Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

The Chef or the Cook? Choosing the Right Candidate

How do you balance hiring decisions when given a choice between someone with education and certification, and someone with experience only? I often hear, and agree, that certification does not guarantee a qualified person for any position. As a certified Project Management Professional and Certified Business Analysis Profession, I could not agree more. I will use the scenario of the Chef and the Cook to discuss the differences and explore how this could apply to other professions such as a project manager, business analyst, or accountant.

I always look forward to checking out the Chef’s special when I go into a restaurant. Often the Chef’s special is something a little different that highlights their talent as a chef. The dish is something that the Chef has created using his extensive knowledge of ingredients, flavors, and a talent to combine food, herbs, and spices in a way that tantalizes the taste buds. The Chef must also manage the kitchen crew and keep up with the demands of the restaurant to ensure a great restaurant experience for the patron.

Have you noticed that chain restaurants do not have Chef’s specials? They may have day of the week specials, but these are set every week. That is because the menu and the recipes are established by a corporate office and have proven to be true winners for the brand. The difference here is that the chains employ cooks. Those who can competently follow a recipe while keeping pace with the hustle and bustle of a restaurant.

The Chef will likely have a passion for food, experience in the kitchen, and advanced training from a culinary school, whereas the cook often found a job that they did reasonably well and has gained experience over time. (More on the difference between a Chef and Cook).  Advance training often involves gaining a broader foundation of techniques and proven best practices of those great chefs that have gone before. These foundations make it easier for the Chef to create, innovate, and successfully adapt recipes. Does certification or graduation from the culinary school guarantee a competent chef? Does lack of a culinary program infer that someone would not be a competent chef? Absolutely not. The school may provide additional knowledge and tools to become a better chef, but some may inherently get this. On the same note, having the education may not be enough if the talent for food and kitchen management is not there. “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. My conclusion is that the combination of experience and education, mixed with natural talent, increases the likelihood of hiring the right candidate. Experience and education is what can be most effectively measured when recruiting.

Consider what candidates bring to the table in both experience and education when recruiting for your next position. Certification is an indicator of retaining and being able to apply learning at the conclusion of the educational experience, but not an end all to be all. The below chart should help you gauge how an individual’s education and experience qualifies them for that job you are looking to fill. But recruiting is always subjective, so don’t forget to use your instincts. Be sure you are getting the person you need. Often times a cook will better suit the need.

Matrix of Education and Experience for Qualification

Qaulification Matrix

6 responses to “The Chef or the Cook? Choosing the Right Candidate

  1. chefrevealed March 26, 2011 at 7:44 am

    From my experience I prefer to hire a cook and train them to follow my lead.Every time I hire a suposed “Chef” or “Sous Chef” I end up with a loose cannon that wants to re-invent the wheel, follow their own lead ,cry for more money and covet my position.The resulting conversation is always the same…”I hired you to do x, you want to do y, you need to do x or leave and find somewhere that wants y,where you can call your own shots.My best employee ever was a Mexican lady named Imelda.Imelda is a wonderful cook, she does her recipes at home or when I asked her to make a certain dish that I knew she would make better than me.
    Once shown, Imelda would happily re-create my dishes the same way over and over again without flaw.Sometimes when I would forget one of my recipes years later, I would go to Imelda and she would refresh my memory. This was a great relationship with no drama and lots of respect flowing both ways.A pilot needs a co-pilot,a golfer a caddie.Life in the kitchen is too short for every day to be a pissing match!
    Chef Mike

  2. Sandhya Jane March 29, 2011 at 2:52 am

    I agree with above comments. I did have similar experience in past. We do really need to check what is our requirement – chef or cook. Being a smaller firm, we used Chef or expertise services for a specific task or a project as it helped us to save cost; so hiring them on short time task makes it better proposition.

    Cook or trained assistant needed for performing regular taks. Chef guided all our ‘cooks’ as and when needed. In addition, they helped us to formulate policies at high level. It helped us to keep pace with others in markets.

  3. vickipps August 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Imagine the frustration of a chef that is hired to the do work of a cook and is given no latitude or trust to try to make things better. I would add, don’t hire a Chef when indeed a cook will serve your purpose better.

  4. vickipps August 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    See response in link for more on this subject – RT @mike_gladstone: See my thoughts on the value of #BA certification in response to @LLBrandenburg

  5. Pingback: The Chef or the Cook? Choosing the Right Candidate « PMChat

  6. Pingback: Number One Benefit of Achieving the PMP « Professional Project Services

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