Career Tips from “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”
I was sick for a few days and found myself in a state of near-delirium watching episode after episode of “Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares”on Hulu.com. Time and time again, Chef Ramsay showed that it wasn't just technical excellence that helped restauranteurs succeed. And I realized that, beneath the screaming and tears and bleeped-out curses, the tv show contained a wealth of job, career, and resume tips.
Build Your Legal Career Chef Ramsay-Style
Chef Ramsay regularly gave some of the same career development advice I give to lawyers:
Niche. Research your market and competition. Find out what legal practice areas are in demand and, better yet, what’s expected to be in demand over the next few years. Remember, you don’t have to be the best at everything. In fact, you can’t be. Pick a handful of areas (or even just one) and then excel in them. Bonus points if you pick something your competition isn’t providing.
High standards. This is the flip side of the niching. Don’t offer any service that you can’t provide with excellence. If your only option is to lower standards, then don’t do it at all. If you do, you’re risking your short- and long-term reputation. Nothing — even fantastic personal branding — can overcome bad lawyering. At the end of the day, if the food is bad, nothing else matters.
Enthusiasm and commitment. Follow your passion? How cliché! But the truth is that enthusiasm and commitment are contagious and can generate success. The opposite is true as well. Doing something you hate can only result in misery for you and those around you. Now the reality is that, especially in a slow economy, many lawyers have to settle for work they don’t like in order to make ends meet. That, however, doesn’t mean that you should give up on your dream. Find a way to keep making progress toward that ultimate goal. Knowing that you’re working toward your dream will help you keep your spirits up while you’re doing other work.
Write Your Legal Resume Chef Ramsay-Style
Here are four great principles found in Chef Ramsay’s show that can be applied to resumes and job searches:
Simplicity. Think of your resume like a menu. It must be easy to read and to understand, and it must meet the needs of its audience. Beware of complexity for complexity’s sake (like unnecessary fancy jargon or legalese), or throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. If an offering doesn’t match your target employer’s needs, then consider taking it off your resume. Don’t clutter the menu with offerings your diners aren’t interested in.
Clear branding. Your message should be clear and consistent across the board, from signs to food to décor. No detail is too small to be worthy of attention. Failure to give a clear branding message is, in itself, a branding message (for example, signaling that you are outdated, disorganized, or unfocused).
No flashing signs and give-aways. Gimmicks to draw attention speak of desperation, and no one lines up to eat at a desperate, failing restaurant. Give away enough to generate interest and to demonstrate what you can do. No one wants to be associated with desperate people. This is a great principle to remember as you network — projecting an air of confidence and focusing on the substance you offer will open more doors for you than flashing signs or flashy resumes.
Full product knowledge. You are your own best sales associate. You should know your accomplishments and achievements inside and out. There’s no way for you to promote yourself if you don’t know what you’ve done, or why, or how it’s impacted your clients or employers. If you don’t know your product (you), then you can’t sell it. Nor can you expect your network to advocate on your behalf.
Reinvigorate Your Career Chef Ramsay-Style
Stuck in a rut? Take a deep breath and recommit to your career.
Commit to improvement. Analyze everything for possible improvement — especially yourself. Know the reasons for success as well as failure. Be wary of falling back to bad habits when under stress. And remember, just because the customers don’t complain to you, doesn’t mean everything’s okay. (And when they do complain, listen!) Grow and change as your market does. In a work environment, negative feedback may come in the form of less work, smaller bonuses, and fewer promotions.
Set and work for a goal. Success rarely happens accidentally. Put in processes for success, including those that focus on ensuring excellence, reliability, and relevancy. Understand what the task at hand is, and focus on it. Remember that processes must work toward your goal — not simply exist for their own sake.
Be determined and open-minded. Determination and open-mindedness can jump start a flagging career. Understand that great ideas can come from unlikely places. People who succeed are able to adapt great ideas to new environments.
Be a Good Leader and Teammate Chef Ramsay-Style
None of us exists in a vacuum. No matter what stage our careers are in, no matter what work we do or what environment we do it in, we are part of a larger team. Most of us are members of many different teams, each with its own goal. For us to be successful, there, we must learn to be not only a good leader, but also a good teammate.
Have a clear goal. Every leader needs a team. Every team needs a leader with a clear, productive goal that makes sense. Whether you are the leader or a teammate, make sure you (and others around you) understand the goal and are committed to it. Then cut loose those who can’t (or won’t) work toward that goal with you.
Be a good leader and a good teammate. If you can’t find a team that supports your goal, then build your own team. Be an active and contributing member, whether you are the team leader or a teammate. Communicate with your team and give them the support they need to excel. Listen for the feedback, even from junior team members. Sometimes, the person with the clearest view of what’s wrong is the one lowest in the hierarchy.
Take responsibility. Be honest about strengths and weaknesses, and allow others to be honest with you. Remember that just because a person is rude, doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Learn to separate the message from the messenger. Don’t accept excuses, even from yourself. The good news is that if you are the problem, then you are also the solution.
Keep your attitude on track. A positive, willing attitude can make up for lack of skill or knowledge. All the skill and knowledge in the world can’t make up for a bad attitude.
Versions of this post was originally published in June and July 2011.