By Maura McMahon O’Meara, CIA Career Services Counselor
Freshman at the CIA will learn lots of French terms, the first is mise en place and they will repeat it until it becomes a part of daily vernacular. As a student approaches third term they will learn another phrase that will become a part of many conversations, stage (pronounced “staah-g”). This is a short version of the French word “stagiaire” which refers to an apprentice cook who is in a trial period in a kitchen.
In response to sending a resume and cover letter stating their interest, many students will be asked by a chef to “stage” at a particular restaurant for further consideration to be hired as an extern. The stage is much more than an interview. Typically, the student will be asked to come to the restaurant for a full shift and participate in production with the staff. The stage offers the chance for the student to show their skills and enthusiasm, both equally important. They might also have family meal there, offering the chance to observe how the cooks interact with one another. In best cases, they will meet privately with the Executive Chef or Sous chef after service and have a chance to ask questions about what they have seen.
Most students are nervous about what they might be asked to do during the stage but after they have mastered the CIA’s fundamentals classes they should be able to handle themselves with finesse. Staging too early, before the basics are learned, is not advised. Being the first one there is not as good as being the best one there.
Remember that what the chef is trying to ascertain during a stage is the skill level and readiness of the applicant. If a location is far and it is not feasible for you to travel there due to schedule or finances, there may be other ways one can help the chef get the same information. Letters of recommendation from former employers or a reference from a CIA professor could be offered. Skype interviews can often give the feeling of “meeting someone” in person. Some students have even sent short YouTube videos of themselves cooking to a chef in place of a stage.
A successful stage could lead to a job offer on the spot, or at least a firm handshake and a promise that the applicant with be carefully considered for the externship position. It is common to have an applicant back for a second stage before the offer is made, so do not despair if you are asked to wait for an answer. Staging is an integral part of starting a career in the food industry. It is your chance to show them what you’ve got. Being a CIA student will open this door for you, but once through that door, it is up to you to prove your worth. Bon Chance!