the hotel was far from expectations so I checked out 4 days earlier than the original plan.
Managed to find an alternative abode nicely presented and appropriately priced.
Manila is developing- there are in fact many more hotels in either the development stage or in the planning.
I visited Manila Ocean Park, spent a fair bit of time at the malls. They are worlds within themselves, especially the Mall of Asia.
Managed to catch up with a couple of chefs within the network, had a great chin wag discussing numerous topics.
It is now Saturday afternoon; I am having a relaxing time- it is almost time to begin repacking the luggage for the early check-out the following morning.
I touched down in Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon and took the ferry to Macau.
How convenient is that!!!
I reached the pre-booked Hotel in no time what so ever.
On this occasion I utilized the services of www.hotelclub.net to arrange the hotel- managed to find the hotel I was looking for complete with breakfast included.
Turned out to be a great find- normally I try to locate hotels around the $USD60.00 mark.
These days it is getting harder and harder to meet that mark.
The last time I was in Macau was during Christmas 2005; I can assure you that there has been a major transformation between then and now as far as the urban landscape goes.
What once were trenches and scaffolding are now well seasoned structures.
I guess that at the end of the day the development of Macau goes hand in hand with that of mainland China.
A number of big players have entered the market in Macau with many more coming soon.
In addition a number of the original identities from the Macau skyline are undergoing refurbishment/ renovation.
Over the days that followed I frequented some of the properties within Macau’s 5* portfolio.
I must admit I am reconsidering adjusting my policy of staying in hotels in the $USD60.00 price bracket and allowing for a slight increase in that particular line in the budget.
I am not a gambling man; however I did find time to spin a wheel or two on the slot machines in the gambling houses- although lady luck did not seem to be on my side.
During the daylight hours I visited a number of the tourist spots, namely the Macau Tower, Ruin’s of St. Paul’s, Fisherman’s Wharf etc etc
I caught up with many chefs from within the network. It was a pleasure to discuss many topics. Thank you for taking out of your busy schedules to meet with me.
Have to say that after my earlier visits to Macau I became particularly fond of the local Macanese cuisine, widely referred to as one of the original Fusion cuisines of the world.
In a number of cities in southern China you can find authentic Macanese cuisine via a group of restaurants called Macau Street.
All in all Macau is a wonderful place. It is the place for relaxing, sightseeing, shopping, partying and enjoying.
One of the best things about Macau is the transport system; especially the readily available complimentary bus shuttle service between the ferry terminal and the numerous hotels/ casinos.
In addition the taxis are of an adequate supply 90% of the time.
My last night in Macau was the main highlight of the entire trip.
I was lucky enough to catch the world premiere of Cirque de Soleil http://tinyurl.com/6nrx6w held at the ZAIA theatre in the Venetian Resort/ Casino.
I highly recommend you see this show if the opportunity presents itself.
The trip is coming to a close- it is time to make my way to the ferry terminal to take the ferry back to Hong Kong. The journey was of a pleasant nature.
I arrived in Hong Kong @ approximately 3pm took a short rest and then ventured out to grab a bite to eat.
Over the years I have not been overly impressed with Hong Kong; however I just use it as a crossroad from A to B to C.
I had 2 nights in Hong Kong, did a little bit of shopping and managed to snap a number of shots of the night skyline.
At this particular point in time I am looking forward to getting back to my base in Chengdu.
The time is continuing to dash by- it is almost time to make my way to Kowloon and jump on the train back to Guangzhou whereby I caught the afternoon flight to Chengdu.
I made it to the Guangzhou East Railway Station without dilemma and proceeded to take the Airport Express Bus from across the road of the train station to Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport.
I arrived in good time; I in fact had time to grab lunch at the Novotel, located adjacent to the airport then I ventured to check-in counter- had a flawless check-in and made my way to the departure gate. The flight was on time and a smooth journey was experienced.
Made it back to my home base without drama, work duties continued soon after.
Until next time.
Chef Matthew J.G
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