You’re More Qualified Than You Think: The Case for “Soft Skills” In The Kitchen

On paper, I am not qualified for my own job.
In the bakery, that is. The good thing about being a blogger is that, working for myself, I’m always the best (only) man for the job. In the bakery, though, I am technically not qualified for the position I hold, but I’m there and I’m pretty good at it for reasons that don’t easily show up on paper.

They are called “soft skills,” and you probably have some too that don’t get mentioned on your resume. Let me explain…

Soft Skills in Action

When I started at the bakery, being a “Production Lead” required getting trained on most or all of the stations in the bakery. The position itself meant taking an assistant role for the kitchen manager, covering shifts when needed as a jack of all trades, and helping to train new employees. I am only trained in two positions, so technically I’m not well-rounded enough for the position.

About a year and a half ago, the station I spent most of my time on got ridiculously busy with a new wholesale contract. It got so busy needed its own late-night shift and a small team to pull off the workload on time. Since I knew everything that had to be done, I trained everyone on the team. A new position was created for me- “PM Pastry Lead”– to recognize my efforts. When the promotion was announced, the manager said “I’d tell you all that Matt’s in charge, but you all already do what he says anyway- so this is just making it official.”

After COVID hit, my team was laid off but I was deemed “essential” enough to come back to mornings. Even though my station went back to being more-or-less a one man job, my experience training, teaching, and organizing labor was needed– the reduced staff needed to organize their time and workflow tighter than ever. I remember a particularly hectic morning where it seemed like everything was going off the rails when I came in and my boss said “Matt, thank God… jump in on something ASAP.” After communicating with everyone in the kitchen, understanding the current workload, and listening to where everyone was in their tasks, I was able to direct people toward priorities, get bake-offs on a schedule, and finally jump in and help where extra hands were needed. Where I didn’t already know what needed to be done, I told the cook on that station “give me orders.”

When the rush had passed and the morning calmed down, the area manager mentioned how, when I walked in, I “just got down to business and took control.” My title was changed to Production Lead, and that’s what I’ve been since.

I wasn’t “trained” in all the stations, but soft skillsleadership, time management, empathetic listening, planning, teamwork, work ethic- made up for my shortcomings, the same way they make up for yours.

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

What Are “Soft Skills?”

soft skills
noun

personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Oxford Languages

“Soft skills” are skills that are not connected to any particular job or industry and that tend to deal with personal qualities and emotional/interpersonal intelligence rather than specific knowledge. Since they are based on you as a person and how you relate to people, soft skills can be applied to any job in any industry, and are deeply valued for that reason.

“Hard skills” are the skills actually specialized and need for your job- a baker knows how to scale up a recipe, use stand mixers, and bake cakes. The hard skills of a line cook include mise en place, sauteing, roasting, chopping, and everything else one does on a line. Soft skills are the things that let a bunch of people do that in a room together without killing each other.

If someone has ever said to you:

  • You’re such a good listener.”
  • I was having trouble with this- thanks for explaining it! That makes sense now!”
  • I don’t know why, but when you are happy, the whole kitchen just feels happier.”
  • “How are you just always there when I need you?”
  • Dude, you came outta nowhere and saved my ass today.”

Those are soft skills at work. Read my little spiel and those statements again, and you might notice something else about soft skills. They are all about dealing with and looking after other people. If you have figured out how to work hard without worrying about getting the credit, and if you can understand how helping others in their work makes your work easier, you already know how important soft skills are.

Using Soft Skills in the Kitchen

We cooks like to joke that there’s a reason we’re kept in the kitchen and away from the customers- that maybe we aren’t exactly the ones who should be the “face” of the business. Consequently, we are led to believe that we don’t possess “people skills” beyond telling them to bring a fucking mop if they’re going to cry in the walk-in. The truth is, though, that you probably have more of these soft skills than you know. Have a look at some of these from Wikijobs:

The tricky thing about soft skills (and even trickier, putting them on your resume) is that if you really have them, you tend to forget they are skills. They’re just your “character”, your “personality,” or “the kind of person you are.” The fact is, though, they are skills- they had to be learned, developed, and practiced to do them well, no less than your hard skills.

You might think of “teamwork” as just being something the bosses rhapsodize about in interviews, but what else is jumping in on someone’s station to get them out of the weeds? Yeah, everyone benefits from you saving their butt- but the point is observing the situation, understanding the problem, and helping out are all skills you learned through experience.

Conflict resolution doesn’t always happen in a quiet room with a mediator- you’ve probably done it before if you’ve squashed drama in the kitchen by talking some sense into those shmucks, and let’s be real- if you are working in a kitchen, working under pressure and time management are par for the course.

If you’re still not sure about what soft skills are, whether you possess them (or how to fit them on your resume), maybe ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How do I communicate with people to get the job done well?
  • Can I just show up and get to work without being told or supervised?
  • When was the last time I tried to teach someone something new?
  • How often do I have to make quick decisions that get the job done?

The answers may surprise you, and you might want to bring some of those qualities up at your next job interview.

Summing up…

Hard skills can come from training and experience, but soft skills come from you. They reflect your personal qualities that make you a good employee, a good worker, and show your potential for growth. In all likelihood, you already have them in some way. Our culture doesn’t talk about them nearly so much as hard skills, but they are no less vital to success, professionally and personally. Give yourself credit, and make sure employers can see all your skills- not just the ones that show up on a CV.

Stay Classy,

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