Recruiting great health and safety professionals


In its regular column about health and safety, NEBOSH talked to Chris Rowlands to find out what businesses should look out for when recruiting a health and safety practitioner.

Chris is a director at The HSE Recruitment Network and is a specialist in placing health, safety and environment (HSE) professionals across all industry sectors both in the UK and overseas.

Let’s start at the beginning. What can businesses do to ensure their job advertisements attract the right applicants?

The most important thing to note is a job advert is exactly that, an advert. Sadly, it cannot help you identify, attract AND qualify suitable candidates in one fell swoop – it is simply an attraction tool. The more people you attract however, the more likely you are to attract the right applicants, so there are two things you should be looking to communicate very clearly: (a) why somebody would want to work for your company, and (b) why somebody would want to take on this role. HR would call the former your company’s “EVP” (Employer Value Proposition) and you should look for support from your HR/Marketing colleagues on how best to sell your business. When it comes to the role itself my advice would be to focus on the competencies required to be successful in the role, and hence the type of person who will thrive in your environment. Try to avoid the trap of painting a picture of the “perfect candidate” based purely on qualifications, accreditations, prior work experience, location etc. Perfect candidates don’t exist! Better to describe the role and allow the reader to decide if they are a suitable candidate. After all it’s far better to attract a wide pool of applicants and reject a few rather than put people off – in particular highly-suitable people – with an overly-complex job advertisement that fails to engage and excite its audience.

What should hiring managers look for in candidates?

Firstly, be very clear on the qualifications and the competencies this person needs to have. What I mean is don’t get hung up on finding someone who has already worked as a Health and Safety professional, at the same level, in another business in your industry.  Instead, look for someone who has got the right capabilities. Traditional interviews don’t have a particularly high success rate – or “predictive validity” to give it its proper term – when it comes to selecting candidates, due to inherent biases (both conscious and unconscious). That said a competency-based interview, with a clearly defined scoring structure, goes some way to overcome these biases. In my experience, there are three key things that are indicators of a good candidate: (1) Do they have relevant and up to date professional qualifications? (2) Can they demonstrate an understanding of the sector or industry which you operate in? This does not preclude people from outside of the industry, more that they’ve had a genuine (and realistic) think about the intricacies of the sector, and finally (3) Can they give meaningful examples of their professional and emotional intelligence? In other words, do they demonstrate an ability to communicate, to adapt to change, to understand how different people and cultures work. If so, there’s a good chance that they’ll be a strong candidate.

How important are relevant qualifications?

When it comes to recruiting in the HSE sector I believe qualifications are very important.  Any Health and Safety professional needs up to date knowledge of HSE law and best practice, and needs to have the understanding to apply it in the workplace.  NEBOSH’s qualifications are the best known in the industry and any candidate with one of its certificates or diplomas will have a well-developed understanding of the HSE sector as well as relevant, up to date knowledge that is transferable across industries.

Great practitioners also need a broad range of general business skills…

Absolutely. From negotiation to communication to networking, it’s the softer skills that will enable someone to facilitate positive changes in a company’s culture; something that can be necessary when bringing in new and improved health and safety practices.

Is it possible to determine these skills from a CV?

It can be hard to judge without meeting someone face-to-face as it’s difficult to express emotional intelligence in writing, but there are a few things to look out for on paper.  For example, has the candidate included a personal summary on their CV?  If so, this is a great way to ‘lift the lid’ on their personality as it will show you how they portray themselves and how self-aware they are.  Do the descriptions of previous roles demonstrate the impact they’ve had?  Look for examples of their achievements and how they’ve gone above and beyond what they were asked to do in a role – a good candidate will always include this kind of information in a CV.  Is there evidence of the competencies you need, such as an ability to negotiate, experience of managing upwards, or an example of integrating best practice across a business?

Health and safety is a popular second career. What should businesses look for if they’re considering applicants who are just starting out in the sector?

It’s not unusual for people to move sideways into a career in health and safety.  However, I would advise you to look for evidence of their interest and commitment to health and safety.  That could be through membership of a relevant professional body, participation in a local health and safety network, volunteer experience on health and safety committees, or through a mentoring scheme.  Any or all of these things will show that they are serious about their career change and should already have a good understanding of current best practice.

Do you have any advice for hiring managers who don’t have health and safety knowledge themselves?

I would always advise you to involve someone with a technical knowledge of HSE in the recruitment process.  This will not only ensure you have help identifying the people with the right skills and qualifications, but also someone who will be comfortable and able to challenge candidates on their knowledge.  If you don’t have someone suitable inhouse then I’d suggest reaching out to your local HSE network or professional body to ask for support.  In my experience, HSE professionals are always happy to help!


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