The Insider’s Guide to Nailing Your Trail
Article by David Janke
Associate Dean of Students, International Culinary Center
I am a graduate of ICC’s Professional Culinary Arts program and a former Sous Chef at a Michelin star restaurant. As a sous chef, I had the responsibility of setting up trails, interviewing, and vetting potential employees when they would come for a trail. Part of my role as Associate Dean of Student is managing our Career Services department and ensuring that they properly prepare our students for the most important first step in one’s professional career: the trail. For our current students–and alumni–preparing for ICC’s upcoming Career Fair, here are 5 tips to help you succeed on your next kitchen trail!
1. BE PERSISTENT!
Communication in this industry is notoriously slow, and it can be frustrating to wait several days or more for a response from a potential employer. Always use the three day rule: if they have not gotten back to you in three days, send a follow up email.
2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.
When setting up the trail, there are 3 questions you should always ask.
1) What door should I enter through?
Most of the time, kitchen staff will enter a restaurant through a different entrance that is not always so easy to find.
2) What should I wear?
Most restaurants provide uniforms, but not all of them.
3) Should I bring my knives and equipment?
Different establishments provide different equipment for their employees, so it is always good to ask. I would always bet on at least bringing your knives in a small knife roll.
3. BE PUNCTUAL!
If your trail is set to start at 8am, that means you are expected to be dressed and ready to go no later than 8am. Always give yourself plenty of time, leave early, and plan to arrive no later than 15 mins early.
4. BE POSITIVE.
Employers are not necessarily using the trail to specifically test your knife or cooking skills. They want to see that you are competent in the kitchen, for sure. But what is much more important is the attitude and demeanor you bring with you. A supervisor is really looking for someone who is positive, gladly takes on new tasks and responsibilities, and has a team player mentality. Be sure to focus on those “soft skills” throughout the trail.
5. SEND A THANK YOU EMAIL.
After you complete your trail, always send a thank you email to the person you have been communicating with from the employer. Even if you are not offered the job, or choose not to take the position, it sets the proper tone professionally and leaves a good impression. In an industry where everyone seems to know everyone, reputation is important.
WHAT IS A SOFT SKILL?
“Soft skills” in this industry are traits and attributes that are more nuanced and subtle, but just as important to employers when searching for the right candidate. While one’s hard skills – knife skills, knowledge of cooking terms and techniques, etc. – are certainly important, it is the soft skills that can play a major role in one’s success. Being punctual and always arriving early, having a positive attitude and strong work ethic, being the first to volunteer your time; these are all examples of soft skills. And the good news is, these are factors that you can control. For instance, you may not have the best knife skills yet; that is a skill set that develops over time and with practice. However, if you show a willingness to improve and excel at other soft skills, you will be successful.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. Explore your culinary education where the legacy lives on.