A Manager’s Perspective

The one question recruiters hear daily is “What’s the market like out there?” At the turn of the millennium, “the market” is excellent for candidates – but that doesn’t mean companies are “settling” for second-tier scientists.

In fact, with the ever-increasing emphasis on market share, quality, and the bottom line, no company can afford to hire less than the best of the best for any scientific or engineering position.

To learn just what makes up the best of the best, OPUS International interviewed Mr. Danny Morse, former Director of Research and Development and Corporate Quality for Welch’s – the world leader in the grape juice industry for more than a century.

OPUS: Mr. Morse, as an experienced manager/director in food research for both Welch’s and your previous employer, Kraft, you’ve hired dozens if not hundreds, of scientists. What does “hiring the best of the best” mean to you?

DM: Employers know that investing in the best is a challenge; it’s also costly. But it pays dividends in the long run.

Truly excellent food scientists possess many qualities, especially competency, flexibility, and an innovative mind set. They are willing to accept risk and try new things, even while they recognize they might not succeed.

They’re also able to put ego aside and work in a team environment. It seems that, these days, team performance is actually overwhelming individual effort.

OPUS: In your efforts to identify the best of the best, what key questions do you ask job candidates?

DM: I always ask for an example of how the person has overcome a challenge, and I want an honest answer. Even if the answer indicates failure, that’s not necessarily bad, especially if the person was stepping out of the box to do something no one else wanted to do.

I also always ask whether the person has been involved in any conflicts. Conflict, too, is not a bad thing, as long as it is a sincere effort to change others’ viewpoints and the individual is passionate in his opinion.

OPUS: Suppose you’re interviewing a recent graduate? Do you ask the same questions? How can students demonstrate teamwork?

DM: Yes, these same questions can apply to anyone at any level — it’s just that the setting is different. Students can talk about having worked on teams to do class projects, and about attempts to motivate a fellow student, whether the results were good or not. I’m really looking for the ability to motivate and convince.

OPUS: Are the best candidates those who have gone on to graduate school immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree?

DM: Not necessarily. If a candidate is absolutely sure of his or her career plans and has the [financial] ability to begin work on an MS or PhD immediately, he or she should go on. An advanced degree will pay off eventually.

But if a young scientist has any questions about the direction of his or her future, he or she should wait a year or two and then evaluate their professional work experience. The upside is that scientists who enter the workforce immediately bring future employers much more knowledge of the real world.

OPUS: When you’re seeking the best of the best, how do you regard a candidate who might have changed jobs frequently?

DM: Certainly, seeing a number of employers listed on a résumé does draw your attention. But, really, circumstances have to be considered. If a person has remained in each place long enough to learn, and then he or she advances to a better opportunity, you’re probably looking at a drive to succeed.

If, however, a person has simply changed jobs every couple of years, I wonder if that person is willing to put in the time to succeed, or even if there are interpersonal issues or difficulties. Of course, some change is good. It’s not recommended to sit back and let your career meander. You really have to have a plan in place — to be able to project your next one or two moves.

What does “hiring the best of the best” mean to you? Have you ever had to face a sticky question during an employment interview?

Whether you’re a candidate or a client, we’d love to hear from you!