These common traits shared by some of the CIA’s most successful alumni shed light on what it takes to be a leader in the industry.

I’ve spent 12-and-a-half years in career services, watching students at the CIA grow. Many of our graduates have gone on to launch highly successful careers and become some of the biggest stars in the industry. Some of our students have gone on to revolutionize the culinary world through innovative restaurant concepts or by challenging the way the food industry does business. 

Ron Hayes is the associate director of career services for The Culinary Institute of America, where he has worked for more than 12 years, helping students find externships and launch their culinary careers.

Though our students are very individualistic, when I reflect on the ones who have had tremendous success, I can point to a few key traits they all had in common that helped them launch bright, young careers. 

First, rising stars have the hard skills necessary to perform well in the culinary world. The biggest stars work hard to excel in whatever they are doing, and they work to gain that skill anywhere they can, whether that is in classes, on their own, or through externships. 

Check out our list of 40 Rising Stars changing the restaurant industry.

By opening themselves up to new learning experiences, chefs can find new ways to expand their minds and their skillsets, which will open up new career opportunities.

But skill alone won’t make a star. Good chefs, brewers, and entrepreneurs must learn to be adaptable. You can be good in your field, but you also need to be good at walking into a work environment, absorbing what other people are doing, and learning how to excel in that setting. Part of that can also mean being humble—proving you can excel by doing, rather than telling.

This is vital, because rising stars always need a network. If you are very good at what you do and very humble but no one champions you, then you don’t become a rising star. When you can prove you can fit into the work environment and demonstrate your skill, you can find others who will speak for your work and help open other opportunities to you.

Building networks can be challenging, but the most successful students have been the ones who found ways to put themselves in the position to make connections and learn. Finding these sorts of opportunities is often just a matter of reaching out and being willing to stage or doing competitions to get your name and talent out into the world. Some of our most successful students were willing to work hard every week and put themselves in positions to learn. 

While he was here, one student did stages at Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, and Restaurant Daniel—all top restaurants in New York City, and he also completed an externship at Eleven Madison Park. He did very well in these restaurants, which led to a job opportunity. Though he certainly wouldn’t have gotten through the doors without also having skills, by putting himself in the right places, he built a huge network that helped him launch his career.

But rising stars have more than skills and the network to succeed; they have another fundamental trait that sets them apart from others in the field—the potential to be leaders of change in the industry. Stars are not content to follow others, but they recognize how the industry can improve. Of course, this can be culinary leadership, but it is also about having a futurist attitude and the kind of foresight to look at emerging markets or ways of completing processes better. 

Stars learn from the best, connect with those who are doing work in their fields, break new ground, and have a great mindset. My advice: Have the ability to operate on risk as well as to put yourself out there. And then, once you find success, give back to make the community, industry, and workforce better. 

Ron Hayes is the associate director of career services for The Culinary Institute of America’s Center for Career and Academic Advising. There, he has helped students find externships and launch careers after leaving the college. His book, Creating Your Culinary Career, guides young culinary professionals through the necessary steps to achieve success in the industry.
Feature, Leader Insights