From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2014

Attitudes and Aptitudes Essential in Employee Selection

by Tim Donald

Attitudes and Aptitudes Essential in Employee Selection

Pre-employment screening of job candidates is important to make certain that companies get the employees they want for food safety positions, according to experts in the fields of recruitment, evaluation, and resource development.

While candidates’ experience and abilities will always be central to their aptitude for a given position, experts emphasize that the potential employee’s attitudes, beliefs, and values can be equally important in determining whether a person has the “right fit” for a job.

“We look first of all for experience, and then we look at education secondarily, but we also try to get someone who understands the Costco culture,” says Craig Wilson, vice president for food safety and quality assurance at Costco Wholesale in Issaquah, Wash. “We have a dynamic operating culture at Costco, and we need to have somebody who will fit into that.”

Ascertaining the necessary skills, attitudes, and beliefs of candidates for food safety positions in the food industry often falls to recruitment or workforce development organizations. Food Quality & Safety spoke to several experts in these types of companies to explore what qualities are most important in finding the best candidates for these vital posts.

Determining Attitudes

Pre-employment screening is one part of a systematic approach to ensuring food safety, quality, and security, notes Preston Hicks, PhD, LPC, vice president of resource development and evaluation for the Global Food Protection Institute (GFPI) in Battle Creek, Mich. Training and education can provide a candidate with the skills necessary for a position, he says, but screening is key to determining whether that person has the correct intentions for use of those assets, as well as defining his or her unique learning path.

“At the front end, you try to ensure that the applicant has the sheer knowledge, skills, and abilities you need, or can fast acquire those. You try to create systems that provide quality training for that prospective employee before they even become an employee,” Dr. Hicks says. “But when you talk about screening in food safety, it comes down to the person’s intent. What does the person do with that knowledge, those attributes?”

Recruitment and workforce development firms have developed sophisticated software systems and testing regimens to help determine the attitudes of job candidates before food companies commit to hiring them for food safety positions, Dr. Hicks notes.

“These systems create a benefit for the company on the front end, so they don’t spend money on training and end up not getting a good return on their investment,” he says.

One such company is Educational Data Systems Inc. (EDSI), in Dearborn, Mich. EDSI performs candidate screening and recruiting initiatives for client companies in food and agriculture as well as other fields.

“We usually start with an assessment of what the customer’s needs are,” says Kenneth Mall, managing director for EDSI. “We try to define what kinds of skills the company is looking for, but also what type of person would be successful in their environment. When we start looking at candidates, we want to assess not only what skills they bring, but also their personality profile.”

To accomplish this, EDSI uses a range of tests, depending on the job and the company’s needs. The screening battery may include an aptitude assessment (Bennett or Ramsay), a basic math and reading level evaluation such as the Tests of Adult Basic Skills (TABE), and a predictive index to establish a personality profile.

William S. Maywood

“Generally, I like to see that the certification was updated within the candidate’s last position.”

William S. Maywood,
owner, Careers in Sanitation

Predicting Behavior

Another firm involved in pre-employment screening is MuRF Systems, a consultancy in Amarillo, Texas, that assists companies with workplace relationship issues. Jody N. Holland, owner and president of MuRF Systems, says one of the aims of screening is to try to predict potential employees’ behavior before committing to a hire.

“Most people are fired because they don’t have the right personal makeup to be in that position; they don’t fit,” Holland says. “Companies normally hire people based on skill, not fit, but both are important. We really should hire based on fit and skill.”

Holland and his colleagues have designed psychometric testing to help determine fit and predict a candidate’s behavior in the workplace. He gives the example of hiring a manager to oversee quality control personnel.

“You need to know that you can predict the way that person is going to behave in managing, the way they are going to inspect everything that their food safety people have done, so that nothing gets missed,” Holland explains. “The problem a lot of organizations have is, they hire somebody who went to school for this type of position, so they’re educated, but they don’t have the behavioral makeup to say ‘I’m going to pay attention to detail, I’m going to verify and double-verify, and make sure that everything stays exactly on track.’ And that is what they need for success.”

Psychometric testing can increase the odds of choosing the right person for such a position, Holland says. He cites a study by researchers at Harvard Business School suggesting that the traditional hiring process results in a 15 percent chance of making the right decision, while use of behavioral interviewing, psychometric testing, and background checks boosts the odds of a good hire by up to 60 percent.

The first step in finding a good candidate, he says, is to create a psychological profile of someone already employed at the company who has demonstrated that he or she is the right fit for the job in question.

“Within a plant, say you have one supervisor who has been phenomenal, but he wants to retire,” Holland explains. “We test him with a psychometric test that takes about 20 minutes. We measure his behavioral makeup, which predicts his behavior patterns. And we measure his work-type interest, which determines what he pays attention to. Then we can measure other people against that psychological profile. The process of matching candidates to that established profile is relatively easy.”

His recommendation is to look for a 70 percent or higher match between the existing worker’s profile and the job applicant’s profile. “Then you can modify the rest of those behavior patterns in house,” Holland says. “You almost never get a 100 percent match.”

The psychometric tests developed, validated, and used by MuRF are based on previous research such as William Marston’s work on behavior prediction (he developed the DISC assessment: Dominance, inducement, submission, compliance) and John Holland’s profiles of work-type interest, Holland says.

“The goal is you want to predict what a person will be like at work, before you put them in that position,” he adds. “We look at our service as for employers.”

Kenneth Mall

“We want to assess not only what skills they bring, but also their personality profile.”

Kenneth Mall,
managing director, EDSI

Online Matching

A different approach to online matching is offered by Careers in Sanitation, based in Chalfont, Pa. is an online job board, similar to or, specializing in recruitment for food safety and sanitation personnel.

“It’s a very niched job board,” says William S. Maywood, III, owner of Careers in Sanitation. “When companies have an opening, they can go online and post their job in front of individuals who are searching for a job in sanitation or food safety. It allows employers to directly connect with individuals who already have a knowledge of the industry or who are seeking to come into the industry—whether a college grad or someone in a production job who wants to get more into the quality end.”

The company makes its job-board services known to students at academic institutions that offer food microbiology and food safety programs, and it promotes to employers the fact that it holds a database of active job seekers, Maywood says. The company also contracts to provide screening and recruitment services for employers.

In screening for candidates, the criteria vary depending on what a specific company is looking for. “Many companies are concerned with making sure their managers have an understanding of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program,” he says, “but in the past year or more there has been increased interest in the BRC Global Standards; companies are moving toward the BRC standard, and they want their managers to have that background.”

Also important is how recently a certification has been obtained.

“We want to make sure that a candidate’s background is relevant and up to date,” Maywood says. “We see a lot of candidates who say went through HACCP certification in 2000. Well, in the past 13 years a lot has changed–not to mention in the past 13 months. Generally, I like to see that the certification was updated within the candidate’s last position.”

Usually, entry-level candidates finishing a college degree program will not have a company’s desired certification, but if the right fit is found, the company may sponsor a candidate to obtain the certificate, Maywood says. “That’s often a good tactic for the employer because it shows the person coming into the job that the company is looking for the best in their future,” he says.

In the age of social media, Maywood says he instructs job seekers to “scrub” their Facebook and other social media pages when seeking jobs. He also tells employers that they cannot ask potential employees for usernames and passwords for their personal social media accounts as a condition for employment.

“The question comes up all the time: Is this legal? The answer is No, not unless it’s a government or law enforcement position, and even that varies by state. So we tell everyone, don’t ask for it,” he says.

Preston Hicks

“There have to be protocols that people pass to get these jobs in the food industry.”

Preston Hicks,
VP of resource development and evaluation, GFPI

Component of Risk Management

Pre-employment screening for food safety workers is an important component of risk management for companies, notes Dr. Hicks of GFPI.

“With the globalization of the food industry, we have to be vigilant in who we hire and how we train,” Dr. Hicks says. “Screening has to be rigorous. There have to be protocols that people pass to get these jobs in the food industry.”

In a way, everyone involved in the food industry is involved in food safety, he adds. In addition to screening, proper employee training is needed to ensure that an integrated food system provides safe food for consumers.

“A person who’s well trained is a security measure,” Dr. Hicks says. “Their knowledge, skills, and abilities allow them to see when something is not right. If we are not training people properly, they don’t know what to look for, don’t know when a deviation warrants attention, or stopping a line, or pulling a product. Quality trained people, both on the regulatory side and in the private sector, are absolutely critical to our line of defense for food safety.”

Donald is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach him at




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