By: Thomas Siebertz
If you are a food science student or are about to graduate, chances are you will be looking for employment in the near future. Although education is valuable, most food companies look for people with experience too, whether it’s in quality assurance, research & development, or production management. Having been through numerous interviews and receiving several job offers from top companies, I would like to share some tips with you that I have learned from my experience…
1. Find Positions to Get Your Foot in the Door
The great thing about many food manufacturing companies is that there are many different positions within the facility and companies prefer to hire from within. Every job needs doing and maybe you can use a skill you already have to get in the door. I have seen people promoted from production line workers to quality assurance technicians or R&D positions because they showed they were good workers. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom, you’ll gain valuable experience and get your foot in the door.
2. Research the Company
In general, it’s good to have some common knowledge about the company you want to work for, such as what brands/products they produce and what types of special processes are involved in their production line. Being able to “talk shop” with the interviewer is a great way to show your knowledge.
3. Find Internships with a Company or Organization You Want to Work for
Although I have never personally participated in an internship, they are a great way to get industry experience. Do not be discouraged if you are limited in what you are allowed to do since you are not a full time employee. On the other hand, internships can lead to full time employment if you prove to be a good worker.
4. Use Connections through Your School and IFT
A great way to compliment your resume is with good references. Going the extra mile in a course can give you some long term benefits when you need a reference or letter of recommendation. If you are applying to a meat plant, ask your professor of meat science to be your reference, for example. You may also make connections at professional meetings, such as the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Las Vegas in June, where you can ask talk to industry professionals you know for references, develop professional relationships for future opportunities, and learn about new possible opportunities.
5. Seek Out Additional Certifications to Build Your Knowledge Base
There are many different certifications that can be obtained as a food industry professional, such as ServSafe and HACCP. Among others are SQF and BRC certifications for food safety auditors. Some companies may pay for these trainings, if they are required for your job, but it’s always bonus if you already have it.
6. Exhibit Your Tech Skills
Everything in the modern world runs on computers. Food companies are no different. Most companies will expect you to be proficient with computers, since many departments use software for recording quality assurance data, developing formula breakdowns for new products, designing labels, etc.
7. Take Language Courses at School
In general, it’s good to be able to speak more than one language. Spanish has proved to be very useful in my experience in the food industry. Almost every food company I’ve been to or worked for has had a Spanish speaking population. I have also seen job postings requiring you to be bilingual; if not, they at least prefer bilingual candidates. If your resume states that you can read, write, and/or speak a language, be ready to demonstrate your proficiency in an interview. I have had several interviews where I was asked questions in Spanish to determine if I really did know the language. The best way to learn it is by conversing with people who speak it and, of course, practice makes perfect!
8. Use Social Media Tools
A lot of food companies are following the social media trends, using Facebook and Twitter to screen applicants and post job openings. This is some general common sense, but either keep your page private or if it’s public, make sure to keep it professional. Also, staying on top of job postings is a great way to ensure your resume is looked at first.
9. Best Sites for Job Hunting
As a student member of IFT, you have access to the IFT Career Center and the variety of job postings they provide. and the variety of job postings they provide. Additional sites that have provided leads for me in the past are: www.careersinfood.com, foodhaccp.com, and craigslist.com. Were you aware that Facebook also has a jobs section? For federal government inspection and research jobs, check out www.usajobs.gov. For state and town jobs, lookup the town or state board of health website for job postings. Lastly, do not forget to look at the websites of companies that interest you, as they typically have a “Careers” section.
10. Highlight Special School Projects, Interests, or Professional Affiliations
If you are a member of a professional organization or group, such as IFT, highlight these things in a resume, cover letter or at your interview and explain what you do as a member. Scientific groups stay on top of current trends in the market and it will show your employer you do as well. It will also show you have a passion for your profession.
Have any of these tips been instrumental during your job search? Do you have anything to add?