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'Mum said I’d never stay at Mars'

Written by: Lorraine Mullaney
Published on: 12 Jul 2013

In 1988 Fiona Dawson left Trinity College Dublin and joined Mars’ graduate trainee programme. Her mum said she wouldn’t stick it out but now she’s the president of Mars Chocolate UK.

So what tips for success can this high-achieving woman offer young people who are starting a career in the food industry? She shares her advice exclusively with FoodManJobs.

"Mum said I’d never stay at Mars, but it was such a great training ground,” said Dawson. “I got involved in so many different aspects of the business – from sourcing to farming, from selling to manufacturing.

“We interact with lots of different communities too in terms of volunteering, so you pick up a lot of skills. You could nearly take any aspect of the chain and make it one aspect of your career – or move through the chain. It’s that ease of movement that makes it such a great career. Name another career – with the exception of the medical profession – that offers that.”

What is Mars looking for?

If you’re wondering what kind of employees Mars is looking for, prepare yourself for a surprise. Mars doesn’t necessarily single out the straight A-star leaders of the football team for interview. It’s also interested in young people who survived difficult experiences such as being rejected from teams or failing exams.

“As an employer, you’re really looking for the most rounded individuals that have overcome personal adversity, who maybe haven’t had things go so well for them,” says Dawson.

“They’ve learnt from challenges and so-called failures, such as not being picked for a team, and they’ve got stronger from it. But I’m not saying we wouldn’t employ the A-star student who was captain of the football team. I’m not into positive discrimination.”

Snobbery about the food industry

People have preconceived ideas about what working in the food industry’s like – they think it’s all about production lines, hair nets and wellington boots. Are ideas like these stopping young people from entering a career in the food industry?

“People think it’s all about shelf stacking in retail and, with food manufacturing, they think it’s all about working in the factory. But there’s real career progression in the industry and it’s about trying to communicate the benefits,” says Dawson.

“My biggest frustration is that there can still be a snobbery around food and food manufacturing. People think the food is not as authentic or as real as something you buy locally. I’d love everyone to come and see the quality of ingredients, the passion of our chocolatiers and our dedication to food safety and they’d be blown away.”

Top tips for success

If you could give a young person considering a career in the food industry one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dawson says: “I would encourage them to leave any misconceptions they have at the door and be as curious as they possibly can be about the totality of the food chain because every aspect of it has something to offer.”