Expert Tips for Launching a Career in Ag

Jobs in agriculture abound, but students and grads still have work to do before landing their dream jobs.
Expert Tips for Launching a Career in Ag
Compared with previous generations, new college graduates are more likely to quickly land plum jobs in the fields of their choosing. “The job market has swung widely to the side of the job seeker,” says Erika Osmundson, director of marketing for
According to .@SyngentaUS, there is a high demand for talent within the #ag industry.

click to tweet is an online career site and human-resource services provider for agriculture, biotechnology, food and natural resources companies. Last year, processed more than 51,000 applications through its website. “As long as you’re an employable person and have some flexibility in what you want to do and where you want to be, there are opportunities out there,” Osmundson says.

While enrollment in ag programs has increased recently, it doesn’t come close to the industry’s demand for talent in every area. Less than 1% of total postsecondary enrollment is in the ag field, while the number of job openings in the industry is much greater than the number of ag-related graduates. When that shortage is combined with baby-boomer retirements and competition for talent from other ag and non-ag companies, it’s easy to see why the job market is looking so bright for the next generation of ag leaders. (See “Career Paths in Agriculture” infographic.)

But high school and college students still need to polish their soft skills, seek internships or other valuable work experiences, and take classes relevant to the ag careers they’re interested in, says Robin Thomas, commercial college recruitment lead for Syngenta. “And it’s becoming more and more important to have the ability to use technology and to apply it strategically,” Thomas adds.

Create Opportunities to Stand Out

Internship participants and full-time job seekers need to develop and strengthen their soft skills. These skills include critical thinking, being creative, dealing with change, effectively communicating, leading, problem-solving and working within a team.

“The job market has swung widely to the side of the job seeker. As long as you’re an employable person and have some flexibility in what you want to do and where you want to be, there are opportunities out there.”

Erika Osmundson
Director of Marketing
“The challenge with soft skills is that, until students or graduates are put in positions where they need to use them, they don’t get stronger,” Osmundson says. “They need to practice them.”

Chris Long, a former collegiate recruiter at Syngenta who recently became a human resources generalist at the company, adds, “One of our biggest challenges on the early talent front is finding the new professionals who have soft skills and the ability to articulate what it is they are passionate about from a career perspective.”

To gather insight into what a role entails on a daily basis, Thomas recommends students start early — the earlier, the better.

“If high schoolers think they’re interested in a particular field or role, they should job shadow someone who does what they think they want to do,” Thomas says. “If job shadowing isn’t available, interviewing a professional about the job provides a lot of insight into what the role entails and if it interests them.”

To develop soft skills in high school, Thomas recommends students participate in groups, such as the 4-H Club and the National FFA Organization.

Make Connections

Many of the same principles apply during college. “We wholeheartedly believe that college and university students are learning key soft skills through involvement in campus organizations, such as Agriculture Future of America and others,” Osmundson says.

Students need to stand out. “I can’t emphasize how much of an impact it makes when college freshmen come to career fairs or other student events and introduce themselves, hand me a resume and tell me what they would like to do upon graduation,” Thomas says.

Long also advises students to attend career fairs — dressed professionally and with a clean, easy-to-read one-page resume in hand. “When they can do a good job articulating to us exactly what they’re passionate about, we better understand where they’re going to be the most productive within the organization and can help them find a role that best matches their interests,” he says.

And while ag backgrounds can be very helpful, Long notes they’re not necessary. “We want to diversify the level of thought and ideas that we’re bringing into the company,” he says. “That gives us an edge over the competition.”

Take Advantage of College Job Placement Services

Long encourages students to use the on-campus career services centers their colleges and universities offer. “A lot of colleges offer mock interviews, resume preparation and coaching services to teach students how they can best network and introduce themselves to reps from companies they would like to work for,” Long says. “We can tell when a university has taken the time to groom and prepare its students, versus the ones that don’t.”

Going to career fairs and company-sponsored events outside the classroom is a great way for students to meet recruiters and land internships or positions in co-op programs, in which students work three months and then work part time or go to school full time the following three months.

“If college students don’t have an internship or some relevant work experience, they are less competitive for entry level roles upon graduation,” Thomas says. “These experiences are critical for helping students get a foothold in the companies they want to work with and can help students decide exactly what they want to do.”