Recruiting for Executive Positions in Food & Drink

Importance of the Person Specification

Quite often, the first step companies take to recruit an executive for their Food business is to write up a job description, or more likely use the existing one which may be a few years old, then place a job advert on the company website or in the press. 

Usually, companies view the Person Specification as secondary to the Job Description and the Person Specification is given limited credence with just a few lines at the bottom of the Job Description. I would argue that in executive recruitment this is the wrong approach.
The job description focuses on the role and responsibilities, but you can almost take it as a ‘given’ that if you have invited the candidate to attend an interview, they already have experience of doing a similar job. So, you know they have the right experience before you meet them, however, what you don’t know about them is what type of person they are, and this is what makes the Person Specification so important.

Prior to recruiting for a senior role within the Food Industry, I would advise the senior leadership team and other key employees sit down and draw up a Person Specification covering the soft-skills, such as, What they want the new employee to do, How they want them to go about doing it, What attributes would enhance the existing team, What skills would complement the existing team, What type of character would fit-in with the business, What common shared-values should a new employee be able to demonstrate, What type of personality has shown to work well within the business, What type of management style do employees respond to within the business, and generally, can a potential employee demonstrate empathy, relationship-building and communications skills.

Once you have created your Person Specification, you need to think about questions to ask the interviewee to enable them to demonstrate whether they have (or don’t have) the soft-skills that will align them to the business. Interview questions that allow the candidate to give examples of specific situations are a good way of learning more about the individual and I would advise getting all of the senior team involved in the interview process, even if this means the candidate meeting several people over two or three interviews. 

To gauge their soft-skills I would recommend crafting interview questions that will allow the candidate to give examples that demonstrates their soft-skills in the following areas: communication skills, cognitive and emotional empathy, conflict resolution skills, listening ability, delegation ability, critical thinking, motivational skills, employee recognition skills, problem-solving skills, work ethic, decision-making skills, teamworking ability, leadership qualities, flexibility, adaptability, social skills.

Managing the Executive Recruitment Process

The Executive you hire is going to play a key role in shaping the future success of the business, so you need to take your time and get it right. Bringing someone in who only lasts a short time reflects badly on the business in the eyes of prospective employees and makes hiring a second time more difficult. Don’t compromise just because it is becoming a hassle and the role needs filling, this will just cause you more problems later on. Make sure you properly analyse the pros and cons of each candidate, focusing on their abilities to do the job and their soft-skills as identified in the Person Specification.

Treat candidates with respect. These are senior food professionals who have taken time out to meet with you and may have travelled long-distances and booked holidays to attend the interview/s. Keep candidates up-to-date on the recruitment timeframe. If it is going to take 3-weeks before a decision is made, let them know. One of the major irritations of candidates engaging in the job application process is a lack of communication. Many companies will spend 2 hours interviewing the candidate, then fail to invest 5 minutes sending an email with an update.

As a line Manager or director, you spend a lot of time with your senior people, so you want to be able to get along with them. We recommend Food & Drink businesses invite prospective senior hires out for dinner with the senior team, to see how they behave in a social setting. A key reason a good hire works out is because they interact well and enjoy the company of their colleagues. When you have a meal and a drink with someone you can read what type of person they are and see how this matches up to how they came across in the interview. A meeting in an informal or social setting will allow you to learn more about their interests outside of work, how they approach life both professionally and personally and if they share similar values and outlook to that of the existing team.

When making the decision of whom to offer a senior role, have a healthy regard for gut instinct but also think about what the business needs from the hire, the process and how each candidate has performed. Don’t procrastinate as good senior people are in demand and are unlikely to have other opportunities to explore. Also, don’t make the decision independently, if you go through the process advocated in this insight, the prospective candidate would have met the senior team at an interview and dinner. Tap into the thoughts of the senior team. What did they think of each candidate, who did they like, why did they like them, who could do the job, who is most likely to stay long-term, what are the reservations or concerns.   

If the senior team can come to a consensus on who the outstanding candidate is, that is an ideal scenario. Where there is a lack of consensus find out why there is a difference of opinion and attempt to iron out these differences by deciding what the most important two or three factors are in the hiring decision and make the decision based on these factors. 

Consider Using a Professional Recruiter

Operational and Commercial success within a Food & Drink business can largely depend on the strategies devised and delivered by key executives such as the General Manager, Sales Director or Operations Director. The selection process for these key roles needs to be remarkably rigorous and is generally time-consuming.

Sometimes, Food & Drink businesses do not have the time or manpower to commit to such a meticulous executive search and recruitment process. This is where Food & Drink recruitment specialists can assist. At Food Careers we specialise in hiring professionals for mid-to-senior level appointments within the Food & Drink Industry and are experienced in effectively handling the issues arising from recruiting executives at this level.

Executive recruitment can be challenging, as Food & Drink businesses will fight to keep top talent within their business. Where a specialist recruiter can assist is by harnessing their network of senior people within the industry, gaining referrals, researching recommended candidates, and proactively targeting passive candidates who may not be actively seeking a new role but could be tempted for the right opportunity.

Food Careers has the expertise to identify the best available senior talent and reach out to the most qualified and experienced talent across different disciplines and functions within the Food & Drink sector.

Author: Chris Burns, Food Careers Ltd