Okay, so you have done a few cake classes, you have your own cake Facebook page, everyone tells you they love your cakes and at this stage you are thinking that this might be something you would like to do professionally, or perhaps you are in the pastry world looking to move into cake decorating. This blog post is about what owners of cake decorating shops are really looking for when they are hiring potential staff. I write this as someone who has employed over 20 senior cake artists in my career, many junior cake decorators, interns and even more teachers. It’s important to note that each cake decorating business has different production methods, so some employers may do things differently, however in general I think the qualities we are looking for are pretty much the same across the board.
1. Invest in some training
The first thing any potential employer will ask you about is training, it’s not impossible to have a decorating career without any formal training but you need to be able to demonstrate the job skills you have learnt with previous employers. The difference between decorators with formal training and those without can be vast. You may not be able to tell on the surface because the cakes from someone with training and without can look the same. However to an employer it is not just what the cake looks like that is important. Can you guess what it is? Yep, it’s food safety and a knowledge of safe cake practices. Understanding how mould develops, what causes salmonella, health and safety requirements for a kitchen and general professional baking and cake decorating techniques are so important, if you have ever had a wedding cake with mould in it or a cake that collapsed I think you would agree. So invest in some proper training, or get yourself an internship, it does not necessarily have to be a 4-year patisserie course, but make sure you have the foundation skills.
An important piece of advice I have is to become an expert in a few particular areas of cake decorating, always keep your broad skills and be prepared to muck in, but pick a few areas that you love, and really excel and develop your expertise in those areas. My team is naturally split between cake decorators that make wedding or novelty cakes, those that pipe and those that make sugar flowers, figurines etc. So when someone leaves I am looking to hire someone with a particular skill set to fill the gap (I know other employers operate similarly). The advantage of specialising in a few particular areas is that you become very good in those areas in a shorter amount of time and you know where to invest your training. The best example I can give is one of my favourite cake decorators, Greg Cleary who owns a successful business in Brisbane called Sweetums. Greg can make a whole variety of different cakes, however very early on in his career he decided that he would specialise in sugar flowers, he devoted all of his money, time and training in mastering the craft and I would now regard Greg as the #1 place to go to if you want a sugar flower cake in Brisbane.
If you have watched me on TV, you have probably seen me going on and on about time. The reason I make this point is that ‘time’ is what we are selling; each decorator only has 32 production hours to give the business each week. The amount of cakes you can produce in that time obviously dictates your value to the business economically; this applies to all cake shops and patisseries. This is where the talent part comes into the equation, some of my most talented employees have been the slowest, to produce great works of art takes time, however they are able to take their time and produce only 2-3 cakes a week because we have some robust, efficient cake decorators who are able to work very quickly and make up all the slack. It is the fastest decorators who actually keep the business going, not the most talented, this is something very important to understand, and why you should never feel intimidated by another cake decorator’s talent. In saying this, please don’t freak out about speed, we are well aware that until you build up experience and skill you will not improve your speed, at PC we have an induction time for all our new employees and I know other shops do as well. But it’s important to understand that you will be expected to work quickly, I would advise getting some work experience in a commercial kitchen or cafe (it does not have to be a cake one) and just put your foot to the metal and see if you can hack the pace!
4. There is no I in team
Make sure you have some reliable references attesting to what a great team player you are, employers want to know that you will support your team and pull your own weight. Every employer I know of has at least once in their career employed a prima donna. Prima donnas do not always start out bad; however they are hired usually for their talent and not for their team work. Unfortunately someone who thinks they are better than their team mates can be like having a terrorist in your business, it undermines morale and I have always found that these types of employees are a constant source of vexation for everyone around them, the worst part about it is they are almost always unaware that this is how they are viewed, so managing them is exceptionally difficult. Ironically this is where having thousands of Instagram followers may work against you, an employer could be worried that you believe you are entitled to special treatment. The people I am looking to hire devote time to developing other members of staff, they are the employees who never complain about doing the crappy jobs like making ganache or cleaning the kitchen, they are the decorators who will put up their hand and take a late order without complaining. I have had staff like this and I will never forget them, they are literally the backbone of any great kitchen. So it’s very important to prove that you are a great team player, all employers are very nervous about potentially hiring a painful prima donna in disguise!
The advice I give here is based on the qualities that I discovered the very best decorators I employed possessed and I think I made the point that the best decorators are not necessarily the most talented. So my advice in fast tracking your career is not to get bogged down with what’s happening on social media, but focus on developing some of the qualities I have listed above. This is what most employers look for, they honestly don’t care how well known you are, they care about your potential as an outstanding team player and decorator, in essence the whole package.
For information on our classes click here: www.planetcake.com.au/classes