Insight from a Technical Graduate on how to get a graduate job (part 2)

Read Part 2 of Andrew’s experience on graduate schemes, doing a masters and his experience in the food industry today.

Grad Schemes vs Placement Year

I’d say there’s a lot less shadowing and a lot more responsibility/expectancy of more food knowledge now you’ve reached a graduate level, although this obviously varies between schemes. In fact, I was quite lucky to have a very ‘hands on’ placement year in a SME business. You may also find grad schemes provide a lot more structured training opportunities, especially in areas such as management/leadership abilities.

Grad Schemes vs Permanent Positions

Grad schemes…

Applications can often come across as very intense with several interviews, psychometric testing and assessment centres. Don’t get freaked out, these are designed to see you for you whilst also partly to see how you deal with pressure and new situations. They are totally aware it’s a little nerve-wracking, especially your first assessment centre, but all you can do is your company research, and have some great questions to leave interviews on, as they really can leave an impact.

Graduate schemes often involve rotating positions and location during the scheme. This is great if you are flexible and allows you to get chances to try several different positions, if you are unsure on the exact career path you desire. Schemes too are seen to have an extra level of training as they look to support your growth into more senior positions in the business, often quicker than a permanent position would. Most companies will also help create initial social interaction between yourself and other new young professionals in the business, as the business tries to keep you networked. This can often be a great help in sorting accommodation for site relocations, especially if you are given contacts for current grads and their recommendations for the area.

Permanent position…

These can be just as attractive as graduate schemes. Often people who have had a placement year enjoy the company or role so much, they know exactly what they desire post-graduation and so several years rotating around positions and locations may not appeal. You’ll often find a slightly different hiring practice, which may not be quite as rigorous and pressurising as the standard grad scheme. You can still expect training, but it may be in a less lengthy, structured way. You will probably be put to ‘hands-on’ work more quickly, which means you get a chance to have a position of more responsibility than certain grad schemes do early on in the process.

Phillippa Helme, NPD and Ingredients Sourcing Technologist- Dovecote Park recently took on a permanent position after her Masters… she says ‘Working at the company I work at, I’m lucky to have so many resources and the opportunity for many training courses throughout the year, just as you would with a grad scheme.’ She also wanted to reassure that companies are understanding with new professionals, even in standard permanent roles: ‘Most companies will know that you’ve recently graduated and will judge the work load to give you, same as a placement year but more is expected from you- with more tasks and responsibility given’.

One recommendation I would make is just make sure to enquire about career progression and training opportunities available at the business or you may find yourself stagnating your professional development in a position.

If you haven’t yet secured a position…

Not to worry! There’s plenty of great jobs out there so don’t panic. Perhaps look at finding experience, even if it means applying for a ‘lower skilled’ role. There are always plenty of QA/factory and NPD assistant roles around and these can really boost your CV whilst you hunt around for a more permanent position. I wouldn’t worry too much either about what sort of food position you go into. There’s such a wide range of roles in the food industry, especially in Technical and there are always opportunities to move horizontally, which can actually help you to progress in the career ladder as you develop a broader knowledge base. Even if you have a position in one area, there will normally be opportunities to try others, as long as you let your manager know you're interested to learn more about that area.

Doing a Masters…

Maybe you are not ready to leave the student lifestyle. Maybe you really enjoy the academia side and continuing to learn in food science. With the introduction of a government backed Masters loan, postgraduate education is now more easily accessible- often with specific fee discounts if you continue to attend at your undergraduate university. A Masters can allow you to further focus in on field specific knowledge, conducting further scientific research and, being only a year, a great way to fast-track upscaling knowledge and potentially career prospects/entry level salary expectations. It can also encourage you to then go even further in your educational career, whether that be chasing a PhD or wanting to stay in education in the teaching profession.

‘As a graduate, what advice would you give to IFST student members?’

Make the most of it! Get involved in as many competitions as you can- they look great on a CV and you can win some fantastic prizes! Attend as many events as you can, talk to other members, they can be a great source of advice for technical and career questions, they’ve often been through it before! The Spring Conference in particular is fantastic, with pioneering talks on new areas of debate in the food industry, whilst providing a great opportunity to network in a very close knit industry, and that can even lead to employment (trust me!). IFST is also a great way to give back and inspire the next generation via events like the Big Bang fairs.

What I’m now doing…

This year I’ve been elected as an IFST ambassador with a particular focus on setting up and developing a New Professionals Group. Once everyone leaves university you find people spread across the whole of the country and I think it's important to create a network where people can discuss any issues they have, whether that be moving/meeting foodie people in a new area to a new location, or technical questions that maybe they feel are ‘too stupid' to ask at work (nothing is too stupid, asking ‘why' is one of the best skills to have in technical).

I hope you find this useful, feel free to send any questions to myself at: