Penelope Wong, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club, shares a frustrating exchange with an applicant who epitomizes egotism and entitlement.
Breaking Points—we all have them. In our fast-paced, high-stress industry, it’s easy for anyone who works in our environment to lose his or her cool at least 28 times a day.
During staff reviews, I always tell my team, “When things go awry or you’re on the brink of hitting your breaking point, it’s important to keep an even keel. Don’t stoop to a lower level. Don’t engage in anything you know will be counterproductive just because you think it’s going to make you feel better.”
Well, I’m a Chef and I’m far from perfect. I love to dole out great advice to my team and 99.9% of the time I adhere to my own advice. But I slipped. I stooped.
I’m sure most chefs have been experiencing the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the lack of quality (and now quantity) candidates to fill much-needed roles in kitchens across the country. Here in Denver it’s been an absolute spectacle. A year ago, it wasn’t an issue of getting applicants. An ad would be placed and a minimum of a dozen applicants would submit a resume. Interviews would be scheduled, but only two out of every twelve would actually show up for the interview. This year, after placing a total of five ads, I’ve received a total of six applicants, with only one so far who has responded to scheduling an interview. It’s been “painstaking,” as described from one of my peers at a neighboring club.
The following is an actual email exchange that went down when I decided to “stoop” with one of the very few applicants who responded to one of my ads. I knew I should have stopped at a certain point, but I couldn’t help myself. This person got the better of me. He pushed me to my breaking point.
Let’s call the applicant “Schmichard.” He responded to an ad for FT/PT line cooks and dishwashers. But in his response he did not specify a position of interest. His resume, although impressive, included zero experience in the F&B industry. Here is my initial response:
Thank you for your interest in working with our company. May I ask what exactly you are interested in applying for? Your resume doesn’t exactly showcase any of the desired experience to work within the F&B/hospitality industry.
Here is Schmichard’s response:
What can you offer to a highly experienced college graduate? How quickly can I advance to a better position more worthy of my respectable background? I am willing to start at a low-level position like dishwasher, but I will tell you up front I do not want to spend the rest of my working life doing minimum-wage unskilled physical labor. With degrees from the most prestigious private university in Colorado and paid work experience going back to the 1970s, I feel I have earned the right to a more advanced position.
Here’s where I start stooping:
With your degrees from the most prestigious private university in Colorado, perhaps you shouldn’t be applying for a line cook or dishwashing position. I’m not quite sure how I can help you out in advancing to a better position more worthy of your respectable background when you’re applying to work as a line cook or a dishwasher with no prior experience or knowledge in this industry. While minimum wage unskilled physical labor is just that in the eyes of the beholder, I’ll only grant interviews to candidates who are looking to thrive in this industry, an industry that does include highly skilled individuals who understand that performing physical labor is a part of the job.
Good luck to you.
Thank you for your honest reply and making it clear you are not interested in employing me. I understand how you are skeptical of my applying for this job with an unrelated background. I have been unemployed for over five years and apply for about 1000 jobs per week at all levels and types of work – including any job where I believe I am either qualified or trainable. How much prior experience or knowledge is necessary to wash dishes? Most dishwashers are not even old enough to be college graduates.
For the record, I have four years of full-time restaurant operations experience while in college. I spent thousands of hours cooking and washing dishes to pay my tuition and not graduate deeply in debt like so many others. I do not list that experience on my resume because it is from more than 30 years ago and at an establishment long out of business.
Please do not insult me by falsely assuming and presumptively telling me I have no industry experience, when that is clearly untrue – as I just pointed out. I have also performed physical labor frequently as part of all my past jobs going back to the 1970s. Are you aware that office work is more than just pushing pencils or typing on a computer screen all the time? You again insult me by wrongly implying I am unwilling to do any physical labor.
You should be appreciative that – given my qualifications – I would even consider starting as a dishwasher. You should also respect my honesty in explaining that dishwashing for me would only be a temporary job until I found something more appropriate for a highly experienced college graduate. Instead, by declaring you are only interested in applicants seeking a long career in the hospitality industry, you will never benefit from my superior work ethic and commitment to performing any task at a level above anyone else. That is my proven and repeated history in over three decades of paid employment.
Here’s where I stooped even further:
You would be amazed at how much prior work experience helps when hiring for a dishwashing position. The more experience someone comes in with, the faster they are and the more productive they are. And, more importantly, the more they are willing to move into higher paid positions. When I am running an operation that feeds 500-1000 covers on a daily basis, lack of speed and efficiency is detrimental. That is why I am only interested in those who have a profound interest in this industry and in growing in this industry so as not to waste my valuable time training. Any experience in this business more than 30 years ago does not allot you any abilities in today’s world of F&B. I’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years and it is nothing like it was even ten years ago.
If I may offer a bit of advice as a hiring employer right now: If you apply for 1000 jobs per week, you may have a little more luck in actually gaining an interview if you stop overselling yourself while applying for positions in which you are either severely under-qualified or severely over-qualified as I’m sure you see yourself. And if you are going to be applying for these kinds of positions, perhaps you should try a little humility. I would have thought that being unemployed for over five years now might be a little bit humbling.
I have no interest in insulting you, so please do not insult me. I am very aware of what office work entails, and that it might include some physical labor. As a department head running dual departments, my daily routine involves not only running multiple kitchens and dining rooms, but a hearty amount of administrative work in my office as well. But with your statement of not wanting to spend the rest of your working years performing minimum waged, unskilled, physical labor – that reads to me as though you would like to steer clear of physical labor altogether. If I desperately needed a job, I certainly would not be applying for a dishwashing position while stating at the same time that I do not want to do physical labor. You can’t have one without the other.
Ultimately, if you truly believe that all of your prestige and education should allow you the right to a far more advanced position, then don’t apply for anything less. While I do appreciate the fact that you are willing to perform dishwashing responsibilities try and understand why I wouldn’t want to hire you based on the sheer level of entitlement you feel you deserve. Utility and dishwashing staff that come into this industry understand that their position is what it is. While it is by no means glamorous, my utility staff gains the utmost levels of respect from my team and myself because they work hard every day cleaning up everyone else’s shit – and they’re just fine with it. That is work ethic is in this industry. As much as you feel you deserve a far more advanced position without even getting your foot in the door first, clearly, this industry is not for you.
Again – good luck to you, and goodbye.
That’s where it ended. In retrospect, I probably should have stepped away from my computer and headed into the freezer to cool down, but I didn’t. I stooped. Lesson learned.
(That said, it felt really good when I hit send.)