Ep. 010 – My First Food Job Search
In this episode, we are going to talk about my experience getting a job in the food industry as a senior in college.
Everyone has a different experience, but mine might relate to yours.
(Yes, the picture is photoshopped)
Best techniques and resources for resume/CV writing
One of the best types of advice I received is to focus on the job description
Why it might be beneficial moving to a new city
What we talk about
For some background information, I was very involved in my department in Cal Poly and in my junior year, I received my first internship offer in Fall quarter.
So about this internship, all I can tell you is that it was a very well-known company but it was one of those well-known companies which own EVERYTHING.
So lucky me, I got the internship, was super excited and then I was sent to Waco Texas for a job at a slaughter house.
As much as I like seeing turkeys getting beheaded and getting half off on deli meat, I found the work a bit unsatisfying and the town unenjoyable.
I guess I did the work well enough that I got a job offer, but I had to decline due to the fact that I really didn’t like the location. I came back to college to start a new.
So with this background, I thought I would get a job pretty easily. Given that I got my first internship in the Fall.
I was wrong, but I didn’t give up. Of course I didn’t give up, I needed a job!
I started to apply to jobs seriously on January giving me a 6 month time bomb before I graduated. Getting a job before graduating is a good goal everyone should attain and my advice is to actually start at Fall. But the main reason you should start at Fall is to review and renovate your resume.
Your resume is your written sales infographic that lets you convince people you are great. The best part of a resume is that you can tell in a black and white fashion if it’s working or not. If you get hits, your resume is working. If you’re not, then you need some help.
Once I realized I wasn’t getting hits in late-Fall, I went to some FREE resume seminars offered at our career center and signed up to get my resume looked at. The improvements were tremendous and I would highly suggest doing this first if you are serious about getting a job…which you should be.
During this, I busted out 2 resumes: a 1 page resume which explains a quick, basic rundown on skills that show I’m a valuable person and a 2 page resume (front and back) where I listed a run down and on the back, posted project summaries if they were more interested. The career center lady justified that it was ok to have a 2 pager just because I was involved in a lot of stuff.
So there are two types of resumes people look at. If you’re in a supervisory role, people judge your ability to be a leader and how to be proactive. This is in general a very important skill but should be highlighted when you apply to leadership type of positions such as a supervisor
The second 2 page resume was highly technical and talked about amazing projects such as product development competitions and microbiological labs. I found this resume to be very effective with product development and R and D roles.
Both of these got amazing hits and next thing I knew, the next 6 months were literally traveling 4 hours each way to interview with companies of all shapes and sizes. Almost every month, I had 2 in-house interviews that caused me to travel far.
This is also where I learned the magic of reaching out and sleeping at old friend’s couches and catching up for the weekend from family members to old high school friends, I thank them so much for letting me stay over just for a job interview.
I think phone interviews and in-house are relatively the same and you need to learn to say digestible and relate-able experiences to your manager. The only difference is that you are in person and they visualize you as a good fit for the company don’t judge you based off of words alone.
My advice is that every time you need to answer a question, you need to answer with a story of why what you did is relatable. Remember to keep it decently short and always end with a loop around in which answers the question.
I think it’s wise (or should I say, inevitable) that your job search is going to be very specific and if you keep on not getting jobs, your horizons will be broader and broader. I started with specifically product developer jobs and I didn’t get very many hits. After a month or so, I had some anxiety about the situation and started to tenaciously apply to jobs outside of my scope, but stayed in the realm of the food industry.
There were certain barriers I wanted to not touch, namely it can’t be in a rural town (unless it’s close to people I know like my grandparents) and it had to be food related (duh! I got my degree for a reason!). I think it’s good to have some standards no matter what when applying for jobs. So you really need to ask first: what’s important to you?
So let’s see, in the course of 6 months, I traveled a lot. From my comfy San Luis Obispo home, and traveled everywhere from San Francisco, the whole Bay Area, Los Angeles, Carpenteria, Fresno, other rural towns, and of course, Arizona. In some weekends, I had to plan an interview Friday and Monday so I slept over at a friend’s house for the weekend. Fun stuff.
And these companies were big and small. Off the top of my head, they ranged from all sorts of jobs in all sorts of industries. Production, Quality, Research and Development mainly and in such industries as meat, bread, cheese, spices, coffee, and other things like that.
One of my favorite interviews that I really was devastated I missed was a job at Carl’s Jr’s headquarters near the beach at Carpenteria California. I crushed the interview and was a shoe in to become a food technologist and make fast food all day. I had a lead with a technologist to whom I sent in my resume and got an interview with the Vice President of R and D. Unfortunately, I lost out to a more experienced candidate. That set me back emotionally for a while.
My least favorite interview was a noodle factory in Los Angeles where the interviewers made rude, snarky comments about my intelligence. It looked like a dump anyways.
The more jobs I interviewed, the more depressed, the more irritable I became. My self-worth was crushed but I had to keep going or else my pride would be shattered, right? I cared so much about my reputation and comparing myself to my peers what I became very paranoid and looking back at it, I was stupid.
Everyone who gets a job has this problem but in reality, I have to say, no one cares if you don’t get a job, but people will care when you do. And that’s something positive.
I think the pivot happened in how things were going when I talked to my mentor/ department head about why I didn’t have a job yet and he said something that I took into action: 100% of the focus in the interview needs to be tailored to them. And in hindsight, this was the reason I didn’t get the job. I wasn’t focused 100% on what they wanted, I focused on what I wanted and why I should be chosen.
I had two more interviews next week. One in California and one in Arizona.
The first one was in California for a Quality Supervisor role, the one interviewing me was a tough guy and really grilled me. He told me to memorize the 5 commandments of the company which I had to memorize on the 3 hour car ride over. I did it, and he was very impressed. The interview was very tough as well, his questions were extremely specific and his stare down was intense. After a tour of the factory, we went to the quality department and talked about how he treated his team like family. That is where I realized… I probably got the job.
The next was a flight to Arizona to a granola bar factory which hadn’t even been built yet. I interviewed with the Vice President of Innovation and we really got into talking with the spirit of innovation. I think my personality won him over more than anything. And maybe its because I fit the bill. The position was for a Food Processing Technologist, a type of in-house research and development position that was open to a lot of possibilities because it was a brand new plant.
I got both of them. And had to choose which one to choose. By now, maybe you know which one. Or not.
So now this was also really hard. I could either stay close to my friends if I lived in California, or go to a place where I knew absolutely no one.
Actually, let me list out the advantages and disadvantages of each:
The quality job had better pay, it was in California in between San Luis Obispo and my grandparent’s place in Fresno, I could see my friends often and my family as well. However, the job wasn’t what I wanted: an R&D job, it was in the middle of nowhere, and I realized if the salary I was offered was worth working 6 days a week for 10 hours in the summer.
The job in Arizona was more of a gamble, because I was letting go of being comfortable to land to somewhere uncomfortable. People kept on telling me that it was super conservative and super hot, which scared me. It’s tough, people are always scared of the unknown. But the job was a foot in the door for something bigger potentially. It was labeled as a Research and Development job. And though it wasn’t a comfy corporate job, it was something that could potentially be greater.
After hundreds of conversations with pretty much everyone, I chose the job in Arizona.
I think there were three key factors that made me chose Arizona over California:
For one, the job was an R and D job which most of my friends said that at the end of the day, it’s a better field to be in.
Another was the fact that this was turning over a new leaf for me and this was a potential chance to grow where I could never grow before.
The biggest reason, and I think the most important thing that mattered to me was the local community I would belong to. I suffered living in a town like Hanford, California at my internship in Texas and I knew I’d have a hard time adjusting. A city might be easier. I chose Phoenix because it was full of mystery and a bustling city with 6 million people. I was still young, and I needed to learn to grow up.
Also, what’s nice about simultaneously being offered 2 jobs is you can leverage pay. So I ended up equalizing the pay of the R&D job to the Quality job.
I could give you hours, worth of reasons why it’s a good idea to move where you absolutely know no one but I won’t. All I can tell you is that I have never been happier moving to this city because I’ve learned to take charge and grow myself. If I hadn’t moved to Phoenix, honestly, I don’t think I would have had the courage to start this podcast.
So let’s take some time to ruminate on some actionable items.
Nicole has this wonderful article about how people in the food industry recruit people and to be honest, most of my experiences are very relatable for what they’ve posted in their research article: Food Employers Top 3 Tips To Landing Your First Job. I’ll name their top three tips and add my two cents. I find this article extremely useful and I do honestly wish I had this information in hindsight.
Their top three tips:
- Make sure you want the position. It may sound obvious, but interviewers can tell the difference between someone with a genuine motivation for a chosen field and someone that just wants a job. Interest is also tied to effort. Being late, or an untidy appearance demonstrate interest levels that are lacking.
If you are looking for a job, remember your goal but also remember your scope. My goal was an R and D job, but my scope was the food industry. Even if I didn’t get an R and D job, as long as I would be in the food industry, I not only would have a chance in an R and D job, but the experience of manufacturing, or document control, would actually make me more valuable to the next employer.
There was a point in time where I was obsessed with the color of my dress shirt. I tested blue, green, and red. Coincidentally, my green shirt always got me job offers so now I call it my lucky green shirt. I even used this short when I applied to my current job and got in.
2 Research the company. Arriving unprepared without any idea of what the company produces or who their customers are, will seal your fate. You won’t get asked back.
Tailor your ‘mindset’ to the job description. In every job interview you do, it’s wise to read the job description hours before interviewing and direct most of your answers to the job description. This will show much more directly why you are the best fit for the job.
Always remember: the point of a job is to help THEM with something. Their job isn’t supposed to solely improve you, it’s supposed to help them earn money so they can invest in you.
- Network. Get to know the industry and the players within it. Join associations, ask lots of questions and you will have the upper hand now, and in the future, as you move forward in your career.
Making connections is just increasing your chance to luck. I admit: I exhausted my connections in college and still could not get a job from them. Connections are nice and I highly recommend hustling to get them, but they will never guarantee you a job.
Funny story on this one: My second job transition, I knew two guys who interviewed me because I’ve hustled and networked a bunch in Phoenix. That’s another story.
Also remember that it’s more about how strong your connections, in terms of your relationship to them and how well they know your name, than how many connections you have.
Don’t forget to use industry specific recruitment websites like FoodGrads.com to find your job. There are so many industry specific websites out here. To find more, just google them. Literally food and job will work too.
And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get a job by graduation. In fact, some people would recommend taking a year off to do something totally unrelated. In hindsight, I kind of wish I did something like that but the race to get a job and not tarnish my reputation went to my head. It really depends on what you want and in what financial situation you’re in. You probably shouldn’t Eurotrip when you’re 5 figures in debt, but I’m also not your mother.
Again, this is one example of a job hunt and I wanted to share it with you because this is something I would have loved to have been told about when I was looking for jobs. I want you to succeed.
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