Inside knowledge

What do employers really want from candidates for OSH posts?

What do employers want from candidates for OSH posts?
Image credit: © iStock/LeoWolfert

Despite the abundance of professional recruiters, many organisations fill job positions directly, through advertisements, job boards or LinkedIn. For candidates responding to these ads, the first barrier to negotiate is the in-house recruiters’ sift, which is typically a review of CVs for keywords or experiences. Sometimes it is the busy recruiting manager who will review the CVs. Either way, the challenge for applicants remains how to stand out from the crowd without a recruitment firm championing them.

Getting on to the long list is only part of it. You then have to navigate the selection process, whether that is a formal interview, a “fireside chat”, an assessment centre, psychometric testing, or a combination of all of these.

Specialist recruitment firms can offer insight into navigating these methods but their advice is secondhand. My experience as a recruiting manager in commercial organisations is that there are innovative ways for candidates to go through the selection process easily and give themselves the best chance of landing the job.

Marketing you

The way organisations recruit has changed in recent years. Five years ago magazines like this would have had job ads filling their latter pages. Now the internet has made it far easier and cheaper for organisations to advertise their roles online but also to research potential candidates through websites such as LinkedIn.

Imagine yourself as a “brand”: what do you want and what do people think of you? There are two common areas where people fall down. The first is their photos. If you’re trying to project yourself as not a “traditional safety bod”, don’t post a picture showing you suited and booted in the latest personal protective equipment with a clipboard in hand. Go instead for a clear head-and-shoulders shot with a simple background, and use the cropping tools to centre yourself.

The second potential pitfall is endorsements and recommendations. These should be beneficial, but on LinkedIn helpful people will endorse you for things they have never seen you do. Think through what the endorsements and their use say about you. Likewise, a recommendation from an ex-boss or someone you’ve worked with on a project can be helpful. Less valuable are those where it is obvious you have written someone a positive recommendation and they have returned the favour. Be selective with the ones you ask for and remember that you don’t have to use a recommendation you’ve been given if it doesn’t fit with your brand.

Your profile should be succinct and relevant. Outline your role but don’t list everything you do. You want to provide enough information to give a sense of your experience and to make whoever is sifting the CVs to think, “I want to find out more, I’m going to contact them”. Once they get in touch, you can open a dialogue, and at this stage you’ve just massively increased the chances of them looking properly at your CV. You also have a potential sponsor, someone who will speak to the recruiting manager about you and your conversation with them.

On notice

How can you get noticed when your application is in response to a general advertisement? Seize the opportunity to get on the organisation’s radar. Even if you are directed to apply through an online portal, find out the role reports to and make contact with them. Even if your skills and experiences are not compatible, many will look at your CV because you have made it personal.

Think about the role you are applying for. Could you showcase yourself differently (as well as submitting your CV as directed, of course)? If you are applying for a role biased heavily towards communication, why not send a memory stick to the recruiting manager with some examples of your work? If the position involves coaching for safety performance, why not include some testimonials from those you have coached previously?

Now think about the content of your CV and its flow. You should adopt a format that says “this is what I’ve done, and here is where I’ve done it”. Get that in first because the sad fact is, faced with a big pile of CVs, people tend to skim-read them and return only to those with something that stands out. You could have the most relevant experience for the role, but if your employment history is on page three after your qualifications, you run the risk of it being missed.

Listing every safety and health course you have ever done is normally a waste. Unless those courses are recent and relevant to the role for which you are applying, they are a distraction.

Most roles at any given level have similar responsibilities; a safety adviser in one organisation will do pretty much the same as a safety adviser in another. Therefore, there is no real need to list what you do – unless there is something exceptional worth highlighting. Recruiting managers are more interested in what you have achieved and how you have done it. Selecting the right person to join their team and their organisation is an important task; they don’t want to get it wrong. Saying what you’ve achieved and how you did it gives them confidence in you and provides a topic with which to start a conversation at the interview.

Selection pack

Selection methods used by organisations differ, and there are plenty of good sources of information about how you can approach them. That said, there are a few things that none seem to cover.

Of course you need to research the organisation but don’t just learn by heart its annual report and accounts. You will provide more insight for yourself and the recruiting manager if you have looked at the organisation from different angles. What do current and past employees say about the business? Glassdoor and similar websites are helpful for this as long as you remember that disgruntled employees vent their frustrations on them and can present a less-than-fair picture.

What is the organisation’s “vibe” like? Perhaps spend half an hour talking to some colleagues and customers at one of its outlets or use your network to connect with someone already there. You could also be a customer yourself. Playing back to the recruiting manager the experience you had and how that had impressed you enough to want to join the organisation is good interview material.

It is also pretty much guaranteed that at some point during the selection process you will be asked these questions in one way or another:

  • What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
  • How do you engage the unengaged?
  • Thinking about your last project, what would you do differently to improve the outcome and why?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • Why should we pick you? What have you got that others haven’t?

Time spent thinking about how you answer these questions is important. Doing so helps you to respond in the most positive light. Always answer the question you have been asked, not the one you’ve rehearsed, although you should aim to be nimble enough to make things fit.

Of all the elements that make up the job recruitment and selection process, one of the biggest is “fit”. There is no guarantee you will fit into the organisation, into the team or whether you and the recruiting manager will get on. You cannot influence it and nor should you try. Anyone who has worked in an organisation, a team or for a boss they did not like will tell you that. So, whatever happens, throughout the whole process be yourself. That way both parties will know what they are getting.


Richard Byrne, CMIOSH, is safety director for Travis Perkins

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