Hiring for Quality

Features - Business Management

The big 3

April 3, 2012
Lisa Lupo

Recommendations for Hirers and Hirees

Kinsa Group’s Laurie Hyllberg and Cors’ Danielle Kain-Paul also provided some thoughts to keep in mind during the recruiting and interviewing process—for both employers and candidates.

For Employers

  • Because many food and beverage plants are in small communities, to which candidates may be reluctant to move, it is often best to begin the search in the local area. Don’t rule out candidates from local pharmaceutical or medical device firms. Because these companies are also FDA regulated, candidates will have an understanding of requirements and the stringency of manufacturing.
  • To build an on-the-bench resource of candidates:
    • Continually develop your industry network.
    • Have your employees network at industry events so they can refer colleagues and others that they meet.
    • Have an employee referral program by which employees are compensated in some way if a referred candidate is hired.
  • When advertising an opening, find niche areas to post, such as with associations; on industry job boards; or on online sites, such as iHobnob and LinkedIn.
  • If you have a LinkedIn company page, reach out to those who follow you, as there is an obvious interest in your company or product. Let others in your LinkedIn network know that you are hiring as well.
  • During an interview, be open about any issues in the company, past recalls, regulatory actions, etc. Even if the candidate doesn’t ask about something, he or she may have heard of it through the industry grapevine and may be wary of accepting the position if not told what has been done to fix the problem—or that you are hiring him or her specifically to assist with it.
  • When promoting from within, and seeking to move a line worker to a manager or supervisory position, look for someone who can step away from the hourly workers to do what is needed. Someone who already tends to do this is likely a good candidate.

For Employee Candidates

  • Do your homework. You are likely to be asked what you know about the company, or even the position, for which you are interviewing. Be prepared by researching the firm. This will show that you are interested in the company as well as your own career.
  • Doing your homework will also provide you with information on any negative issues about the company—that an interviewer may not bring up. Know if the company, or a specific plant, has had recent recalls, FDA warning letters, etc. While this shouldn’t necessarily keep you from accepting a job (they may be looking for someone to help them fix the issue), it could be a red flag if the interviewer won’t answer questions about it or seems to be trying to hide or talk around an issue.
  • That said, take Internet postings with a grain of salt. Numerous negative postings should elicit some caution and/or questions, but rants can also be the work of disgruntled ex-employees, whose employment was legitimately ended.
  • Prepare yourself, as much as possible, for unexpected questions. Although interviews used to be fairly generic following a set list of questions, today’s interviews tend to include off-the-wall questions to dig below the surface. Don’t be surprised to be asked, “What is your philosophy on …?” “What would you do if …?” “What have you done that shows how you …?”

A science degree. Product category experience. Regulatory knowledge.

According to experts from two food and beverage recruiting companies, these are the top three qualities that manufacturers seek when hiring for management positions in food quality or safety.

Most manufacturers seek candidates who have some type of science degree—whether it be a bachelor’s or a master’s in microbiology, biology, food science, chemistry, animal science, or dairy science, said Laurie Hyllberg, vice president/food and beverage recruiter for Kinsa Group. “That is a great place to start because there needs to be credibility,” she explained.

Danielle Kain-Paul, industry analyst for Cors recruitment company agreed that applicable education is important, noting that many companies seeking these managers are looking for people with at least a bachelor’s degree in food science or food technology.

Just as important is current regulatory knowledge, both said. “At the manager and supervisor level, they want to know someone is familiar with FDA [or USDA] requirements and GMPs,” Kain-Paul said.

To be competitive, Hyllberg noted, those seeking these positions should stay current by attending sessions and reading up on new and upcoming regulations; know the relevant provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act, as well as upcoming deadlines and what needs to be done in preparation; and stay involved in the scientific community.

The variance in regulatory requirements, as well as process specifics, between different product categories is the basis for the seeking of candidates with experience in the manufacturer’s product, a similar one, or at least one under the same regulatory jurisdiction of FDA or USDA, Hyllberg added.

Because of the diversity of the industry, different products have different requirements, process controls, issues, and risk levels, thus the more experience a candidate has in the product or a similar one, the more he or she will be prepared for the job right from the start.

For the same reason, Hyllberg added, “Most professionals who educate themselves along a specific area tend to stay in that area—or at least within the regulated area.”

For example, someone who works in a milk plant may move to a cheese plant, but he or she is likely to stay in dairy. Or, she added, people may move from a more highly regulated product to a less stringent one, such as from meat to bakery, but they are not as likely to go the other way if they have spent much time in that area, at least not at the management level.

Interviewing. In addition to assessing the “Big 3” qualifications of candidates, there are three key points that hiring companies should be sure to include in candidate interviews. These are:

  1. Have candidates walk through their resumes. With resume in hand, say, “Tell me about yourself and your career.” Ask questions about the listed experience, e.g., “How many people worked for you?” “How much was produced?” This will give you a feel for how their experience relates to your production, how hands-on they were in their previous positions, and how they would fit into your company, Hyllberg said.
    Be sure to ask open-end questions as well as those that can be answered simply “Yes” or “No,” Kain-Paul cautioned.
  2. Ask behavioral questions. Be specific, asking for examples. “Tell me about the time that you had too many things to do and had priority tasks to complete.” “Give me an example of a time that you showed initiative and took the lead on something.”
    This enables you to garner examples of the application of specific traits rather than focusing simply on a trait itself. “Try to stay away from soft characteristics,” Kain-Paul said, explaining that, rather than asking if one has good communication skills—to which very few applicants would say no, ask a question that will provide an example of an experience in this. Additionally, she said, “People have moved away from trait requirements, because it has become more of a science.”
  3. Get “physical.” Take each candidate on a tour of the plant, Hyllberg said. As you walk through the various areas, ask for his or her thoughts – both positive and negative. “What would you change if you were to take this position?” “What do you see as working well?” “Do you see any potential hazards, chance of cross contamination, etc.?” You will find out how in tune the candidate is with the process, get a feel for his or her knowledge and initiative, and you may even learn a better way to do something.

Outsourcing the process. It can also be beneficial to outsource the hiring process, as recruiting agencies will often have resources to recruit qualified applicants who aren’t even looking for a job. Sometimes people don’t realize that they are unhappy or unsatisfied in their present job until an opportunity opens for them to make a move, Hyllberg said. Others, who may be ideal for your company, just never find the time to seek other positions or don’t realize that they may be qualified for a promotion opportunity.

“We are constantly networking, so we know how and where to find potential active or passive candidates,” Hyllberg said.

Kain-Paul said that food manufacturers she works with sometimes provide her with a list of products that are similar to their own. She then uses the list to find plants with similar backgrounds, identify those in the plant who would fit the manufacturer’s needs, and initiate contact.

Candidates often feel freer to be open with a recruiting agency than they may be with a prospective employer, so the agency can often determine more quickly if there is a true fit or not, Hyllberg said.

In addition, for candidates, agencies can get inside knowledge about the hiring company to help a candidate prepare for the interview, focus his or her skills toward the company’s needs—or even decide if he or she wants to work for that company at all.

“I want to be sure I am creating a good match,” Hyllberg said. “Recruiters can help with inside information so there is a good relationship at the onset.”

The “First Date.” Whether working through the hiring process oneself or with an agency, and whether one is the prospective employer or employee, Kain-Paul cautioned, “Do your homework on both sides of the fence.”

Similar to that of a couple going on a first date, both the potential hirer and hiree will seek to put their best foot forward. Thus, hirers should always conduct background checks, check references, and verify resume experience and education; and hirees should research the company, speak with current employees if possible, and feel comfortable that the company truly is a fit.


The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net