Author: Mengqi Guo, Food Safety and Operations at Amazon
It’s my pleasure to share my food safety career adventure with those who are currently looking to start their career in the food industry through Women In Food Safety group. My career adventure started with an internship opportunity that I obtained through my college – Rutgers University.
Searching for the first internship is always the most difficult. I remembered, back then, when I hit loads of walls before I got interviewed and accepted by a local meat manufacturer as their part-time QA intern. I came across the opportunity by seeing a job post at college and reaching out to the job poster even it was not intended for an intern role. Fortunately, the hiring manager forwarded my resume to their QA department and I got a chance to meet with the QA mgr. He offered the opportunity to work as a part-time intern. My journey as a food safety professional officially started when I stepped into that manufacturing site for the first time. I got to know and practice aspects of FSQA like GMPs, CCPs, environment monitoring, pre-ops. And then I moved on to other courses of internships in a burger company and a flavor company, referred by my labmate and roommate respectively. I learned tons of practical experience outside of school through those internships. Meanwhile, I attained HACCP and SQF certifications that are some of the key industry certificates. I highly recommend achieving some professional certifications and expose yourself to the industry as early as possible.
2. Make choices and find a mentor
When I approached to graduation from the grad school, I encountered a huge challenge trying to find a full-time job, not mentioning the working visa limitation makes it harder for an international student. I kept the track of my application and response from the applied companies at the beginning, and I ended up dropping it at one point because there were too many of it. I spent a whole summer searching job but ended up without any solid offer. Fortunately, I met a recruiter from Kerry Ingredient at IFT recruiting event in 2016. I got encouraged to apply for the Kerry Graduate Trainee Program based on my background. I successfully got the offer after 3 rounds of interviews. I got 2 offers out of the IFT conference recruiting event and I moved on with Kerry Trainee Program (If you don’t know that and you are a new graduate looking for a food industry job, check that out). I decided to move on with Kerry because it’s one of the leading companies in the food industry. They helped with my relocation to Seattle and I started as a QA supervisor trainee at the Seattle manufacturing facility. Over there, I met one of my great career mentors (my line manager) and she passed on her knowledge of the facility, management skill, working commitment to me and I still carry on a lot of work habits from her till today. The program was meant to prepare you to be a QA supervisor (the program entails other various career paths) and I got promoted to a supervisor after a year. This valuable experience built as the foundation for me as an FS professional to handle the production issues, involve in the audits, and lead a team.
3. Keep your eyes open
I was reached out by a recruiter to try an FSQA role at Amazon in 2018. Although I wasn’t too familiar with Amazon Food business, I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to interview with a top-notch tech company, I was very excited about it. Fortunately, I received an offer after many rounds of the interview process. Amazon is advanced in applying technologies into the existing business. Thus, I got to learn many tools/systems developed by the Tech team to be applied within the food safety team. In addition, besides focusing on my own responsibilities, I got to talk to people from different backgrounds and get connected with them within the Amazon family. Along with the journey, I met multiple mentors who are good listeners and provide many valuable advice for my career advancement. I initially started the role in the team to support manufacturing/suppliers. As Amazon has multiple channels of food business and the culture encourages people to move in different roles to keep learning. I then had an interest in the retail food safety as I never worked in the retail store operational environment. Once I determined I wanted to try something new, I started to explore opportunities and came across a Program Manager role related to retail store Operations Compliance that I just started this year. It’s a new and challenging world for me as a PM, not only that I need to have the subject matter knowledge, but also I need to deal with many metrics/dashboards to measure the success of the program and bridge the gap. It brings me to other aspects of the compliance field which is very data driven, and I didn’t experience before. I am very excited to get to know a new area, work in the fast-growing team, and hope I will get a hang of it!
So here is my career adventure so far as a young professional. There are some valuable lessons helped me through and I would like to share with you, and hope you will find them helpful:
Get connected – I got intern / full-time via multiple ways: approached to job poster by myself, referred by my friend, went to the conference event and etc. Thus, get yourself exposed to college recruiting events, professional conferences, local supplier events are very helpful. Connect and talk to those industry professionals to learn about the industry. You will never know who may relay you some intern or job opportunities. On the other hand, you will never know if you like working in a food facility until you start working there. Meanwhile, keep your resume and LinkedIn up to date and practice on interview skills.
Maintain a network works the same at the workplace, I continue pushing myself to walk out of my comfort zone to reach out to people that I admire for feedback and advice at work. Sometimes, I felt embarrassed, but soon I realized many people are happy to help and share their thoughts. If you are lucky to find a great mentor, make sure you follow up on her/his advice so that your mentor seeing your growth. (Actually, I got to know Melody from one of the SQF conferences years ago and keep connected since then!)
Deliver high-quality work – Be a good performer no matter you are at an interview, an internship or everyday work. Always deliver the high quality of your work at your best. We build trust because of the quality of our work as people will like to collaborate with you and leaders like to give more feedback and valuable projects to whom they trust.
Be more vocal – Speak up and be confident to share your voice no matter if it’s a group meeting or if it’s just a one on one meeting with your line manager. My manager shared a practice with me that she is continuously doing, and so am I: force myself to speak up at least once a week in a meeting where I would feel timid to share my thought. As a woman and an introvert, I keep reminding myself to be more vocal and assertive.
Keep learning – Leverage the college and company resources to learn new knowledge and experience. It can be a various format like getting a certificate, learning a new tool, take an online course, finding a mentor, attending a forum, reading a new business report, or even just a casual chat with your friends/co-worker/leader. But it’s important to keep learning and keep enhancing your capabilities and skills no matter it’s a technical skill or a soft skill.
Summarize your work and recap – Many companies nowadays want candidates to use STAR ((Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to demonstrate how they handle some scenarios. They would like to predict your success in the new role by evaluating your past performance. Therefore, I developed the habit of summarizing my work milestone, achievement, or failures once in a while and recapping the learning from the success/loss. It’s beneficial that I won’t realize how much I have achieved and how many lessons I have taken until I write them down. It also works out for college students to summarize their academic learnings, some events you organized, etc. It will serves as a good source of truth in your future interviews as well.