How to recruit for health and safety jobs

When recruiting for well-rounded health and safety professionals there a number of capabilities, questions and answers that HR personnel and recruiting managers should listen out for. Laura Cleaver, HSE Recruitment gives us some pointers.

Health and Safety Recruitment Checklist image2

As someone who has been in health and safety recruitment for seven years – I can categorically say that recruitment within the industry has never been more competitive.

With a wealth of experienced candidates available how do you know who to hire and how can you be sure that you are confident in that decision?

With that in mind, SHP have asked me to share a few top secret tips of the trade with you in this blog and downloadable checklist – Sshhh!

Fill out the form to the right to download your copy of the checklist.


1. Commercial Mindset

Commercial mind-set has never been more important. In this day and age, companies need candidates that are able to think of Health and Safety as an integral part of the profitability of the company, as well as an ethical concern. This can massively be demonstrated at interview stage. It is important to delve into a candidates’ achievements to see that they understand how Safety can impact the bottom line – asking questions about budgets, engagement with operations or other more commercially focused parts of the business are key.

Questions to ask

  • “How do you see the relationship between health and safety and other more commercial departments?”
  • “Have you previously had budget responsibility, and how did you manage that?”
  • “Can you give me an example of when you have worked closely with other departments and/or teams, and what benefit this was to the company?”


Answers to listen for

Candidates should show understanding that although health and safety is an ethical concern, that they also understand how this can be a commercial concern.

Listen for examples of how they have demonstrated close links with production or similar departments, and how this close working relationship affected improvements in production time, reduction in absenteeism or similar.


2. Career progression

Although job titles are a good indication of a candidates’ abilities they can be misleading. Try to look outside of the title and consider reporting lines and management responsibility. If you are recruiting for a senior management position for a team of 10 – an advisor with 5 reports may be a better fit that a manager with none.


Questions to ask

  • “What is the largest team you have managed?”
  • “Who did you report into in your last role, and what was the team structure?”
  • “Tell me about someone you worked closely with – what did that relationship look like? What were the challenges? How did you overcome them?”


Answers to listen for

Look for candidates confident about team structure and their role within it. Look for people who say “I did”, “I implemented” and “I worked with” rather than “we” or “the team” as this gives you an indication of their actual role.

If they seem to be giving lots of “we” focused answers, don’t be afraid to push them and ask them to be specific about their role within a team and projects.


3. Risk profile vs sector knowledge

An ideal candidate is usually described as one that has worked in a very similar company in a very similar role, however how likely is it that a candidate in a similar role is looking for a sideways move?

Consider the risk profile that they have been exposed to, rather than companies they have worked for. A good example would be Safety professionals within Facilities Management transferring into consultancy due to the client-facing nature of the role.


Questions to ask

  • “What were the specific risks faced on your site, or within your company”
  • “Have you ever encountered “specific risk”? If so, how did you combat that? What preventative measures did you put in place? How would you apply that to our company?”


Answers to listen for

Candidates make not have worked in a chemical manufacturer before (for example) but have covered chemicals and hazardous materials in another context. By finding transferable skill sets and adapting them to your company, you will be adding different mind sets and approaches to the business. This will help you stay ahead of competitors and ensure continuous improvement.

4. Personality

Nowadays personality could be seen as much more important than sector experience – particularly with companies looking to change the perception of safety internally and introduce engaging professionals to the workforce.

Look at previous accomplishments and achievements and how they communicated and integrated these with the workforce to ensure that the candidate’s values match yours and the company’s, as well as the goals that you are looking to achieve.

Questions to ask

  • “If you have someone on site who won’t commit to safety, how would you address this?”
  • “Can you think of a previous time where you have had to persuade operations or shop floor staff to look at safety from a different perspective? What was the situation? What were the challenges? What was the outcome?”

Answers to listen for

Personality is obviously very subjective, so whether you are looking for a policeman type professional or an engaging, behavioural safety focused individual you need to ensure you have tailored the questions, and are asking focused competency questions about how they react in certain situations.

For example, if you want someone who will shut sites down when things are incorrect, listen for how they would handle a situation where someone has made a catastrophic error.

If you want someone that works with site staff to find solutions, listen for clues about how they handle confrontation and look for answers about engagement, communication and team work.

5. Qualifications

Qualifications are an integral part of any health and safety job but too much emphasis can be put on these, meaning employers overlook a candidate’s transferable skill set or attitude. While it is important to ensure that a candidate has a NEBOSH Certificate (or equivalent) as a minimum, but don’t forget to look at other aspects of their personality and progression.


Questions to ask

  • “What specific qualifications do you have, and why did you decide to go that route?”
  • “What do you do outside of qualifications, to ensure that your knowledge is current?”
  • “What was the last event or networking group that you attended? What was your input?”


Answers to listen for

A well-rounded safety professional is a good safety professional. Look for someone who could confidently describe things that they do within the safety field that go the extra mile.

Attending events and networking groups (IOSH meetings, location specific or industry specific groups, HSE Leaders, Safety and Health Expo etc.) shows a continued drive to progress above and beyond their qualifications and tend to indicate a well balanced and dynamic candidate.


Process, process, process

Nothing is more frustrating than a candidate applying for a role and not hearing back, attending an interview and not receiving feedback, or long delays between interviews and decisions.  It is a commonly quoted fact that news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for good customer service – so ensuring that your process is slick is not only good customer service but also brand protection.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an exhaustive list and every business prioritises these sorts of things differently. However any good recruitment agency (*cough* HSE Recruitment *cough*) should and will work in partnership with you to understand your needs and help you not only to identify the best talent for your business, but also help you interview, offer and retain that talent!


For the latest health and safety jobs make sure to visit SHP4Jobs






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