Get Hired or Die Baking

by Leigh Shaplen

Student Leigh Shaplen shares her path to finding a food career, as well as some handy tips. She is currently residing in California while finishing her MLA in Gastronomy.

at the summer culinary lab

Ten hours after packing up my life in Boston and moving back home to San Francisco I am in route to Napa for a job interview. I am amazed by the drastic change in my surroundings. This is farm country and a far cry from yesterday’s home at the foot of Fenway Park.

I was unsure how exactly my degree in Gastronomy would help me get the restaurant marketing dream job I’ve been seeking my entire life. I entered the job market with a plan. I developed a 15 second pitch about my graduate work (I wasn’t sure anyone would give me 30 seconds, so I kept it short). I gave my speech to anyone who would listen: “I’ve been learning from some of the world’s top sommeliers, cheese mongers, food anthropologists, and journalists. I’ve been cooking alongside some of Boston’s most prominent chefs.” As it turns out a lot of people wanted to listen.

I conducted the majority of my job search through LinkedIn. I kept an excel document with every position I applied to. There are 62 jobs on the list. I tried to submit applications for 3 opportunities every day. I researched the companies and its employees. I sent a personalized note following up on each application, and this tactic worked for my interview in Napa. When sitting down with the Director of human resources she thanked me for reaching out directly.

I spread the word about my job search. I decided to embrace it rather than hide from it. I emailed 30 friends and family members letting them know about my goals and thanking them for keeping me in mind. More often than not, I got replies with very fruitful leads. I took interviews for jobs I didn’t want and when asked about my dream job, I was honest. The conversation shifted to how they could help me get that job instead. I said yes to anyone (and that means anyone) who offered to help. I traveled for interviews on my own dime, which included buying cross-country plane tickets. I read the San Francisco Chronicle Food Section and cut out the pictures for inspiration. I found Gastronomy graduates in San Francisco and had a lot of coffee dates (I don’t even like coffee). I started sending thank you notes sealed with a fork and spoon stamp to develop some personal branding.

The fork and spoon stamp

My network has grown exponentially, and I’m joining a food marketing networking group with new friends. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with two “celebrity” chefs, a bunch of industry leaders, and have had lunch at Twitter. The tech company’s complimentary made-to-order, breakfast, lunch, and dinner food mecca spans two floors and is a gastronomic heaven.

When I wasn’t interviewing I baked. When all else fails I turn to food. Sound familiar? I made a lot of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with too much butter and froze the dough. Whenever someone went out of their way for me, I baked a stack of cookies and delivered them in a green plastic strawberry basket wrapped in cellophane, a trick food writing instructor Sheryl Julian taught me. Needless to say, people went wild for the thin, crispy cookies with soft centers. I’m calling them the “get hired or die baking” cookie and am willing to share the recipe.

A month and a half and five interview rounds later, I received a job offer in Napa. The offer letter cites my graduate education in Gastronomy as part of a unique combination of skills. I think I’ll accept and eat the rest of my get hired cookies. I’ve earned them.