8 secrets to progressing up the ag careers ladder

Getting your first job in the agricultural sector is a real milestone, but what does it take to get the next one and the one after that?

If you’ve got designs on making it to senior management within a company, it is extremely handy to know the secrets to climbing the career ladder.

Similarly, if you are frustrated in your current role and wonder about the best way to move onwards and upwards, an insight to the best way of achieving your goal can’t go amiss.

See also: The latest careers news and advice from Farmers Weekly 

Stuart Goodinson, managing director of recruitment consultant De Lacy Executive, and James Trett, executive agriculture recruitment specialist at JP Trett, offer some practical tips.

1. Establish your goal

When people first start work they often take jobs that aren’t in the area they aspire to be in. 

This can prove problematic later on because potential employers will be looking for someone with experience in their own particular field. 

It is vital to establish what your aspirations and motivations are for the future. Then you can start to plan for how to get there.

People and CVs

© ProStockStudio/Shutterstock

2. Be honest

Honesty should always apply to your CV – the truth will always out during the recruitment process.

It is also important that you are honest with yourself. If you are happy in your current role and can live with the fact your salary isn’t going to rise very much then there’s nothing wrong with deciding to stay put, and you should not feel pressured to move on.

3. Keep a record of your achievements

Whether it is on your CV or at interview, potential employers will look for tangible evidence of what you’ve achieved in your current role. 

For example, if you’ve been the top salesman in your company, employers will want to know the facts regarding the level of sales you’ve achieved. So have figures to hand and be prepared to share them.

4. Have you got the ‘big three’?

Employers in the allied industries are typically looking for three things when they interview someone at the second- or third-job stage: 

  • Technical competency
  • Commercial savviness
  • The ability to communicate clearly with people.

If you’ve got these three attributes you will earn good money in the agricultural market. 

At the early stages of your career look for openings that will help you develop these skills in one job, or move to a different job if you need to attain them.

LinkedIn mobile

© Isopix/REX/Shutterstock

5. Think about your online profile

Managing your social media profile is crucial – your LinkedIn page could be the most important ally you have when it comes to getting your next job. 

Not all jobs are advertised and many are filled by recruitment consultants who will search the internet for keywords in order to find suitable candidates. 

If you are looking for a specific role in the industry, tailor your page so it shows how you might meet the requirements of a job in that sector.

6. Get your manager onside

It sounds obvious, but if you are looking for an internal promotion you want to stand out.  

Always do over and above what your job description says you should and always ask questions about everything. 

Ask your manager for training opportunities if you are not being offered any and talk to them about what you would like to do in the future. 

Even if there is not an immediate job opening, that doesn’t mean one isn’t going to come up.


© Taweepat/Shutterstock

7. Positivity is vital

Don’t be that person who is always moaning.  

Having a positive attitude is really important for employers and the people with the right attitude will be the ones that get on. 

An employer wants to know that the people in their “boat” are rowing it, not drilling holes in it.

Positivity breeds positivity and success breeds success.

8. Talk to a recruitment consultant

A good recruitment company will work with you to help identify where your strengths lie and where you might need improvement. 

Talking to a consultant can also help clarify your own thought processes. 

Once you are on their radar they can also alert you to opportunities that you might otherwise not hear about.

Sarah Middleton

An employee’s experiences

Sarah Middleton is campaign manager for seeds and traits at Bayer CropScience. Farmers Weekly asked her to share her career history and what she has learned along the way.

“I graduated from Sutton Bonington (University of Nottingham) in 1997 with a degree in agriculture with plant science.  

“I had at the back of my mind that I wanted to get into marketing, but it was one of those situations where you can’t get the job you’d like because you haven’t got the experience, but you can’t get the experience because you haven’t got a job.  

“My first job was as a research biologist with Aventis CropScience where I carried out early-stage herbicide research, later moving into formulation testing.

“I was made redundant when the research station was closed in 2001, but this did at least make me think about what I wanted long term and I decided I would prefer a role that had more of a commercial element. 

“My next role was with Monsanto in product support for the Latitude seed treatment.

“Part of my job was with the seeds business and I took the opportunity to transfer to RAGT when that part of the business was sold off. This is where I managed to make the leap into marketing.

“After about 18 months at RAGT working alongside the marketing manager, I asked if they would fund me to study for a professional diploma in marketing.

“I did it over 18 months, studying in my own time. It was hard work, but it was something I found interesting so I was prepared to give it the time.

“I ended up staying at RAGT for 11 years, moving up, as I advanced, to marketing manager.

“Probably the most significant moment in my career is my move, three years ago, to work for Bayer as a campaign manager for seeds.

“It was a little bit of a leap of faith because I had been in my previous role for so long. But I felt if I didn’t make a move then I would get stuck where I was for the rest of my career.

“I’ve learned you have to take opportunities when they come up.

“My current role was actually advertised as full-time, but because I have young children I wanted a part-time role. I sent Bayer what I thought was quite a cheeky application stating this, but also showing what I could offer them.

“I think you have to be brave sometimes and unafraid to go for jobs that might seem out of reach.”

An employer’s view

Andrew Downie is managing director of NWF Agriculture – a national supplier of dairy, beef and sheep feeds.

NWF Agriculture employs about 200 people, while the wider NWF Group employs more than 950. We asked for an insight into how people can progress their careers.

What kind of jobs are on offer at NWF?

A variety of roles including sales, trading, technical, operations and finance opportunities. We are always searching for bright and ambitious people. 

What skills and behaviours are you looking for in someone moving into their second or third job?

Ambition, self-motivation and a desire to drive the business forward within a team environment. 

What sort of skills would you be looking for in someone in a managerial position?

Somebody who wants to build a team, empower individuals and achieve the company’s objectives. 

Give me an example of a tough question you’d ask someone at an interview? 

Convince me that you can deliver change within our company.

What steps can people take to fast-track themselves up the career ladder?

There is no substitute for hard work and a positive mental attitude. Drive and determination underpins our business. 

How can a candidate make themselves stand out at interview?

There are three interviewee essentials:

  1. Be well presented so that a potential employer believes you want the job
  2. Be able to explain clearly what your talents and attributes are so that an employer can see where you will fit into their business
  3. Be able to express your passions to help an employer understand how you can grow their business.

What’s more important – practical experience or attitude?

Both are equally important. 

What mistakes do people make that could hold them back from career progression?

lack of initiative, drive and understanding of what makes a business successful. 

What are your three top tips for people seeking to climb the career ladder? 

  1. Portray yourself confidently to show drive and ambition
  2. Understand the importance of teamwork and trust
  3. Be dedicated.

How you can grow into a leader?

Graduates looking to fast-track their career might want to consider a unique two-year scheme that aims to develop their skills as a manager.

The Management Development Services (MDS) scheme is a graduate training programme with a difference, in that it is offered by a partnership of companies operating in the retail, fresh produce and arable sectors.

This means that trainees accepted on to the programme gain the experience of working for four different businesses, rather than for a single employer.

The aim is to equip youngsters with the right people- and self-management skills so that they have the confidence and ability to rapidly become senior business leaders.

The scheme, which started in 1986, involves a consortium of member companies from across the food and fresh produce supply chain, including businesses such as Aldi, BASF, Syngenta and PepsiCo. 

Graduates accepted on to the programme are employed by MDS on a salary of £20,000 in the first year, rising to £21,250 in the second.

During that time, they are sent on a series of six-month secondments with member businesses, which are mostly in the UK, but can be overseas if requested.

In addition, trainees are given 25 days of bespoke MDS training over the two-year period.

There is no guarantees of a job at the end of the programme, but the scheme says that most trainees do gain full-time employment, achieving a position paying at least £25,000 and often more.

Potential applicants must hold a driving licence and be prepared and able to relocate every six months.

Candidates with a 2.1 degree or higher are preferred, although a 2.2 will be considered.

Applications can be made online at any time and interviews for positions take place throughout the year. However, start dates for training are spring or autumn.