3 Lessons I Learned Starting Out in the Food Industry
As a little kid, my career aspirations seemed to change with the season. As I got older, and making choices related to my future career became more important, my career aspirations became one giant question mark.
I decided to go into a Biochemistry Co-op program, figuring it was a major that left a lot of doors open, and would give me work experience to help me determine what type of job I wanted.
When a co-op advisor told me that working in the food industry was an option for science students, I really became excited about all the possibilities my career could hold for the first time. Since that realization, I have completed all of my co-op terms in the food industry.
Now I’m a new grad working in the industry! I love my line of work and wanted to share my career journey. Here are 3 important lessons I learned along the way:
Information Interviews are Invaluable
When I was looking for my first co-op role, I told everyone I talked to that I was interested in working in food. I found out that a friend of my family went to church with a product development manager. They were able to connect me with her for an information interview.
Information interviews are an informal chat to learn more about that persons career path, what’s involved in their role, and get some advice. In my chat with the manager, I learned more about product development and connected really well with her.
She recognized the genuine interest I had for the field, and the interview actually ended up leading to my first 2 co-op terms working in her department.
Information interviews are great, low-risk tools! You can learn insider info about roles and companies, get invaluable advice from experienced employees and define your own goals better as a result.
Keep an open mind
After completing my first 2 co-op terms in product development, I was convinced it was exactly the role I wanted to get into when I finished school, and every other job would pale by comparison.
So, when it came time to find my 3rd co-op term, I had a very specific type of position in mind. As I was job searching, I ended up interviewing and receiving an offer for a job in a Quality lab, which involved testing raw materials and finished products from each shift to ensure food safety and quality.
While I was thrilled to have landed a job, I was a little apprehensive that I wouldn’t enjoy the work since it wasn’t product development. After spending a few months there, however, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was a lot more to a Quality job than I initially thought, and I enjoyed the pace of work and problem-solving involved more than I thought I would. The experience taught me not to limit myself to one area of work, or judge opportunities too quickly. I have also found that interdisciplinary experience is really valuable in the food industry. The perspectives I gained through my position in Quality have come into play in every position I have been in since. I’m very grateful for that co-op position that I was once so apprehensive about.
Always keep your mind open to different types of opportunities – every experience is valuable and you might end up liking something more than you thought.
The word networking is intimidating. You may be thinking of career fairs, or even employer presentations on campus.
But your network doesn’t just have to be professional connections. Everyone you know is in your network – you never know who your friends and family can connect you with, or who might be looking to fill a position (just look at what happened with my first co-op term!).
While looking for my 4th and final co-op position, I approached a connection I had made through LinkedIn while searching for previous co-ops. It turns out she had a co-worker looking for a co-op student in product development. That role then led me to my first post-grad position in the same company.
Never be afraid to network! While the idea of networking can be intimidating, it can open a lot of doors.
The food industry is interdisciplinary, complex and full of opportunity. I have worked with people from a huge variety of educational and employment backgrounds, and it is also relevant to everyone – we all have to eat!
If you find yourself like I did before university, wondering what you are going to do when you finish school, I encourage you to consider the food industry! Start talking to people working in food jobs, and you’ll soon uncover the endless opportunities available to you.
Author: Sonya Turvey
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