Advance your HSE career: What employers are looking for in candidates | EEF

Advance your HSE career: What employers are looking for in candidates

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Tips and insights for Health, Safety and Environmental management candidates from Jonathan Lee Recruitment

What employers are looking for in candidates - Jonathan Lee RecruitmentGrant Nisbet, lead consultant from manufacturing and engineering recruitment expert, Jonathan Lee Recruitment, discusses what candidates can do to increase their chances of getting a role in health, safety and environmental management, what qualifications employers prefer and what they are likely to be asked in a job interview.



Could you break down the qualifications or training you usually look for in HSE candidates for each role or level?

I would expect candidates for officer-level positions and above to have some form of certification, such as a NEBOSH certificate. The national general certificate is probably the most commonly requested. A construction certificate or fire safety and risk management certificate can be a key advantage where those risks are more prevalent in the environment.  

There is more flexibility for entry-level health and safety operator or administrator roles. Employers will often provide the training needed to get new employees up to speed. 

For managerial positions, there is an expectation for candidates to have at least a NEBOSH certificate and, for many roles at this level, a diploma or degree will be required. We find that many HSE directors have risen through the ranks from shop floor, with sponsorship from their employers to gain a diploma or an engineering degree.


What are the most important traits you look for when interviewing an HSE candidate?

Employers will usually look for someone with a strong character, resilience and assertiveness; someone who can get everyone in line and on board with health and safety guidelines and practices. Attention to detail is critical, and the best candidates approach their work in a focused and highly organised manner.  Pragmatism and strong problem solving skills are also highly sought after.  They need to be able to build relationships with key stakeholders in the business and also be able to articulate clearly HSE needs and actions whilst understanding the personal, legal and commercial ramifications of HSE in a business environment.


What types of questions do you ask candidates and how do you test them?

When interviewing a candidate, I would talk about their qualifications, explore their CV and discuss their experience, previous and current roles and their achievements; I want to discover what has helped them progress to where they are. For health and safety roles it’s important to assess a candidate’s ability to use their initiative; to question set norms or current procedures and to adopt an investigative approach.

Talking with candidates about their experience, particularly when we encounter this kind of positive behaviour, enables us to qualify and identify the right person for the job. Questions and topics we would explore include:

  • What were your major challenges and achievements in your past roles?
  • How did you overcome or solve certain situations or challenges?
  • How did achieving a certain certificate help you in your role?

We also want to find out if their qualifications and experiences are current and relevant. There have been instances where a candidate has, for example, a NEBOSH certificate from 15 years ago because at that time, and only at that time, health and safety was part of their role. 

We will ask questions and dig deeper than face value to provide a clearer, more accurate picture of the candidate. CVs can sometimes oversell or undersell an individual; it’s about qualifying candidates to our clients’ requirement to ensure that they have the right skills, experience and personal attributes to fulfil the role. Finding the right fit for both the candidate and the client is of paramount importance to us.

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What kinds of qualifications or training are held in the highest regard?

Depending on the role, NEBOSH is usually the go-to for certificate, in addition to diploma level qualifications - both are recognised by our clients are expected as proof of competency. 

Membership of IOSH at the right level is, of course, a key indicator of a candidate’s level of knowledge and experience and can indicate whether they keep up to date with current developments within the profession.  

The feedback we get from companies that use EEF training for these qualifications is very positive. 


Are companies willing to invest in the training and development of HSE candidates they recruit?

Definitely. Companies do invest in health and safety training and development, in part because it is a complex field with numerous legal requirements and quite regular changes. 

Compliance is not only important from a commercial point of view, but the vast majority of employers take their duty of care to employees very seriously and want to ensure they are up to date. 

This is also the reason why companies show flexibility and sometimes (for permanent roles) will recruit candidates with the right attributes and train them to meet the required standards.

People who typically to do very well in HSE roles are those with a background and experience in engineering at a shop floor level. We find that university leavers who go straight into HSE roles can sometimes struggle as they have limited experience of real-world problem solving. Applying methodologies and theories learnt in a degree whilst useful, often doesn’t take into account wider implications for business operations.  

It can be easier for companies to train and develop someone with more practical experience - building on their existing expertise and knowledge and providing them with the qualifications that will enable them to move into HSE.


What is the number one thing a candidate can do to increase their chances of getting the job?

What really impresses recruiting managers and directors is passion and dedication. Regulations change all the time, so having someone who wants to continue to learn and develop is really important.  They also look for people who can strike a balance in their work, driving compliance whilst managing stakeholder relationships and managing commercial imperatives.

Building strong ties with advisory bodies or being a member of professional networking group can help to demonstrate to a potential employer that they are the right person for the role. 

But above all, integrity and trust are the most important attributes in HSE.  An employer needs to know that you are on top of issues, up to date with legislation and that you will do the right thing to protect the business and the people in it.  Employers want to be left with the impression that you are a “safe pair of hands”.  

Explore our wide range of Health, Safety and Environmental Management courses, including NEBOSH and training for health and safety managers in commercial, business and influencing skills.

If you’re looking for your next role in HSE, visit or send an email to

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