The first thing every graduate wants to do after completing college is to get into that entry-level job that will kick-start your career.
Unless you are getting into your family business or you are highly connected, you will have to go through the usual job searching cycle of applying, interviews, rejections, and success.
By the time you are through with your first degree, you will at least have had a glimpse of what it takes to work as a food science professional.
This is because many colleges offering the food science program will expose you to industry basics through internship programs or onsite visits.
I didn’t get a job immediately after college.
In fact, I have previously narrated a story about my job searching days in this article here.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to go through the hard route.
I know people who were lucky to get jobs with their first application attempt.
Maybe they were just simply lucky or they knew something the rest of us didn’t know.
Or maybe they had prior knowledge of important information such as the one I am going to give here.
Whatever the case, you need to understand that just like life itself, a food science career is not a sprint; it is a marathon.
It doesn’t matter how you start. What matters is how well you position yourself for career progression.
How to Prepare for an Entry Level Food Science Job Interview
Armed with the theoretical knowledge from the classroom, you are about to dive into the murky waters of being a food science professional.
I want to believe that you have taken your time to draft a good CV and a LinkedIn profile. That should be the reason the recruiters called you for an interview.
I won’t go into CV writing details here but it is important to mention that most recruiters are currently using the Application Tracking System (ATS) to scan and sort your CV.
This means that you need to move away from the traditional way of CV writing to a more ATS-friendly CV.
There are several sites online that explain how this new phenomenon works.
From my experience, the entry-level point is where you should be clear on the path you want to take as a food science professional.
As noted earlier in this article, a food scientist’s career can take three major distinct paths, even though the basic principles remain the same.
You can either choose to go into production, quality assurance, or Research and development (R&D).
At the entry-level, there is the temptation of taking anything that comes your way first, but if you know your strengths and you have clear career goals you may want to pause and make a good career choice at that point.
So, congratulations for being shortlisted from a pool of other equally abled candidates.
What next now?
Here is What You Should Expect in the Interview
- Expect to be judged by your first impression
Don’t be fooled that food science is all about working in factories and you don’t need to dress up for your interview.
You are most likely not going to take a practical factory test on your interview day. You may not even see the inside of the factory that day.
If you appear looking untidy or too casual, be sure that someone in the panel will pick that out and it may end up being the reason for selecting another candidate over you.
Also, don’t come in late or appear moody during the interview. Emotional intelligence is needed here.
- Expect both general knowledge, technical, and behavioral questions
General knowledge questions are those standard generic questions that seek to unravel your personality and help the recruiter know your background.
Since you have no real job experience, you are expected to give your educational background and any other personal information that might be relevant to the job.
Avoid giving extremely personal details and let the interviewers know if you are uncomfortable giving information you find intrusive.
Typical questions asked here include:
- Tell us about yourself or who is (your name)?
- What do you know about this company?
- Why do you think you are the best fit for this job?
- Why are you interested in working with us?
- What do you do in your free time?
- How did you get into food science?
Technical questions may not be very difficult at this entry-level stage of your career but the interviewers expect you to have a good grasp of the technical food science aspects you learned in class.
Make sure you understand the basics of food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, food packaging, and the technology for the specific food product the company deals in.
Questions in this category may include:
- What do you know about our products?
- What are the basic working principles of machine xyz?
- How do you inoculate microorganism xyz?
- What instrument will you use to analyze parameter xyz?
- What basic information can be found on a food packaging material?
- Do you know any of our competitor’s products?
- Can you briefly describe the process product xyz goes through in its production cycle?
As you can see, these are the questions that will separate the food science chaff from the food science wits; pun intended.
Here, it’s either you know or you don’t.
But this should not make you panic because there are ways around such questions that I will be sharing later on here.
Behavioral questions are usually asked to gauge if you are a good fit for the organization’s culture.
They want to know how your personality can blend into the organization’s mission.
Common questions asked here include?
- What value will you add to the organization?
- Describe your strengths and weaknesses
- Describe a situation that you demonstrated leadership
- How well do you work with teams?
- What is your biggest fear in this profession?
- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
There are many other questions they can ask here based on their organization’s culture and core values.
This is the point where you can also be given different workplace scenarios and asked to give your opinion, reaction, or how you would tackle the situation.
- Expect to be asked about your salary expectations
Let’s face it, salary is the main reason you are looking for a job.
Even if the expected salary was clearly stated in the job vacancy advert, the panel will still want to hear it directly from you.
Most entry-level candidates freak out at this important moment of the interview and end up getting the short hand of the stick.
Much as you may be inexperienced, you should be confident that you have gathered enough knowledge to bring something to the table.
All those years of mastering formulae and food concepts are worth something.
Read on because I will give some suggestions on how to ace this part of the interview.
- Expect to be asked to ask the interviewing panel a question
An interview should be a two-way traffic and should not feel like an FBI interrogation.
This is the only way both the interviewer and the candidate will benefit from the engagement.
Even if you are not directly asked to ask a question, you should make a point of raising a question to the panel.
- Expect the company to do a background check on you
Social media is all fun and games until it becomes a reason for you to be locked out of a great career opportunity.
It is okay to raise your opinions on social media platforms, but just remember to either tone down on the content you post or go anonymous.
Having your official name pop out in scandalous posts will be a definite deal-breaker for many recruiters.
This is the segment where referees also come in.
Your referees should be people who know you well and will have something good to say about you to prospective employers.
At the entry-level, you probably have a handful of people who have an idea of your career line.
You may have your college lecturer, a friend in the profession, your internship supervisor, or a close mentor as your referee.
I don’t think it is a good idea to put close family members on your referee list as their recommendations may come out as biased to recruiters.
I would recommend you contact your referees a day or so before your interview to avoid any misunderstandings.
Carry any recommendation letters from your previous internship or any volunteering activity you participated in.
- You may find rude and arrogant interviewers
Recruiters are just normal people, and just like anywhere else, you may encounter people operating on the negative side of the normality spectrum.
These may include rogue recruiters such as:
- Those who keep you waiting for hours without any communication.
- Panelists who ask insensitive or intrusive questions.
- Interviewers who want to harass you or openly sneers at your responses.
- Impatient interviewers who keep interrupting you.
- Disrespectful recruiters who answer their phones in the interview room or talk to each other about issues unrelated to the interview while the exercise is in progress.
I am sure many people have experienced worst interviewer behaviors than these.
If you see or hear anything that makes you uncomfortable, you can either raise it respectfully or politely decline the job offer since these are red flags that show the organizational culture you are about to get into.
What to Do
Here are some things you should do that may give you an edge over other candidates on the big day.
1. Do Thorough Company and Industry Research
Even though this is an entry-level position, don’t assume that the interviewer will be lenient and understand your complete lack of industry knowledge.
Your CV will get you the interview, but your grasp of the industry knowledge will get you the job.
Make a point of digging into food industry resources such as digital magazines and food organization websites such as the Food and Drug Association, Institute of Food Science and Technology, FAO, Codex Alimentarius, ISO, and Food Business News.
Know how the company’s products and services compare to other competitors in the industry.
Also, familiarize yourself with industry regulations and current trends in the specific area you want to get into.
On company research, check out the company’s social media pages, handles, and website to get acquainted with their operations, their vision, and their core values.
I have been checking out some websites for companies that I am familiar with and I have noticed that the website can tell you so much about a company’s culture.
A company’s website might even help you come up with a few questions that you can ask your interviewers if given the chance.
For instance, you can tell them you noticed something on their website that you think needs improvement. Then go ahead and propose what you think they can do to improve it.
Any recruiter will be pleased that you care about improving their organization.
You will also come out as a proactive candidate which may give you an edge over your competition.
Also, try to research and memorize the names of the company directors, top manager and more importantly the interview panel.
People feel good when you remember their names.
2. Listen more and talk less
Listen and critically digest the questions before giving your answers.
The question may sound simple but if you don’t read between the lines, you may miss the actual intent.
If asked to list examples of xyz, just list. If asked to give a scenario, elaborate but be brief.
Don’t get carried away and give unnecessary information. Just give short and precise answers.
It is always advisable to have a few scenarios that you have written and mastered before the interview on areas such as leadership, teamwork, being proactive, and integrity.
3. Practice answering some of these questions in a mock interview
There are numerous generic interview questions on the internet.
You are not guaranteed to get the same questions but you can use them to gauge your preparedness by reciting them to a family member, a friend, or in front of the mirror.
WARNING! Do not memorize the questions. You will go blank if something you memorized is slightly twisted.
Just use them to test your confidence and delivery skills.
4. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer
Interviewers don’t expect you to know the answers to every question they have.
They are looking at how good you can engage with others.
So don’t stress over that question you think you don’t have an answer to.
It is allowed to admit you don’t know the answer but mention your willingness to familiarize yourself with it.
You can also ask the interviewer to further elaborate the question if you think that may help.
If you want to get hints on how to go about hard questions, just watch how politicians or some industry experts answer questions on TV, radio, or podcast interviews.
5. What to do about the salary question
How much are your time, skills, and efforts worth?
Don’t pay too much attention to the salary scale on the job advert. Use it just as a guideline.
Also, food industry entry level salary scales differ depending on geographical location and even countries.
You can do some online research in your country, especially on websites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Robert half, Manpower, etc.
Many people always say you should give a range, but personally, I prefer to do a prior calculation of taxes, expected deductions, and other expenses within my acceptable limits and give a specific figure.
This figure should be on the higher limits and let the panel know that it is open for negotiations.
This move makes you appear as someone who knows exactly what you want.
6. Questions to ask the interview panel
Avoid asking technical food science questions if the panel is represented by people from different departments.
Ask questions related to the organization’s culture and general operations.
You can easily find questions to ask by going through the company website and social media pages.
Don’t ask too many questions. 1 or 2 questions should be enough. You will ask more if you get the job.
I hope this helps with your next interview. All the best as you get your footing into the aromatic world of the food industry.