Insight from a Technical Graduate on how to get a graduate job (part 1)

Andrew Dockerill talks about his journey to getting his graduate role at Bakkavor, the process involved and how he is finding it so far. 

Welcome to adulthood...

Yes, you’ve thrown (or soon to throw) your mortar board in the air and the years of ‘student living’ have finally ended. Gone are the midweek nights out, the late night library sessions and the countdown to student loan payments is replaced by a more frequent countdown to payday… you’ve become a new professional.

About my route...

First thing I would say is speak to any friends you have, that have already started grad schemes/permanent positions, as they can provide great first-hand advice for applications and what they found worked/didn’t. For reference, I have written my route below to a Technical grad scheme in manufacturing, but there are hundreds of avenues to go with a food degree, whether that be the department (NPD, Raw Materials, Technical, etc.) or the type of company (Retailer, Branded, Unbranded, SME, etc.)

Around December, I first applied to the Bakkavor graduate scheme, known as the AMS scheme (Accelerated Management Scheme). Before my careers fair, I have to admit I had never heard of the company, but with a touch of googling and browsing the company website, I soon gathered this was a company spanning across many product categories and customers and the AMS scheme contained lots of training opportunities, good financial incentives and an opportunity to become a manager in 3-5 years.

After the initial application process, along came the psychometric and numerical testing… the first thing I must say is you really need to get yourself in a quiet room, with a good internet signal and laptop battery charged! Next came the online interview, which I personally found the most challenging, where you are staring at a screen until a question pops up (which could be anything from how you fit the company values to your opinion on a current affairs issue and how you think it could impact the industry- it is really about how quickly you adapt under pressure).

Finally, I managed to secure a place on the assessment centre. This involved my first journey to Lincolnshire, the operating hub of the business (while also having sites across the country and globe). You arrived mid-afternoon to a welcoming team of Bakkavor employees, from the Group Food Safety Manager to graduates who started the scheme in the previous year, and were given a presentation about the company and values, with an opportunity to ask questions then and also at dinner, for which the employees also attended.

After a nervous night’s sleep, we started the second day with a tour of a local Bakkavor site, before returning for various interviews and challenges. These involved:

  • Reviewing and discussing your psychometric profile (‘this says you are good at working under pressure, but can struggle to self-motivate… how do you feel about this?’ etc.);
  • A group activity (where you also had individual challenges to complete secretly (TOP TIP: Don’t be a dictator, make sure you are a team player and get others involved as much as you can)
  • Interviews on accountabilities, your CV and how you meet company values (TOP TIP: For ANY job interview, always learn ‘STAR’ examples for the company’s values… HR love to ask questions about these!)
  • A technical challenge- You are given a short time to prepare to present your decisions in regards to a scenario you are handed. This is all about your ability to think on your feet and justify your reasoning with technical knowledge.

I spent my first year of the scheme working at Bakkavor Freshcook (Holbeach, Lincolnshire), a site manufacturing ready meals exclusively for M&S, as a Process Technologist. This involves managing the food quality and safety of trials and launch phases of new products and making improvements to existing products/processes on site. The real positive of a Process role is you get quite hands on in the factory, get a really good knowledge of all factory processing and its great launching a successful product/range and seeing someone pick it from the shelf. The stressful days come when you think you have all bases covered for a certain trial or even a launch and then something still goes wrong so there’s a lot of problem solving skill development!

Since September, I have been positioned in Bakkavor Meals London (Abbeydale) in a site that mainly produces fried goods, working as a Technical Coordinator. This role has much more of a systems focus, working on HACCP, allergen management and validation schedules and projects. My last role in Process really helped with getting a fast understanding of the factory flow. This is a role I really enjoy as I find I love having the big overview of technical on site but it can be challenging in terms of time management with so many tasks to complete and going from a customer exclusive site to a multi-retailer site was a shock.

As for the training and assistance on the scheme, I have to say it’s been fantastic. There is a great balance of scheme-specific training, non-scheme training (learning how other departments function and what their stresses are) and more personal skills training (the Fieri leadership training has been fantastic with trips to Loch Ness canoeing, climbing Mount Snowdon).

I hope you find this useful. Feel free to send any questions to myself at: or feel free to come say hello at the IFST Spring Conference!

Andrew Dockerill, IFST 2018 Ambassador and New Professionals Group