sparkChief & Co.

5 Lessons from Cooking to Boost Your Career

The majority of clients we work with complain about their employees’ frustration in choosing a perfect career path and, therefore, remain demotivated and discouraged. We assure them the opportunities are endless, but they need to first convey the message to their employees that they should not just wait for the perfect match of job skills and position. To determine which career path to choose is no easy task; it takes enormous self-reflection, validation, strategic oversight, and disciplined actions. Even having taken all those steps, there is no guarantee that one can always advance as planned. After all, if your plans resulted in expected outcomes, the world be a very boring place. Surprise, unexpected outcome, success, and failure are all part of everyone’s life. However, your chances of being successful and developing your career are much higher when you have a plan and a validated strategy.

Lessons from Cooking School

When you think about it, career progression is very similar to cooking. The more you practice and explore new ingredients, the better you will be in preparing the best dishes for your own taste and others. A good chef constantly seeks new combinations of good taste. Without exploring and trying new options, a good chef would not have the ability to innovate and bring new tastes to customers and remain at the top of the culinary game.

Lesson 1. Develop Technical and Soft Skills

Without acquiring technical and soft skills needed for your dream career, you cannot master your craft. Career progression (as in cooking) does not happen by chance. You must have the technical knowledge to balance the right assortment of expertise-related ingredients and be able to determine what amount of ingredient works with another. If you use one ingredient too heavily, you can easily jeopardise the end result and serve a very unbalanced dish.

Lesson 2. Constantly Explore New Opportunities

Being purposefully open to opportunities is not the same thing as just bumping into them by chance. One must be open to becoming involved in new projects or initiatives, which will boost the chance of meeting new people, learning from them, and exchanging ideas. As you move outward, new opportunities are more likely to present themselves. You must be always alert to the possibilities of new skill ingredients and techniques. Without the infusion of new ideas and opportunities to broaden your expertise, your career will stagnate.

Lesson 3. Cultivate End-to-End Thinking

You simply cannot progress in your career if you view things through a single lens. Therefore, you need to develop an end-to-end view of your career. Consider a good chef, who is not only good in the kitchen but also cares about how the restaurant looks, what plates to use, how to position the restaurant in relation to the competition, and so on.

Lesson 4. Possess Customer Focus

Somehow, many people forget that it is actually customers who pay their salaries regardless of the function in which they operate in the organisation. Good chefs care only about customers and how they can please them so that they come back over and over again to taste their cuisine.

Lesson 5. Be Visible to the Right People Who Support You

No matter how good you are at what you do and no matter how hard you work for it, without the right exposure, you will be unable to advance in your career in this “super noisy” environment. We all experience an overload of noise, with everyone screaming to get attention and everybody talking at the same time, even when the words are meaningless. In such a noisy atmosphere, it is very difficult for people who have something serious and purposeful to be heard. Chefs face the same problem of getting exposure — and standing out from the crowd — when there is a restaurant on every corner.

The Bottom Line

The ingredients for a successful career are simple: technical and soft skills, openness to new ideas, seeing the “big picture,” customer-centricity, and exposure to leadership. These ingredients, when blended together with expert care and know-how, will boost your chances to succeed on whatever career path you decide to follow.

Writes about workforce strategy, leadership, and future of work. Founder & Managing Partner at sparkChief & Co. (