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Get the Safety Career You Want With These Expert Tips

Sep 21, 2022
Two men shaking hands in an office and discussing how to establish a safety career

Now is a great time to start or advance your safety career.

One important indicator is that U.S. manufacturing has added 1 million jobs since 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, creating new opportunities for safety and health professionals.

Another is that the majority of safety professionals are now age 55 or older and looking ahead toward retirement.

All this leaves the job market wide open for emerging professionals working toward a safety career. A market favoring candidates can also help safety leaders looking to expand or upgrade their roles within their current organizations.

Those looking to capitalize on these conditions can take some advice from two hiring and job search experts who work specifically with safety and health professionals: John McBride, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, director of national recruiting at Consentium Search, and Massimo Navarretta, admissions representative for Stanbridge University. They each presented recent webinars on career development, hosted by our Hispanic Safety Professionals Common Interest Group.

Here are eight key tips to take away.

1. Consider a Safety Certification

Beyond getting a bachelor’s degree (which McBride says 95% of the jobs he handles require), consider earning certifications in and outside the safety profession. Earning certifications “puts you in an elite group when being evaluated for a job,” McBride says. “It assures a non-safety professional who is in the chain above you — who is not really in a position to evaluate your skills — that you’ve been tested by a third party.”

2. Avoid Resume Red Flags

“Your resume is a foot in the door,” Navarretta says, so it’s important to make a good first impression.

  • One of the biggest red flags for employers: Poor formatting. Ensure your resume looks good and is easy to read. Consider using templates to help.
  • Customize your resume to each job and mirror the verbiage the company uses (“environmental health and safety” vs. “occupational safety and health,” for example).
  • Use an executive summary of four to six sentences to synthesize your achievements and interpersonal skills — but avoid cover letters unless the application demands it, Navarretta says.
  • Deploy correct and precise numbers carried out to two decimal places. Saying that your total recordable incident rate dropped from 8% to 6% looks like an estimate and may draw skepticism, but rarely will 8.12% or 6.31% be challenged, McBride says.

3. Keep a Master “I Love Me” File

It’s important to keep your resume current whether you’re thinking of leaving your job or not, McBride says. He suggests doing this by keeping an “I love me” file. Every time something goes right, you get a compliment or new positive results emerge, keep track in a file and remember to include relevant wins on your resume.

4. Demonstrate Competence

“Don’t ever confuse years of experience with competence,” McBride says. You want to have results that demonstrate your behavior, where you led or participated in successful initiatives.

Navarretta recommends taking Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Online Talent Assessment because it helps you understand how your strengths can be applied outside of strict job roles.

5. Remember That Perception Affects Reality

It may not be right or fair, but perception has a real impact on your career. If you are struggling with the way colleagues perceive you (perhaps they view you as a safety cop), work on changing the conversation. First, try to learn why any negative impressions exist. Listen to the people on your team and “use communication skills to change those people’s perceptions of you — or at least get them to be open-minded,” McBride says.

It’s also important to confront your own biases and perceptions about individuals or groups of people at your workplace (perhaps you think a worker is lazy or management doesn’t care about safety). “Make adjustments to the way you communicate to mitigate those perceptions as much as possible,” McBride says. “Give them the benefit of the doubt.”

6. “Kick Some Ask”

Learning how to ask workers the right questions can help you develop a much more effective safety program, propelling your career, McBride says. Asking questions such as, What do you need? What can I do for you? or Do you need help? often elicits a dead-end response: No, I’m good.

Instead, ask questions that create conversation such as, Are there any safety programs that are getting in the way of being productive on the job? or Is anything standing in the way of wearing your PPE? That can especially help when trying to understand why they are not following safety rules. Be ready for answers that change your perception, McBride adds.

7. Promote Yourself

Safety professionals are great at accepting responsibility when something goes wrong, but they are bad at taking credit for success, McBride says. Take credit with phrases such as, we did this together or the team and I.

8. Count Down From Five

Navarretta sums up his resume-building and interviewing advice with this numbered list:

  • 5 Ps: Proper practice prevents poor performance.
  • 4 Cs: Keep your resume clear, concise, consistent and custom.
  • 3 Ys: In any interview, you want to explain why you, why this job and why now.
  • Tous les Jours: This is French for every day, which Navaretta emphasizes as a reminder that we all have daily opportunities to improve.
  • 1 shot: You only have one chance.

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