In the battle for the hearts, minds and purse of the nation, culture fit' ­ the extent to which an individual is considered to fit in with the company's style and ethos ­ is playing a growing role in food retail recruitment. "Personality is becoming an increasingly significant factor in the selection process," says Russell Adams of Michael Page Retail, formerly Retail Recruitment Specialists. "It's more important to some retailers than others. They want people who can do the job, and they must also be able to fit into the company culture." So not only must you have the skills, but also the mindset to walk up the aisle with the multiple retailers. It's hard to see that, or the historically long hours, reflected in salary scales, with first managerial roles typically around £15,000. But competition for the best candidates means they can often get two or three job offers. So, while pay isn't about to take a hike, there's always room for negotiation. Many graduates make a seamless transition from holiday shelf stacker to management trainee without really researching their career options, says Adams. "There's a perception in the major food multiples that graduate trainees are at no real advantage in terms of career progression in stores, but if you want to climb the corporate ladder to head office, then a degree becomes more important," says Adams. Increasingly retailers are courting candidates in non food and foodservice industries to bring new skills to the party, particularly among marketing, analysis and category management roles. Round the clock trading may have piled on the stress but it hasn't necessarily led to longer working hours among managerial staff ­ although new entrants should realise it's a tough, hands on environment, says Adams. And what about the salary picture in sales? Two years ago sales of fast moving consumer goods hit a recruitment crisis. Unable to compete against sexier industries which were draining the pool of good quality graduates, companies improved their offers with an across the board 8% salary rise for those at the bottom end of the sales ladder. According to the latest salary survey from NHA Executive Search and Selection, which was drawn from 108 UK based fmcg firms, new entrants can now expect to earn in excess of £20,500, bringing the sales function of many major companies into line with graduate expectations ­ 20% look for an initial package of at least £20,000. Despite environmental pressure, a set of wheels is still a standard part of the offer as employees resist moves away from fully expensed company cars towards increased use of allowances. Notwithstanding the mounting personal tax disadvantage, sales staff see company cars as a must-have. Bonus payments are also key in sales and can have a significant effect on salary, but as more firms put performance related pay at the heart of staff motivation, there's a danger that job satisfaction and personal development are overlooked. Employers are still failing to make sufficient intellectual investment in their younger staff, leading to a migration of talent out of the industry, says Steve Simmance, md of NHA Executive Search and Selection. Lack of career development and plain boredom are still common reasons for collecting the P45. "We need to retain talent in our industry by appropriately rewarding our sales teams from the start of their career and exposing them to a much greater mix of commercial skills beyond pure selling," he says. "Employers need to recognise talent early on, nurture it and take a chance." Firms may have little choice as the new multifunctional demands of fmcg customers force changes to the sales structure. Roles are being redefined all the time with growing emphasis on a range of skills beyond pure sales. For those who progress beyond first base, rewards can be excellent. And the higher you go, the better the benefits, including widespread use of non contributory pension schemes and share options. One word of warning, though. As consolidation moves on a pace, who you work for increasingly determines how much you work for. The salary gap between small and large companies is widening as a direct result of acquisitions and mergers. The outcome is reflected in a breathtaking difference in pay. While some sales directors are banking £120k a year, others scrape by on £40k. Even among national account managers the differential is increasing by as much as £40k per annum. Moving on to manufacturing, with starting salaries from £16,000-£18,000 and a good chance of doubling your package within your first three years, early rewards can be substantial ­ particularly if you're prepared to make some social sacrifices. "There are areas of the country where, as a graduate wanting a first job, you're assured a high salary and high disposable income," says Stephen Jones, director of Focus Management Consultants, who did his FMCG porridge in Belfast. "You might be in the middle of nowhere, but you'll be offered more training and development and a greater level of autonomy early on. Anyone who's prepared to go to places like Grimsby, parts of Wales, Lincolnshire and Northumberland, will get a significantly higher level of support because they are so short of the right people." If you want a job in food manufacture in London, forget it. There are only a handful of operators, so competition is intense and while salaries are higher, you'll be worse off thanks to the inflated cost of living. Far better, says Jones, to forsake the bright lights, big city and pack your bags for somewhere you can look forward to running your own department within six months and where your pay package buys a superior standard of living. "It's a fallacy to think the industry is not well paid when, by your early thirties, you could be earing £50k. The most important factor is choosing the right company, usually those with a good brand name," says Jones. FMC's new division Career Track, due to launch later this year, aims to help undergraduates do just that. Working with the industry through universities, the initiative is a response to employers' growing dissatisfaction with the annual milk round and a huge deficit in understanding among colleges. "Companies are questioning the benefit of the milk round because it's increasingly expensive," says Jones, "and, at the moment there is a dearth of graduates wanting to enter food manufacturing because the image is of someone in a hair net and white wellies managing 50 people who'd rather be somewhere else. We need to find a better way of promoting ourselves." Stephen Jones, director of fmcg recruitment specialist Focus Management Consultants, says: "I cannot see how an industry growing at more than 10% a year can fail to be exciting. And yet, wherever you look in food manufacturing these days, there are more vacancies than recruits to fill them." Career Track will target graduates and mature candidates through a range of initiatives supported by the industry, inevitably involving more use of undergraduate placements in food manufacturing. "The placement can be key to your future career and yet so many people ignore it and do something that is not meaningful to their long-term goals," says Jones. "You must make that placement work for you." Many employers taking students on sandwich courses are so desperate to recruit that they are prepared to offer able candidates a job as soon as they qualify. "If you make a good placement there is a high possibility of you getting a job quickly ­ that's especially true of development people who leave college with a food science degree or similar," says Jones. "It's really up to students to get off their backsides and think about what they want to do in two years' time ­ to take hold of their own destiny." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}