Food Industry Jobs: What Do the Titles Mean?

When I first applied for jobs, I had no idea what the job title meant on most of the roles I applied to.  You get to understand more once you are employed and work with different people–with different titles–in your company.

Here is a basic rundown of what certain jobs do based on my general observations. Feel free to talk to me if you have any reservations on this as I am not an expert when it comes to naming jobs. I am just a Product Developer I 🙂

Job Titles

Every company can hold their interpretation of a title differently. It’s much more important to read the tasks and expectations near the end of the page.  (Or just be like me and apply to every job you see whether you match the qualifications or not).

Here we go.

Technician – A job that requires a basic, systemized task that requires a person. This includes weighing ingredients, or setting up tests and studies, but has little input on strategy or structure.

Technologist – You are known as an expert in food. You solve problems based on either manufacturing, customer requested formulations, or customer interactions. Skill gap is based on critical thinking and solution forming execution and the job is flexible in function depending on where you work.

Product Developer – You are in charge of making products from bench top, scale up, or commercialization, or all three.  Different companies have different rules on what a product developer does and the scope can either be super specific, or extremely broad. Overall, you are a technical expert on a product or type of product.

Food Scientist – A vague, flexible, and not-very-often used title. Can have the same function as product developer or technologist

Coordinator – Depending on the company structure, can be interchangeable with Product Developer. In most situations, you coordinate with manufacturers (such as co-packers) to create a product. You do less innovation, and focus more on commercialization.

Engineer – In almost all cases, you deal with manufacturing systems than food systems.

Team Leader – You manage a group (3 to 10) people. Usually designed for manufacturing purposes. You need leadership skills, and critical thinking skills can harm or hurt you. Doing a good job is all about making sure production runs smoothly rather than critically thinking and implementing improvements.

Supervisor – You manage one to three direct reports and have to deal with external people within the company. You are entering in the world of management. Implementing improvements is more valued here.

R and D Manager – You manage one to three direct reports (supervisors or not). You deal much more with external people in the company. Key role in this job is to let the people you manage have the ability to do their work better, whether it’s improving their skills by development, or being their advocate for departmental squabbles. Oh, you deal with money ($$$) from here on out.

Project Manager – In general not a food related job. Involves managing people on a high level and extreme timeline and organization skills.

Product Manager –  A new position in technology industries, which might be popular in the food industry soon. You manage all internal and external communication between your product category such as your internal team, other department’s expectations, and outside vendors and manufacturers. The more entrepreneurial you are in this role, the more valuable you are.

Account Manager – Generally a sales function. Maintain and cater to industry accounts. The more accounts you bring in, the better you do at your job. The more you realize your role as a middleman, the better you are at this job too.  Customer service is the hidden factor in doing great in this job.

Business Developer – Generally a sales function. Basically, a much more risky account manager. You must cater to brand new accounts and can be an extremely stressful job due to the differences in communications.

Director – You direct, or have a lot of direction on a department. Interchangeable with Manager depending on how big the company is. Your goal is to remove any obstacles for your department so you have a clear, straight forward, goal for your department to achieve. You carry a pretty big stick so use it well.

Vice President – Depending on the company, can be interchangeable with Director or CSO. Have a lot of direction on high level goals for the company. Your challenge will be how to trickle down the company’s expectations to manageable tasks for your department. You carry a very big stick.

Chief Science Officer (CSO) – Can be interchangeable with Vice President. Ideally, the focus is to visualize great products or processes and advocate your vision to your department and company. A Ph.D is always required for this position. You act as a trump card.

Chief Technology Officer – Deals more with Technology systems rather than food ideas.

Chief Innovation Officer – More entrepreneurial in background and nature than a Science Officer. Same deal. Think of big ideas and how to get the job done using the team you have, and use the resources you have to give your team more power to either do things efficiently or think more creatively. You also act as a trump card.

Overall, the higher you go, I hope that you recognize the importance of dependency. As you go into supervisor and above, your job is to let people do their jobs better and use your status, budget, or personality to get it done.

My Chief Science Officer always asks his staff “what can I do to help you do your job better?”.

Most people are afraid to give an answer to this question. Sometimes, I am deathly afraid of answering.

But I do anyways, and I feel empowered when things I say are taken into effect.

Bonus: Numbers and add-ons.

Sometimes jobs have this weird roman numeral pasted on the end of a job application. In general, this is what they mean:
Disclaimer: Product Developer can be interchangeable with Food Scientist

Associate or Specialist: Another word for Junior. You can have the same role as a technician or technologist.

Product Developer I: In general, someone with 1 to 2 years of technical experience

Product Developer II: In general, someone with 3 to 5 years of technical experience

Product Developer III: In general, someone with 5+ years of technical experience

Sr. Product Developer: In general, someone with 5+ years of experience and is really good at their job.

Originally posted on Adam’s Blog, check it out.

If you have anything to add, a comment or suggestion please let us know!