Swimming with the Sharks.

We’ve had to recruit some very senior roles for our larger clients lately. Roles like CEO and Group Executive Chef come to mind particularly. It’s always very interesting to interview the applicants for these positions because quite often the applicant is trying it on for a massive rise in salary. I have noted that the potential for a massive pay rise goes hand-in-hand with heavily doctored resumes and impressive acting skills.

I think it has taken me about 25 years of constant recruiting to have gained the skill to effectively interview at this level. I never take anything at face value; everything is cross checked; the rule is don’t trust a living soul. It’s sad really, but I’ve learned the hard way.

The first issue is to learn to control the interview and not let the applicant waffle on. Many of the people we interview have conducted job interviews themselves and they know if they can pad-out the answers, I will have less time to delve into other issues in detail. I have had to learn to interrupt and say: “I have to stop you there, I have a limited amount of time and a lot of material to cover. I must ask you to keep you answers short and succinct.” That doesn’t usually go down well, but is still necessary.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a resume that hasn’t had potential issues on it. People drop off jobs they only had for a short time and spread the dates of the jobs either side to hide the fact. They give themselves titles above their actual position; won’t tell you when they were fired; hide jail sentences as ‘travel’; or in extreme examples create a completely fictitious resume in the hope that you won’t reference check them.

You have to have very thick skin to interview at this level. The applicants expect to walk in, have everything they say accepted without challenge, then traipse out the door with a lucrative job offer. When you confront them with their distortions or their claims of skills they don’t possess, they are not going to like you for exposing them. I’ve had several letters of complaint, accusing us of being unconscionably aggressive in interviews after we have challenged applicants on their gross distortions. The fact that they were attempting to commit fraud at the time is completely lost on them.

The question: “What level of salary are you expecting?” gets some interesting answers. They usually shoot for the moon and indicate some ridiculous figure. I follow up with: “What salary are you on in your present (or last) job? Bear in mind that we will seek confirmation of this when we talk to your last boss during reference checking.” A look of panic often ensues and they come clean. “So, you are after a $120,000 pay rise over your last position? You are dreaming.”

Another difficult aspect of interviewing at this level is that most boards of directors place quite high pressure on the incumbent. To test how applicants react to pressure, we confront them with inconsistencies we discover in the interview and note carefully how they react. The best applicants hunker down and tread through it without losing their demeanor or composure. Others have been known to throw a hissy fit and storm out. Our attitude is that if you can’t handle a robust job interview, you don’t have the strength of character to function as a senior manager.

At present there are quite a few venue managers and head chefs looking for career advancement to the next level and there are not too many suitable jobs on offer. Those jobs that do exist on a group level invariably require well developed management HR and financial skills that most aspirants to these jobs do not possess. A good interviewer will quickly discover this.

Relatively few people look ahead enough to realise that if they want to get away from the tools or service eventually, they need to take on more sophisticated skills to those they have used in running a single venue or kitchen. Unfortunately, few people do this and they run into a career wall when they want to change to family friendly working hours, or they feel they are too old to sustain the physical rigors of the job.

There is no entitlement to career progression based on seniority in the hospitality industry, if you want the big bucks and normal working hours you need to plan ahead and put effort into you own self education.