You might be familiar with the problem of needing experience to get a job. But you can only get experience with a job, so you are caught in a catch-22 situation.
What I’m going to talk about is going to address that problem.
If you manage to land yourself an interview and you get through that first stage of having sent your application in, and then they invite you to the interview, they already know what qualifications you’ve got, so at this point, it’s no good when you’re in the interview talking about what you could do for the employer or what you would do for the employer because they’re not particularly interested in that at this stage. They’re interested in what you have done in the past for other employers.
They’re interested in what you can demonstrably do for them. The best way for them to assess that is to ask you about what you have done, and so at that stage, what you want ideally is lots of stories and anecdotes and situations and circumstances that you can talk about that demonstrate to them how you have in the past achieved specific positive health and safety outcomes.
You want to talk about your achievements, so you need to be able to provide lots of real-world examples. But, again, if you’re new to the industry and have yet to get much experience, you might struggle with this, so how do we get around this problem?
Well, this is what we will be going through in this post.
You might have come across advice that goes along the lines of “well, to get the experience, why don’t you work for free just to get the work experience?” My opinion is that this is terrible advice! Nobody will want you to do any work for them for free if they want confidence in the work that you’re doing!
People don’t value what is free! I know this from personal experience because when I was a health and safety consultant, I (for reasons that I won’t go into in this post) decided to offer my consultancy services free of charge and got zero responses!
As soon as I started charging – that’s when the phone started ringing!
It sends out the wrong signal when you’re saying you’re going to do something for free. You’re sending out a signal that you’re not valuing yourself. Why on Earth would anybody else value you? so don’t offer to work for free. Don’t even offer to work at a reduced cost because, again, it’s basically signalling to people and potential employers that you’re so unwilling or unable to compete on anything else other than price, so you’re just basically going to say that “well I can’t compete on competence I can’t compete on flexibility I can’t compete on customer service so what the hell, I’m just going to offer my services at a reduced cost” and potential clients and customers can smell that, and they either won’t be interested in working with you or the only people that will be interested in working with you aren’t the kind of people that you could or should really be working with
It also devalues the market because other providers might decide to try and undercut you. Then it becomes a race to the bottom, and the quality declines. The market gets undervalued if that cycle carries on for too long. So don’t offer to work for free. Don’t offer to work for a reduced cost. But start offering your services at full price.
So what you might be thinking here is, “well, hold on a minute, isn’t that what a consultant does?” and you might think “, well, I’m not ready for that. I’m a newly qualified health and Safety person, and I’ve just passed my NEBOSH Certificate. So I’m not ready to be a consultant because I thought consultants had years and years in the industry and gained all that experience. So when they become really, really experienced, they’ve got enough clout then to be able to give up their full-time job and then work as a consultant.”
But that’s the wrong way to think about it. A consultant has services to offer to a client who wants those services. If you have completed the NEBOSH certificate, you have definitely got some value to offer to the right kind of businesses.
Obviously, you will not be targeting the high Hazard sector because they will be using Specialists and in-house teams. Still, many low or normal Hazard businesses and organisations are struggling with health and safety (because many companies do). They find navigating what they perceive as a complicated and complex business area challenging. Therefore, they want support from somebody who can offer what could be a reasonably easy thing to you (because you’ve completed your studies).
You might have a client that’s operating in a fairly low Hazard sector that just is completely snowed under with other business operations and needs for a temporary period some guidance and a steer in the right direction because they might sensibly want to get their business off to the right start in terms of compliance and health and safety and that is where you can come in. That is where you can offer your services. You don’t have to worry about competing with much more established Consultants because you should believe that you can offer those services at a level that’s as good in terms of quality as much bigger and much more established consultancy firms.
It might be helping them to put in place a basic health and safety management system. It might be supporting them with their basic risk assessments. Helping them with near Miss investigations, that sort of thing that you’re going to be perfectly capable of doing after you’ve completed and passed your NEBOSH certificate.
You need to be honest about what it is that you’re going to be competent to do and not do both with yourself and with the client. I’m not saying you have to go in there on the first meeting and spell out precisely what you can’t do, but you can be honest about what you can do and how you can do
Let’s say you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure you can deliver what the client is asking for. You could genuinely think, “look, I’m out of my depth here; I can’t offer my services to this client and do what they’re asking me to do in all good faith. I’ll be operating unethically if I did that” so that’s when you say “look this is outside of my particular area of expertise” and then maybe offer some free advice and guidance about health and safety while you’re there so that you don’t risk coming across as you’ve just wasted somebody’s time.
I advise looking at the IOSH code of conduct to ensure that you’re operating against a set of principles that will keep you on the ethical straight and narrow.
What I also strongly recommend is that you get yourself some professional indemnity insurance. It doesn’t cost much, so don’t worry about that. This means that if you advise a client, they follow that advice. Then something happens, and that client says that the incident is because of your advice, and they try to sue you; you’ve got insurance that can cover you.
And at this point, you can start working in health and safety. you’re working in health and safety as a freelancer and consultant, whatever you want to call it. But you’re working in health and safety, and you can start gathering the experience you need to get a job in health and safety.
You effectively break the perpetual cycle of, “well, I need the experience to get a job, and I haven’t got any. I can’t get any experience because I have yet to get a job”. You break that cycle. You’re able to gain the background, and at that point, you’ve got options gaining gain some experience and then you’ve got yourself some uh some things to talk about when the inevitable question arises in an interview situation that asks you to explain what you’ve done in the past in regards to health and safety.
Either that, and that’s a good thing if you’re looking for a full-time job in health and safety, you’ve got an avenue to follow there, but at that point, once you’ve got a few clients under your belt, you might then decide “well look I don’t want a full-time job in health and safety”. You can continue following down the freelance route; it would be up to you. You’ve got choices at that stage and opened up the playing field for yourself. You can operate (where you were stuck before in this experienced – job – experience loop). You’ve broken out that you’re on the playing field you’re operating, and you can open up choices for yourself.
This is a much better strategy than just going out there and offering to work for free, so you can get experience, and maybe you can use that to get a job. That’s not going to work. Do it the way I’ve outlined, and you’ve got something that has a real chance of working and increasing your chances of getting that job that you want.