International House (IH) resident, Minh Quang Le, a second-year UQ science student beat a fierce field of graduates to secure an internship with Australian food and product development leader, Steggall Nutrition. What’s Minh’s secret to cracking the job market?
What is Your Dream Job?
Minh: I had many talks with my parents in Vietnam where I am from and my father told me that everyone has to eat, so there would be many opportunities for me studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Food Science and Nutrition. Besides, my best high school subject was chemistry and I use this in a lot of my Uni courses.
My ambition is to have a business of my own which will develop quality food products for people. I hope to be able to help people around me by providing a vital service. Minh
Standing Out in a Crowded Job-Seeking Market!
Minh: Firstly, having different leadership roles at IH gave me something solid to put on my resume and this helped when approaching an employer. My resume strength would dictate if I made it to the next round – an interview. When it came to the interview, experience and skills that I’ve gained from my IH leadership activities gave me boosted confidence and knowledge.
- By dealing with problems that arose during organising events, I was more well-rounded.
- By being deeply involved in the community and working with people from different nationalities I became more articulate.
- I trained myself to handle multiple responsibilities.
- I understood more about diversity in the workplace.
- I got to understand more Aussie jokes and slang, which in my case helped me quite a bit in the conversations with my boss.
The Art of Cold Calling
Minh: It was quite tough making cold calls to companies, however, I was prepared to be rejected and kept trying until I finally got a “yes”. Perseverance and resilience were the keys, but I also had a clear strategy.
- First I visited the UQ career advice service and asked for a list of food companies that usually hire students. The advisor also helped proofread my CV.
- I was encouraged to write a script of what I was going to say when I called the companies.
- The speech needed to be concise and quickly show that I am passionate about gaining experience in the food industry and in their company especially.
- Before I made any calls, I ranked the companies from least to most desirable (in my mind) and start calling from the bottom of the list upwards.
- Calling my least favourites first gave me practice on “cold calling” and hopefully time to get my pitch perfected by the time I began phoning the companies I liked the most. I would have a higher chance of getting a job.
- I also used email to contact the companies on my list – but I tailored every email to each individual company to increase my chance of catching the recruitment officer’s attention.
Never Give Up
Minh: If you fail to land a job, keep chasing your dreams.
At the beginning of this year, I applied for the summer internship at Carlton United Breweries and I didn’t get it since it was extremely competitive. I just kept pushing and tried even harder. Eventually I got this fantastic job at Steggall Nutrition. I’ve worked hard and showed my eagerness to learn and contribute to the company. The boss was happy with my work and attitude, and even promised me a job again in the summer. Minh
Melissa Purnell, Food Technologist, and Minh’s supervisor at Steggall Nutrition agrees that searching for a job or internship can be a long process, but despite rejection, it’s important to keep your chin up. “I believe that as long as you are doing everything you can do, the right opportunity will present itself at the right time,” she reassures job seekers.
Melissa’s Top Tips
- Apply for as many positions as you can, even if it doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in.
- Too many offers is better than no offers and any experience is better than no experience.
- Don’t forget to capture your personality and highlight the little achievements in your application.
(While it may not seem significant to you, it could be something that makes you stand out from the crowd)
- Attending interviews can be nerve-wracking. Be calm and confident, but most of all, be yourself.
Minh: It is important to research the company you’re being interviewed for. What they are doing, what their culture is, the corporate and community values. Google was my best friend. This way I came to the interview with a good understanding of the company and could make a good impression. In the interview, I made sure I came well dressed and with a good attitude. At the end of the interview, the manager was pleased and asked me when I could start. At that moment I was 99% sure that I got the job.
Alison Willis, Steggall Nutrition, Product Development Manager, hired Minh and was ‘impressed’ with Minh’s bold approach.
I don’t actually get many direct approaches from anyone looking for work. Minh did impress me immediately with his communication skills. His English was perfect and he was very responsive. A LinkedIn profile also helps. He was very enthusiastic from the outset and communicated well with everyone in the business. His enthusiasm was infectious and everyone liked to have him and his energy around. (I hope he remembers me when he is the CEO of a multinational food manufacturer one day!) Alison Willis
Minh: Steggall Nutrition is a contract food manufacturer in Queensland. My job, as a lab assistant was to help with the Research and Development, plus in the Quality Control department.
- I got to make samples in the lab as other senior food technologists explained to me how the flavours worked. This gave me a lot of product knowledge such as the interactions between sugar and flavours, or milk and coffee.
- I also learned a bit about flavour masking, which is usually used in vitamin premix or protein shakes. Since most vitamins and amino acids have a really unpleasant taste, there is a lot of flavour masking that involves sugar or flavour masking powder
What were Minh’s best qualities?
Melissa: Minh fitted in well with the Steggall Nutrition team. He came to work every day with a smile on his face and was enthusiastic about completing all tasks. He is friendly, efficient and tidy. Minh shows initiative to learn and grow both personally and professionally.
Minh, did you experience any setbacks during the internship?
Minh: Yes, repetitiveness, after 2 weeks of mixing powder I was ready for a bigger challenge and asked my supervisor if I could take on more. My supervisor agreed to train me further in flavour tasting. I can now tell the difference between certain orange, vanilla or coffee flavours.
Melissa: If you’re interested in learning something, speak up and let your supervisor or manager know. If you show initiative and actively listen to your colleagues, they will take the time to teach you. In Minh’s case, he showed potential and did ask for more work after a couple of weeks. I was able to accommodate this by conducting tastings and explaining how we would use particular ingredients.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that all workplaces are different and there may not be the opportunity to learn more as an intern. If you’re working in a laboratory, daily tasks can be repetitive. While it might be boring or uninteresting at the time, those repetitive tasks are a great foundation to your career. The majority of Minh’s time was spent doing bench work. Our staff start in a similar position as part of their training when joining our product development team. This gives them the opportunity to learn about the ingredients and their properties by working with them every day.
Minh: At Steggall Nutrition, every 3 months, there is an International Day when the staff make a dish from their country and bring it to lunch. Luckily, there was one during my internship. I made Vietnamese spring rolls. There was this lady who made Bailey’s trifle dessert and that was the best dessert I had ever had. There was another person who made rum biscuits, which was also absolutely delicious. The lunch went along with good food and lots of laughter. I’m pretty sure I got some good jokes too.
I learned so much. My dream job is New Product Development (NPD) because it is all about creativity. I could play with flavours and different food ingredients. I might invent a whole new 3-in-1-meal mix someday.