OTM 2: Using personal attributes to find your food industry career path

OTM 2: Using personal attributes to find your food industry career path


One of the questions I continuously get asked is “How can I do what you do”. Welcome to Episode 2 of Off the Menu. In this episode we cover how your personal attributes can define your chosen career and how to start matching those attributes and your passion, to your preferred food industry related job.

Episode 2 Highlights

Links and Resources

1. Here is a a good beginners read on Industrial psychology

2. Learn more about Organisational design

3. One of the oldest and best tools for testing personal attributes or you can also check out this one from Skills Road

Podcast Transcription

Peter: Hello, welcome back. You're listening to off the menu. I'm Peter Holtmann from Holtmann Professional Services. I've got Amanda Evans-Lara here from HACCP Mentor Say hello, Amanda.

Amanda: Hello Amanda.

Peter: There we go. Thank you. Amanda and I are talking about the topics that you mightn't readily find about careers in the food industry.

Amanda: This episode we're going to start looking at building direction.

Peter: Absolutely. So you've heard us talk previously about our twisted, varied and very colourful career pathways and, and what moved us through our career path where we stand in front of these microphones now and talk to you. I guess common questions that you might get Amanda and I definitely get is, how do you know what you want to do and how did you get to where you are?

Amanda: I actually get emails about that all the time. People wanting to know how can I do, what [you actually] do?

Peter: Absolutely. How do you get into this industry and how do you know that you want to be here and what are the opportunities and where does it go next? So we thought we're trying to break this down into a few steps for you and try and demystify the pathway that you could walk down for a food career.

Exploring career options

Amanda: The first area that we will look at is exploring career options. So tell me, Peter, what does that actually mean?

Peter: Well, that starts with talking about what interests you in this space called the food industry. And what types of careers can you actually pursue? There is many and varied as there are colours of the rainbow really.

Amanda: How many colours are there in the rainbow? Let's go back to Pete's science days.

Peter: Oh geez.

Amanda: Is there seven?

Peter: I bet there's a lot more.


Peter: So, what we want to look at is how do you actually know where to start? So are you in the industry or I don't know, you might be in the industry. Maybe you are looking for a change in the industry. Maybe you want to go to that next level or maybe you're starting out and don't know what's available to you.

So, why don't we start with the first area, which is do you actually even want to be in the food industry? And what brings you to that industry? Amanda, I think we heard from you last time as you were saying that the function of inspecting and upholding compliance was really important to you.

Amanda: Yes, fundamentally it was, but that's not what made me want to get into the industry. I think a lot of people start in the food industry working at casual part time job when they're at school. You might work at Maccas or KFC or one of the fast food franchises, or maybe they work for a retailer in a supermarket. So that's kind of their first introduction to food and the food industry. When I actually worked at a supermarket when I was 15 that's where I kind of started. But I knew pretty quick that I didn't want to be a checkout chick for the rest of my life.

Peter: Sure. And I guess in where I started in the scientific side, there was always this interest in, I guess in those days in the microbiological side. And that has a lot to do with food production, food processing and food preservation. So, you might be coming at it from that angle. You could be a person that's in that industry and wants to apply those skill sets into a career in the food industry.

This is probably the best place to start at is what interests you about the food industry as you, as the listener, and how would you want to apply those interests? Because I've been an employer of, people in the food industry and one of the things I'm looking for is the passion or the drive for people to be there. Is it just a job to get you through Uni or is this actually a career that you want to pursue and an interest that you want to develop along the way.

Amanda: I think a lot of people thinking in what you did, I'll just touch on that, that people, sometimes people don't think a career in the food industry is actually viable because I know even, and we touched on in the previous episode, my father was saying it was time for me to get a real job. So, at that time I was actually working in bars, bartending and waitressing and even for him as being pretty old school, he didn't say that as being a viable career doing that type of work.

Food safety as a profession

Peter: Sure. And I think these days the food safety wasn't really a professional or a career. These days, most definitely it is. You can search any online job seeker site and find career descriptions, job descriptions and employment in these areas now. So, it's a profession now.

Amanda: I think quality probably came before the food safety side of it.

Peter: I believe so, that was definitely my experiences. So I guess when you're starting out on your career, the first thing when people ask me about, you know, where's this going and, and how do I stay in it -  I would say to you why do you want to get into it? What would make you want to pursue a career? Sometimes for some people it's a lifetime career. Sometimes it's a fleeting career for people. But nonetheless, why do you want to get into it? And so this is about attributes and this is when we talk about attributes, this is your behaviours, your values, your morals, and your response to situations. And this we're talking about in a workplace environment or under employment.

Amanda: So, in saying that, do you think that, I just need a job because I've got to pay the bills. I don't really have any moral connection to the food industry except I put food in my body, be that bad food or good food, but I just need money. I've got to pay the bills, so I'll take whatever.

Peter: Yeah, and there's definitely a quotient of people out there that that work in that way.

Amanda: As their driver

Peter:  Yeah, that's their motivator. It's a financial motivator. Other people want to develop themselves within the industry, to take their development as far as they possibly can.

Motivation by moral obligation

Amanda: I think that's where when we start breaking off into food safety and quality, that goes to another level. You're not there purely because of financial reasons. You are there, I think, because you have a moral obligation or you feel very strongly about making sure that people have a safe product to eat. I think definitely as you work up through the ladder, that's the case. Your process worker may still be at that point of ‘we need a job’ and hopefully they'll then develop into the side where food safety is quite important to them.

Peter: I don't see this any differently to anyone else pursuing any other form of career, be it a trade or a profession. Some people really like being a salesperson. Some people really like being a mechanic. Some people really like being a nurse. Some people want to be a doctor and because something deeper is driving you towards that, it's a personal interest that some people find hard to articulate. But I would say that when you're choosing a career, you need to be able to express that to yourself, firstly, and I would also say get it down on paper.

Amanda: That's what I was going to say. Do you do an activity with yourself where you grab a pen and paper and you write down what actually makes you feel that you're making a contribution? Or what drives you to get out of bed in the morning?

Peter: I think that's the point. What drives you? What will get you out of bed and make you fight peak hour traffic or sit on public transport or get up when the weather's bad and go to a job and give them the full day's work and then go home and still have enough energy left to look after yourself, your family, your interests, your pursuits, whatever it is outside that. So, I think you to really start tracing out this career path, you really need to say what motivates you. And so, motivation is a big deal. How do you motivate yourself to work in a particular industry?

The never ending ‘gap’ year

Amanda: I'm finding that hard with my son at the moment. He's just about 20 and he's had two gap years now since leaving school. And when I ask him what do you want to do? And he has no idea, whatsoever.

Peter: Look, these are common discussions and I still work with people, and they can be thirties, forties, 50s. I've even spoken to some people when I'm coaching that are in their sixties that are still doing work for the sake of it. That there's no connection to the work and there's no path to…

Amanda: Path to enlightenment?

Peter: Oh Jesus, there's a big one. There's no pathway that's been developed, they've just worked on and it's a sense of loyalty and trustworthiness and commitment that's kept them under employment.

Amanda: So, they've still got some level of attributes then. Those three attributes, commitment, loyalty and the other one you mentioned.

Peter: For some employers that's really important. Having loyal, committed, trustworthy employees. That's what keeps the world moving around is having those people. In other places, employees are fleeting and employers have to account for that. This is, the hospitality industry for, for instance. These can be a transient workforce that moves through. You attract and select, recruit and train to a certain level of particular type of person that comes through it.

Food industry career research

Amanda: Once we've got a bit of an idea of what we would be interested in doing or learning more about, our next step I think is to actually go and do a little bit of research around that particular job or that career.

Peter: Absolutely. I think you start honing it down to a short list of job functions. So you know, you could say I want to work in a laboratory and I know the first steps into that industry are a lab tech, a lab aid, or I'm a microbiologist or what have you, but you don't really know anything about that particular job. What do they do during their time at work? Do they sit there, staring down a microscope all day or are they walking a factory floor? What is it exactly?

Amanda: I suppose in that that side of things, you've got to actually get a proper understanding, rather than what's fed to you through media or things like that. We see, let's just say the medical industry for example, it's all about rushing in and couple of pumps and pumping down on the heart.

Peter: Or saving lives.

Amanda: But it doesn't show anything about filling out paperwork,

Peter: Cleaning bedpans,

Amanda: having customer complaints against you, having lawsuits doesn't show any of that type of stuff.

Peter: The story is glamorous or it's a highly emotive and you know, it makes for good viewing.

Amanda: You don’t ever see those guys really tired.

Peter: No, no, but if you do, it's a whole episode on being really tired.

Amanda: They have taken the hard road. They're only actually 30 years old, but they look like they're 70.

Peter: That’s exactly right. Yeah. So, I think if you can definitely research the job function and try to find people that are in those functions and have a good chat to them, that's a great way to get well prepared. I'm sure there's people out there saying, yeah, sounds easy, but how do you do that?  Well, there's always industry associations, professional groups, professional networking events where these people turn up and they're talking or they're in the audience or, they're connected to a university or a college or something like that. There are ways of connecting with these people.

Amanda: I think another, another way to Pete, I know when I was growing up, my godmother, I never knew what she really did. It wasn't till I was maybe about 22, 23 that I actually had the brain capacity to actually understand what she did as a job.  So actually talking to people in your own family or extended family and see what they actually do for a job that might be a good place to start. She ended up being a pharmacist who worked for the government. But I never knew that and I was like, ‘Oh’, and that started the questioning. How'd you get into that? What degree do you have to have or what knowledge do you have to have to be a pharmacist?

Peter: It could also be the conditions of work that you're interested in. I know you were describing last time Amanda, that your parents ran their own business and that you run your own business. So there are ways of either experiencing it directly, indirectly, or having conversations with family members about what is it like to run your own business.

There's some people out here listening now that say, I'm never going to work for an employer. I'm going to run my own business, be my own boss. More power to you. Do you understand what that really means? So definitely researching and understanding the roles. Okay. So there's private industry. What's different about private industry to say a government, a government agency or a nonprofit or a charity even, or a sole trader or an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist in this industry. What's different about these roles in these workplaces that you might want to know more about?

Amanda: Or what attracts you to that type of stuff? So, when we talk about the actual different roles, we can start looking at things like - let's start kind of at the bottom level where looking at food safety and quality. In particular, let’s start off with process workers. So that's people who are actually doing the do on the floor, making that loaf of bread spit out of that oven after throwing some ingredients in a bowl and mixing it.

Peter: That is exactly right.

Amanda: Apologies to the Baking industry. I know there's a lot more involved than just that.

Peter: It's the hands on work. Things don't miraculously make themselves. Vegetables need to be picked in the field. Apples need to be packed in boxes. Packets need to be put in cardboard boxes or palletized or whatever. 90% of the time a person is involved intimately in that process.

Amanda: It has to get delivered somewhere.

Peter: Absolutely. It's got to get unpacked and then put on a plate and served to you while you're sitting there at your club at the end of the day, you know, having a chat with your mate, even having a counter-lunch.

Amanda: That may be you Peter.

Be realistic

Peter: It could be me, absolutely. So definitely be appreciative that there are people managing these things. But I think the point here is don't aim for the top job. That's never going to happen.

Amanda: You've got to be realistic with your goals. I think if, especially if you're just starting in this industry, and again, I'll use my son as an example because he gives me great amount of humour in my life for a child who recently applied for a job as an aircraft mechanic in the defence force. I asked him, so are you actually interested in planes? And he was like, yeh. And I was bemused with the fact that, he's never shown any interest in planes. He doesn't do any mechanical work. I've never seen him work on his car or work with his sdad on doing any type of mechanical stuff. I've never seen any of that. Then all of a sudden, he wants to be an aircraft mechanic.

Peter: Life is full of surprises.

Amanda: I'm not saying that you shouldn't shoot for where you ultimately want to be because that's what drives us to get out of bed every day is to get to that point. But I think when you're only 19, 20 years old, you've got to have a little bit of realism. You're not going to have the knowledge. That's number.

Peter: I think you, you need to try out different jobs and professions as you go along, until eventually it's going to stick. Like something's feels right. You're going to go into that role and say, yep, this is me. I should have been here all along.

The work experience kid

Amanda: So, what was your work experience job when you were in year 10?

Peter: I had so many jobs.

Amanda: No, you know how you had to do that mandatory one in Year 10.

Peter: Oh, I worked at a government research laboratory. My job was to feed laboratory sheep and take care of them. That was my work experience role. I actually had work long before then. I think when I was 15, my first job was working at a service station, a behind the counter turn on pumps on and collecting money. That was my first job.

Amanda: Well I think my work experience one that we did in year 10, was actually working at the courthouse. At that time, I wanted to be a police officer, but of course they're not going to let some work experience kid go out cruising around in police cars. Ironically enough, they did allow me to do that one day, but then had to drop me on the side of the road because they had to go catch someone. So they said, you just wait here until we are done, so I'm waiting on the side of the road.

But the court, now that I look back, I think being in the court, it didn't drive me to want to be a lawyer or anything like that, but in my role with the Government, being a food inspector, we still had to do all our own legal work. That kind of put me in a bit of position to understand how court works and the processes, even though I was making coffee and filing.

Peter: Well, see, here's where these personal attributes and behaviours of have set the course for you all the way through. You know, you've got these strong attributes around compliance and what's right and wrong.

Amanda: I am very black and white Pete. I don’t have very much grey in me at all.

Peter: I know. In fact, you are wearing black and white today. But this is what I'm talking about. When you're looking for a career, a lot of the time, your attributes are choosing your career, it's not a conscious choice. You know, you're not saying I need to be here. Something will feel natural. Something will feel logical. Something will feel, uncomfortable and something will feel exciting. And when you can combine all of these.

Was it chance or fate?

Amanda: So do you think they need saying that my whole, when I got my first job with public health, I didn't fall into that? That was all kind of self-directed?

Peter: That is exactly what I am saying.

Amanda: But I don't understand that because I felt that I fell in to it because it was only by chance that I was talking to that guy who was a health inspector and finding out what he actually did, learning a little about the role and then him saying, Oh, you should go and talk to the Director.

Peter: And why do you think you would have said you should go see the director?

Amanda: Maybe wanted to get rid of me because he wanted to go to lunch or something.

Peter: I actually think maybe he saw the attributes coming out. Since it's a thing, you might not notice your attributes because you live with them every single day. It's kind of like BO or body odour. You don't notice you got it after the first three minutes cause your brain switches it off. But you walk up next to someone and they notice it straight away.

Amanda: Is that a problem you have regularly?

How to hide your personal attributes

Peter: I use lots of deodorant; it covers up my personal attributes. But this is what it is all about. You can talk to people and they'll get a sense of who you are very quickly. That's what humans are really good at - assessing danger or assessing security or whatever it might be.

Amanda: But do you think that people put that on as a kind of a mask, maybe for their own protection?

Peter: Well we're getting kind of deep and meaningful and away from career path here.

Amanda: Let me just get into my cross-legged position.

Peter: She’s doing that right now listeners. She's on the floor under the desk, curled up in the foetal position, taking the microphone with her. So look, I think that's what it is. It's your subconscious probably choosing your career more than you know, because it feels comfortable.

Amanda: Have you got some science to back this up Pete?

Peter: Sure I do. There's lots of industrial psychology and organisational design and a behavioural sciences that are out there that, that talk to this.

Amanda: So maybe we'll put some links below these podcasts because I'd be interested in, you know, cause I'm all about the science, right? So if anyone says to me, or they come out with some bizarre stat, I am like, well how do you know that? Where did you get that from? I want to see some level of evidence. Maybe that is the auditor in me.

Peter: Maybe. This is this righteousness, black and white, right or wrong. There's plenty of tests out there. There were even at one point talks of introducing into schools tests that predict your future career path based on a certain response to questions and attributes that pop out. I'll find the links for that and we'll put it at the bottom of this.

Amanda: That'll be great. Thanks, Pete, for that one. So when we've done a bit more research into the ideal job and basically learning what the job actually entails, what we can expect, so then we're not completely surprised, what would be our next step then?

Selecting your preferred employer

Peter: I think we were then now moving into the realm of what businesses or what organisations we want to work with. And that talks about, well, do I want to work in a government agency? Okay. Which one? Why did you pick that one? What, what was it about that one? Well, it, follows my passion, follows my interests. Why did you choose Facebook as an organisation to work with? Well, because they're exciting and they're innovative, etc.

Amanda: They're very innovative.

Peter: Sure, and so that's what it's about. You know, why would you work at Coca Cola or Kellogg or McDonald's or a large retail chain? Why do you want to work for those people? Because they're offering something that interests you. It could be the work conditions. Maybe it's not nine to five. Maybe it's a flexible work from home condition. Maybe it's casual shift. Maybe it's a part time shift. Maybe it's suits your lifestyle, depending on what's happening outside of work. You're a mum, you've got kids to take care of all. You're a dad, that's also a parent as well. Let’s not exclude parents.

Amanda: Shout out to all the dads out there.

Peter: You could be a single parent and have certain time constraints. You can be a student studying. You could be a retiree looking for the next thing to keep you interested, for instance. You could be a recent immigrant to a country and need something to get you off and rolling in.

Amanda: There's a lot of drivers around that stuff, personally, that could then dictate what organisation, based on their culture that, that organisation offers.

Peter:  It's conditions and culture and a progression. And it's, you would start marrying that up with what suits your lifestyle. Lifestyle doesn't mean I want to lay around a pool, you know, drinking martinis. Well, it could be exactly someone who takes every Friday.

Amanda: You could be a professional margarita taster. That would be good.

Peter: There are professional ice-cream tasters out there, so why not Margaritas.

Amanda: True that, okay.

Peter: They don't have many teeth left. So I think it's about choosing something that works with your lifestyle.

Amanda: If we're looking into the food industry, should we also take into consideration the type of food that we want to work with? Because for me, I just couldn't do the raw meat scenario.

The business of ethics

Peter: So now you're talking ethics and yeah, so I think ethics play a big part. These days where we're much more socially aware of ethical, environmental, social, cultural normatives that are out there and how you fit within those genres. You know, it could be you don't want to work for an organisation that has a negative impact on the environment.

For instance, without naming industries, everyone could probably point the finger at least five different industries that they think has some sort of impact. Doesn't matter whether they know it, but they definitely think that way. And that's the, that's the interesting thing about social media.

You don't have to know anything these days. You just have to think something, have an opinion, and you get 5 million followers. And away it goes. So I think ethics is definitely a part of your consideration. Do you want to work in that industry and for that type of business? If you don't want to work for anything associated with meat, that's great.

Amanda: Or you don't want to work for anything with plants.

Peter: Yeah. Well, let's say you work for a broad acre agricultural product. I'm trying not to deliberately name one, but that uses excessive amounts of water to grow the product and, or pesticides. Yeah. That uses an excessive amount of natural resources and chemicals to grow it. And you don't want to have anything to do with it. That's fine. That's your choice, you know? And so make the choice on the employer and the industry based on all of these parameters.

Amanda: I've got a girlfriend of mine actually who grew up in a bakery. Her family owns bakeries, but she's allergic to gluten. So that makes it, she actually had to stop working the bakery because of that. So sometimes it's going to push you out of certain food areas.

Peter: Yeah. Or maybe you're in the industry and you've grown tired of that.

Amanda: You want to change.

Peter: Yeah, it has worn thin and you want to do something different.

Amanda: I think we do see that around people who end up being auditor's or becoming auditors. You can say they've worked in meat, they've worked in seafood, they've then gone into pre prepared foods and then maybe they've worked on a farm.

The downside of being an auditor

Peter: This speaks to the conditions of the role as well. People might not know that being an auditor can be quite an isolated role, that you spend a lot of time on the road travelling by yourself. You rarely audit in teams of people and that you're spending lot of hours travelling. You spend probably an equal number of hours doing the job and then you've got all the post audit work, which includes write-up, report writing, the administration.

Amanda: That is what finally did it for me. That's one of the reasons I left.

Peter: A lot of the auditors I talk to say it is burn out - the auditor burn out. You're constantly moving from audit to audit to audit. Now that doesn't mean that it's a bad industry to get into or it's a bad role. It's about how you manage your time and your energy as much as the role itself. But for some people, those conditions suit that person. They'd like being, I mean, truck drivers choose to be truck drivers for a reason. They like that work environment.

Some people do it as a matter of need, but other people make that as a definite choice. And the same thing with the auditing. It is the same thing with being a quality manager in the food industry. You choose to do those things. By the time you've reached manager level, I think you're pretty certain about why you're in that role. It's not a role you'd naturally stumble into and say, Oh, I'll keep doing it. Because you know, you've made a choice.

Amanda: Like you did when you said you converted over to that CEO role.

Peter: Yeah, yeah. I've, I made a conscious decision to become a CEO from working in a highly specialised technical expert role to leading an organisation that could assist the experts in the industry.

Amanda: Okay. So now that we've learnt a little bit more about our target market, or the types of places that we want to work in, we're going to get onto what putting our CV together or our resume together?

The gold in job descriptions 

Peter: I think where we're heading in that path here, you want to do some research about what job descriptions look like within those organisations. Now, a lot of this can be found on job seekers sites, through web searches or maybe you know, someone there that can get you access to a job description. You would then start preparing your resume or your CV to reflect those requirements. And they usually talk about the job function and then the skills, the experience, and then definitely behavioural requirements to work in. Treat it more as a gap check. You know, what do you have on this list? Great. How are you going to demonstrate in your resume? What don't you have on that list? And then how are you going to get those things.

Amanda: Right, so that would be our driver to then maybe upskill or up-knowledge ourselves to meet that criteria.

Peter: Yeah, definitely. Is there a short course? Do I have to do a more formal extended training course? Is this about experience? Do I need to try and find work experience somehow? Is that through internship, volunteering, whatever it may be. You can't build behaviours. That doesn't happen. You are born with an enate sense of behaviour, but you just need to be aware of where your strengths are and how you can apply that to your weaknesses, in the behaviours.

Amanda: Okay, so I think that'll wrap it up for this episode. In our next episode we are going to start looking at where do we find those opportunities. You kind of touched on a few little bits and pieces today, but let's leave that for the next podcast to seek out opportunities on the particular jobs that we're interested in.

Peter: Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Amanda: Thank you.

About Off the Menu

In the first season of Off the Menu, Amanda Evans-Lara and Peter Holtmann dive into career development for newbies and professionals working in the food industry. Listen in to learn about the skills, knowledge, personal attributes and work experience needed to map your food industry career path.

Off the Menu Podcast

Get free HACCP advice and updates

Find out how to better implement and manage your HACCP, legal and food safety compliance requirements by joining the HACCP Mentor newsletter.

Scroll to Top