Tips from the top: CVs and interviews for the safety professional
Matt Powell-Howard pulls together advice for a great health and safety CV.
The discipline of health and safety has evolved rapidly in recent years. The attributes that employers seek in health and safety professionals are changing significantly and the clipboard-wielding, tick-box focused health and safety manager has become a thing of the past.
Health – both physical and mental – has assumed its rightful position alongside safety in its demands for resources and attention, and the potential remit of the professional has expanded. Many health and safety professionals now count environment, quality, security and/or facilities among their responsibilities, not to mention emergency planning and business continuity.
Even where these responsibilities are not designated explicitly, employers often expect an understanding of the key principles.
Just as significant as the broadening of professional responsibilities, is the acknowledgement that health and safety is as much about cultural leadership, employee engagement and effective communication, as it is about knowing the legislation and setting policy.
So, to stand out from the crowd and demand recruiters' attention, a health and safety professional's CV needs to do much more than list job roles; it needs to highlight soft skills, and summarise how a candidate has used their training and qualifications to make a real difference.
Health – both physical and mental – has assumed its rightful position alongside safety in its demands for resources and attention
If your CV is looking on the long side, Nigel Clamp, Group Head of Health and Safety for Breedon Group plc, suggests preparing two variations: “A mini version, as some companies like that, then a ‘War and Peace’ option – and offer both.”
Qualifications are the hard currency of CVs and demonstrate an individual's practical knowledge and their ability to study and learn. However, some additional context should be provided to reveal to a potential employer the contribution that an individual's work has made in previous roles.
Recruiters who aren't themselves experts in the subject may not appreciate the contribution that effective health and safety management can make to the bottom line, so it is important to be clear about achievements.
“Ensure the value you brought to a project, task or organisation is clear,” urges James Pomeroy, Group Health, Safety, Environment and Security Director, Lloyd’s Register. “Far too many CVs focus on responsibilities and qualifications, not what value these competencies delivered.”
Of course, the usual rules apply to health and safety professionals as they do to all CVs, and it's worth considering the usual checklist of features of a strong CV:
- Confident but not arrogant
- Personal (don't be afraid to cover extra-curricular interests and transferable skills)
- Tailored (to the role)
- Well presented
And finally, if you’re not sure that your CV is hitting the mark, Mihai Postaru, Health, Safety and Environment Manager at Mazzraty, suggests seeking a second opinion. “I’ve got a list of recommendations from a seasoned OHS professional. So my advice is look for constructive criticism from someone in a position of knowledge; this could be someone in HR or OHS.”
The right CV
If done well, a CV can be a golden ticket to the next stage of the recruitment process: the interview. These often cause anxiety for candidates, but most pitfalls can be avoided with preparation.
“Have a look at the company’s website and learn about them,” advises Trystan Lewis-Williams, Senior Health and Safety Advisor (North West), Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. “What are the main types of risks that may be involved with their work and industry? Try to pre-empt the type of questions you may be asked and how you would answer.”
Nerves are to be expected – “From experience I know that being an interviewer can be nerve-wracking too!” – but try to relax and be yourself. Interviewers at good companies will be wanting to get to know you, not catch you out. Interviews nowadays focus more on the type of person you are and the interchangeable skills and experience you have rather than on technical health and safety knowledge.”
Robert Jukes, HSE Manager at Wax Lyrical, advises candidates to have questions of their own prepared: “If you have properly researched the role you should have plenty of questions to ask. These will help you understand more about the job, the resources being provided and the strategy that they wish to implement. Questions will allow you to see if the role is a good fit for you or not.”
“You are interviewing your potential employer as much as they are interviewing you,” adds Su Corrin, Senior Health, Safety and Risk Manager at the Football Association. “Be confident; you have already passed the initial screening process. If you don’t understand a question, ask them to explain.”
Karl Simons, Chief Health, Safety and Security Office at Thames Water, agrees: “It’s a two-way street, so ask questions. Being curious is an important quality in a health and safety professional, so the employer will not judge you harshly for it. They will expect and relish it.”
Risks are always changing, so health and safety professionals need to demonstrate their agility and openness to learning. As Neil Fisher, Health, Safety and Environment Practitioner, Works Delivery Special Projects, LNE & EM, Network Rail, puts it: “Just be yourself; don’t fabricate or exaggerate your accomplishments.
“Being a safety professional is a lifelong learning career. Nobody ever knows everything.”
About the author
Matt Powell-Howard is Head of Strategy at NEBOSH.
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