Shirley Parsons, CEO of the largest specialist HSEQ (Health, Safety, Environment and Quality) recruitment agency in the UK, gives her advice on getting started and moving on in the health and safety profession, including tips for interviews, and what to do if you’re already working in health and safety and are ready for a new challenge.
If you are thinking about embarking on a new career in health and safety
Overall the market for health and safety (H&S) professionals is very good. There are several different ways of embarking on a career in H&S. You need to become qualified to progress and ideally this means becoming CMIOSH (a chartered member of IOSH) in the longer term.
Step by step …
- If you are currently working in a different role, it’s worth speaking to your current employer. Some of the best H&S people have come up through a different route, such as engineering. The HR manager or H&S manager would be a good starting point to see if there are any opportunities within your current company. You could also see if it’s possible to shadow the H&S manager to see if it’s the type of work you think you would enjoy.
- Consider starting with a NEBOSH certificate. It’s worth asking if your current employer will fund this. It can be done by distance learning or block release so you could carry on with your current job until you’ve completed it.
- The next step is to get some work experience before embarking on the NEBOSH diploma. It’s worth browsing the IOSH web site to investigate the routes to becoming qualified.
- Alternatively, if you are looking to go to University, then there are BSc degree courses available in Occupational Health Safety & Environment for both school leavers and mature students. If you already have a first degree, then you could consider an MSc in Health and Safety.
- During all the time you are studying you need to be developing your soft skills because H&S is essentially a sales role, involving influencing and good communication skills. It’s also a good idea to do as much networking as possible because as a general rule of thumb - it’s not what you know but who you know that’s important.
If you are already in a health and safety career
Answer the following questions:
- Where am I now? How long am I prepared to stay in this role?
- Where do I want to be in terms of location, package, prospects etc?
- How will I close the gap?
- Am I CMIOSH?
- Do I need to upskill my qualifications first?
- How long will it take?
- Am I prepared to wait for the right role or do I need to take something quickly? (For example if you’ve been made redundant then an interim role could be ideal while you find the right move).
- Do I want to change jobs and take the best that’s available or do I want my next move to be something that I’m sure will be right for me?
Talk to a specialist recruitment consultant
A recruitment consultant will partner with you to understand your drivers for change and determine the best move for you at the right time. It may take several months for the right role to come up but, providing you have the time, it will be worthwhile waiting.
They will also be aware of roles which are not generally on the market, due for example, to being confidential. They will also have a window on the market and be able to contact you about roles which are coming up in a few months’ time.
It’s worth bearing in mind that employers generally don’t like ‘job hoppers’. If someone has moved every 2 years without a good reason they become suspicious as to how long they are going to stay in their new role. To move every 5 years or more is logical in a H&S career as moving to a different, often larger organisation, can be required to progress. Be sure that you are genuinely looking for a new role and your family circumstances support this.
Key point: Make a decision and stick to it!
Recruitment consultants are here to help you find your first or next career move. It is vital that you work together as a partnership. The recruitment consultant will need to know that you are genuinely looking for a new role and how they can help to find that special job.
Many recruitment consultants will want to meet you before putting you forward - after all you are representing them when you attend an interview. Please treat this as a serious meeting, prepare and dress appropriately. It can make all the difference as to whether or not you are submitted for a role. They will have your best interest at heart as it is very motivational to find someone their next career role.
One aspect in the process is to prepare well for your interview. Below are a few tips to guide you.
- First impressions count: your interview starts when you arrive at the gatehouse.
- Research the company and job role.
- Preparation is key.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer. Don’t ask questions that are answered on the company’s web site.
- Create a checklist of your strengths and achievements.
- Be prepared to answer standard interview questions.
- Have examples to support your answers.
- Sell yourself.
- When it comes to your appearance play it safe.
- Remember eye contact and body language. Smile!
- Be positive!
Examples of questions you could ask:
- What are the key priorities in the first few months of the job?
- What criteria will be used to assess my performance?
- What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the person placed in this role?
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- How would you describe the organisational culture/ working environment?
Things to avoid:
- arriving late or too early;
- criticising your current employer or colleagues;
- bluffing your answers;
- being rude to the receptionist;
- ignorance of your own CV; and
- being negative.
If you are asked to present:
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
- Practise, Practise, Practise.
- Take a memory stick, paper copies and handouts.
- If appropriate, email your presentation.
Work closely with your recruitment consultant – they will have met the client before and will be able to provide guidance on how to approach the interview. At all times keep them in the picture of your circumstances and advise them in plenty of time if you intend to withdraw your application.
Shirley Parsons is the CEO of Shirley Parsons Associates.