Will Work for Food: landing a job

By: Stephanie Diamond

There are few things in life as both exciting and ominous as The Job Search. You’re bright-eyed and bushy tailed. You’ve psyched yourself up to move to a new city, make new friends, learn a new job, and find a new apartment. It feels so fresh and so appealing.

But that may not be the reality.

The reality is, you’re going to have major disappointments. You’ll spend hours working on a cover letter, repeatedly combing through your resume, finding the perfect words to wrap up the essence of who you are and why you are the perfect person for this job. And you won’t get it. Not only will you not get the job, you won’t even get a rejection email.

The past couple months I have been on the job search. I won’t graduate until May, but everyone says, “Start early!” So, I’m starting early, and more often than not I won’t be considered for a job because I’m not graduating until May. I’m on CareersInFood.com, LinkedIn, the IFT Career Center. I’ve done this whole thing before, and I always apply for jobs with what I think are a pretty solid resume with a well-constructed cover letter. I haven’t been hired. I’ve shared in my frustrations with several of my smart, qualified fellow graduate students. As an open question to the food science community, we want to know:  What does it take? What are recruiters looking for? How do I nail this?

Recently, I interviewed two successful women in the food industry who both have a hand in college recruiting. Annie Ellerman, Quality Manager at General Mills, who collaborated with Don Steenson, Technology Manager; and Janet Bones, Assistant VP of R&D at Cargill were so kind to answer my questions. Here’s what they had to say:

First, resumes. What are the most common mistakes you see?

Janet: Too long, too verbose. Try to keep it to one page, bulleted. No excuse for typos!

Annie: Students list all the courses they have taken. Not only does it not say anything interesting about the student (everyone in that same major takes those courses!), but it takes up valuable space where the student could really highlight their accomplishments. The other common mistake I see is organization (or lack thereof). A recruiter has about 30 seconds to scan a resume. Make sure the resume is neat (margins aligned, no spelling errors) and has sections for each experience like school, work or volunteerism, for instance.

What about cover letters? Do they really matter?

Janet: To be honest, I really just skim. I would keep very to the point, targeted to the position, but does give a little opportunity to let your personality come through (more so than the resume!).

Annie: Cover letters can be a great way to further explain any unique situations. However, if the cover letter mirrors your objective statement or just reiterates your resume they are not useful. I would evaluate if you have anything different that you want the recruiter to know that is not evident on your resume. If the answer is yes, craft a short cover letter.

Online Applications – they seem to end up in a “black hole”. How do I make myself noticed?

Annie: Essentially the same ways in which you would get noticed on a resume. Use action words in your experiences about what you led, initiated and achieved. Some companies use resume review technology that parses out key words that they are looking for. If you carefully read the position descriptions, you should be able to determine which words to use from your own experience.

Janet: Provide great leadership and achievement examples through school activities, sports, previous work, etc. Detail any work history in your area of interest through internship or co-op along with RESULTS driven.

Jobs in R&D – what qualities do I emphasize?

Janet: Strong interpersonal effectiveness, communication skills, creative problem solving, confidence and demonstrate you are not deterred by challenges, team player, highly collaborative, and passion!

Annie:  The three qualities we focus on are technical acumen, leadership ability and communication skills. The ability to move projects from bench-top prototypes to full commercialization via effective leadership and cross-functional communication is crucial to success.


Annie: Ability to lead through technical challenges within a diverse team. This means gathering input, analyzing data quickly and accurately and make recommendations on a remediation plan that is simple enough to be followed and sustainable.

The Interview. How should I prepare? What are the biggest mistakes you see?

Janet: Fully understand the job description and the company. Go to the website, understand their product line, their overall business, what they do, their mission and vision. Be bold! Come with a list of questions for the interviewer. Follow up with a thank you note within 24 hours. In it, express your ongoing interest in the position and relate how you could add value. Students get overly nervous, just be yourself and have some fun! Let your personality shine through!

Annie: Practice…like a thousand times. There are websites that contain questions you can review. Also, have about 10 experiences from work or school memorized that would potentially fit a question asked. This way an example can be quickly referred to during the interview. I see people talk too much or not enough! Stay focused on the main points of the answer: the situation, the task, the action, and the result.


From one job-searcher to another (and to pay tribute to the new Hunger Games movie):

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Science Meets Food

The IFT Student Association (IFTSA) is a forward-looking, student-governed community of IFT members. Through competitions, scholarships, networking, and leadership opportunities, you’ll set yourself apart from your classmates (unless they’re members too).


  1. this is an awesome article. There are some great webcasts on IFT.org that are FREE to members that focus on the job hunt and then also what to expect once you start your job. Check them out here: https://www.pathlms.com/ift-learn-online/tracks/520/events/213?per_page=25

  2. This is really useful! I would love to see a follow up post that maybe goes a bit in-depth in each of these topics, especially if there’s anything that is specifically related to food science entry-level jobs.

  3. Agree – useful! I’m going to share the link with other FS majors!

  4. “Not only will you not get the job, you won’t even get a rejection email.” This is all too true… as long as you are applying for jobs in the US. There are countries where employers *do* have the common courtesy to send even unsuccessful applicants notification of their hiring decisions.
    Not to go on a tirade here, but I believe this is symptomatic of deeper problems in American economy and society – and ultimately not sending even a two-sentence e-mail rejection is a practice that *in itself* is harmful.

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