Working It: Baking, Cooking, And Feeding Your Way To The Top

When I became a teacher in Harlem after college, the first days of work each September were about setting ground rules. That, and not weeping about what I’d gotten myself into.

Two years later, I went into marketing. Before my first day in corporate America — a land where it’s uncommon to see one co-worker slap another over a stolen bag of potato chips or a yo momma joke — I asked my new mentor for advice. I knew I was supposed to brush my teeth and whip out my firm handshake. But what else could I do to stand out?

She told me to bring my new boss a muffin.

That’s right. A muffin. I disregarded the advice immediately. How was I supposed to know what kind of muffin a stranger wanted? What if she was allergic to nuts? What if she thought my muffin was déclassé? What if she thought I was trying to send her some message by giving her 400 calories before noon?

Mostly, though, I didn’t like the idea of one working woman giving another a baked good to show appreciation. Would my mentor have suggested this if I were a guy? I thought not.

In the end, I was glad I didn’t try the bluffin’ with my muffin routine to make the boss like me. Because she hated me. And bitch was mean and crazy. She also appeared to only consume Starbucks and I don’t know, the souls of innocents.

A few months later, I took another marketing job with nice people who never missed a free snack — not even a stale bag of pretzels from the Ford administration. On birthdays, the boss bought everyone miniature cupcakes. People showered the office with exotic treats when they returned from vacations. I drank the Kool-Aid. On Valentine’s Day, I hand-delivered pink and white frosted, homemade cupcakes to every desk. (Betty Crocker’s my homegirl.)

They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Could that also be a clever route to a job or promotion or at least, a good reputation at work? Food is equated with love for a reason. It takes time to prepare and effort to package and bring in. Then if it turns out to be good, well damn. Momentary magic.

Food can be a morale booster when you’re among people you already know. But it’s riskier when you’re trying to make a first impression. Kimberly, a marketing communications manager in Pennsylvania, had the balls (evenly spaced apart, made of cookie dough) to try it. She went to an ad agency to drop off her resume in person. Since it was a creative environment, Kimberly thought standing out would be appreciated. So she baked a plate of chocolate chip cookies to go with her credentials. They came with a note: “If I get an interview. You get more cookies.”

She got an interview. And the job.

“The boss wasn’t there when I arrived, but my co-workers later told me that they put my resume on top,” says Kimberly. “After eating a few cookies, of course! They said to hire me, and it worked. I got the interview and then an offer.”

I’ll be honest — I don’t know if I could pull something like that off. I’m terrible with cookies, anyway.

Would you bake, cook, or feed others to get ahead at work?

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    • Briana Rognlin

      I might be biased because I love baking, but I have to say, this story is kind of amazing.

      I can’t say that my cookies have gotten me to “the top” (yet), but I will say that they’ve earned me some pretty good office friends at most places I’ve worked. My biggest hits have been hermit cookies from, rum cake from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking” cookbook, and basically catering to any superior’s baked-good cravings. Even carrot cake. And when I taught abroad (not exactly like Harlem, but close), chocolate chip cookies practically threw my American co-teachers into ecstasy.

    • Geraldine

      SO desperate for cookies now that I am actually ordering some delivered.

    • Amanda Green

      Baking for kids in Harlem works wonders, too! At my second school, I used to bake cupcakes on the birthday of each kid in my homeroom. (I’m glad there were only 11 of them.)