As some of you may be approaching selection board interview time, I thought it would be a great opportunity to revive a previous blog and make sure you’re fully prepared for the final stage in the UFLP and internship selection process. Read more “Guide to Selection Board Success”
So I find myself writing this blog whilst I wait for my flight out to one of Unilever’s regional deploy centres for ice cream in Caivano, Italy. I am now 10 weeks into my first placement and I have been exposed to a whole range of fabulous opportunities, including an induction week in Liverpool, training courses in London, trials in Paris and last but not least, a visit to our ice cream factory in Gloucester. Read more “Surviving the Scheme: Rosie Smith, R&D UFLP”
With a tightening job market, dwindling public support, and cuts from government funding, arts and humanities degrees are struggling to assert their relevance in today’s commercial environment.
Or so people often think.
Whilst students become increasingly concerned about employer opinion and their degree’s potential to land them a job post-graduation, and rightly so, pursuing a degree in the arts or humanities still allows you to develop a wealth of skills, and affords you many experiences on which you can draw, that you can successfully apply in the workplace. Whilst there are a few graduate schemes that demand specific degree subjects from applicants, Unilever is a great example of a business that welcomes applications from any degree type for most of its programmes.
I have degrees in Music and Musicology from Birmingham Conservatoire and the University of Birmingham, and yet I now find myself on the Unilever Future Leader’s Programme (UFLP) in my first placement as a Global HR Business Partner. This role places me directly at the heart of one of Unilever’s more recent acquisitions, the premium haircare brand TIGI, where I’ve been given immediate responsibility and accountability: instead of score analysis, my days are filled with data analysis, capability projects, and managing End of Year employee performance assessments. Of course I don’t have specific training in business or Human Resources, but Unilever doesn’t expect you to be an expert – that’s where the UFLP steps in.
So if you’re wondering if you can apply, or if you can compete with slick Business graduates for what are highly competitive programmes, the answer is yes – I would encourage you to apply and leverage the different experience your degree has given you to mark yourself out from other applicants. That’s not to say that it won’t be tough however, and so here are my top tips for making an application:
- Know the business; know Unilever. There is never an excuse for not doing your research, and you will be expected to be clued up with how the business is performing both in the UK and further afield. What are our challenges? What is the marketplace like?
- Know why Unilever is right for you. Why are you convinced that you belong here and not Nestlé, Proctor and Gamble, or L’Oréal? What is Unilever all about as a company?
- Leverage your experience and make it unique. Don’t simply refer to group projects or typical university situations when answering competency questions, but try to use something more interesting or unusual that not all students will have been able to do, especially as an arts and humanities graduate. If you can relate your example directly to the question being asked whilst making it different and memorable, this will help to put you ahead.
- Know the function. This is particularly important if you’re not from a business or science background, as you might need to do some additional research, but this is time well spent as you need to know as much as possible about the business area to which you’re applying.
- Be confident. This sounds like such a flippant thing to say, but being confident enough to articulate yourself well is crucial – don’t let nerves prevent the interviewer from seeing your potential.
Toi toi toi!
In your time at Unilever as a graduate or placement student, you are set your work goals under a framework known as your “3+1’s” which are linked to the Standards of Leadership (you can find out more about here: http://www.unilever.co.uk/careers-jobs/graduates/application-process/). Typically, the “3” of the goals are on “main role” at Unilever and the “+1” is your chance to support and develop Unilever’s graduate recruitment goals. This could mean being a part of an on-campus team promoting Unilever at a university or managing the onboarding process for the next group of students and graduates to join. From now on, you’ll also have the opportunity to work in developing Unilever’s relationship with Enactus UK.
Together with Abs Islam (Marketing Placement Student) we were lucky enough to join at the beginning of this process. As a sponsor company, we were given the opportunity by Enactus to launch our very own Individual Topic Competition to work with individual Enactus projects or whole Enactus teams – that choice, was down to us.
The award gave us an opportunity to really show off Unilever’s proudest asset: Our Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). If you ask everyone here what were the reasons they joined or the main reasons that they stay, the USLP often features in their top 3 (just above free Ben & Jerry’s, obviously). We were then able to pick an issue related to the Sustainable Living Plan that is very important to us and that Enactus projects could benefit from our support… we chose waste – the sexiest of topics!
Waste is an incredibly important issue around the world and Unilever is taking responsibility for its own impact and its influence everytime somebody uses one of our products – 2 billion times a day, by the way.
Our award is set up to incentivise projects to come up with entrepreneurial means of addressing the issue of waste whether that’s through a product or packaging innovation or even consulting businesses in communities to tackle waste across the value chain.
Throughout the year we were able to work directly with Enactus teams from across the UK – whether it was conference calls or one of the two project dens we hosted at Leatherhead and 100VE (Blackfriars). We’re serious about pairing up our expertise to support projects that share our aims and hope the competition and partnership with Enactus will continue to be a great way for us to do that with university students.
That way, as all Enactus students will say… #WeAllWin
Hello all, my name is Fleur and I was a member of the Benelux team earlier this year as part of the Unilever Future Leaders League. Experiencing the Global final of the Future Leaders ‘ League in London was really fantastic and surpassed all my expectations. I met students from (30!) different countries around the world, from the Ivory Coast to Iran to the Philippines. What an incredible international experience! During the UFLL we had conversations with Unilever’s top executives like Paul Polman and, of course, we also attended social events in breathtaking locations during the program. I feel really lucky to have had this experience and to have got to meet so many beautiful and different people from around the world. Even though we were so different, every student shared the same passion to make a positive contribution and create a brighter future.
It is extremely valuable to meet Unilever professionals and to get personal and professional advice. In a very passionate and casual way, they told the participants about the leadership qualities that will be required in the future. It was inspiring to see what an impact such leadership can have on an organization and its people. We noticed that everyone uses this common goal as a guideline to decision-making in all layers of the Organization, creating a more sustainable future with every small steps.
I had always felt that leadership is only leadership if you have an impact on a lot of people and at least made it on to the 8pm News. Unilever’s FLL showed me that leadership can also be in the small things; in the inspiration and enthusiasm that you transmit to people in for example your sports association, your job or towards your fellow students. Sometimes you give others the nudge in the back without knowing yourself!
Why did you signed up for the FLL
I wanted to orient myself for a worldwide career within FMCG. I did not feel like applying for all the different business competitions organized by the many companies, with students who were most likely just like me (same background, in study and extracurricular activities). When I heard about the Future Leaders ‘ League at Unilever I was extremely excited. A unique concept: a week long global challenge in an international city, trainings and personal talks at the highest level and that together with students from all over the world. Who does not want that?? Looking back on this week, I’m sure that no one should miss this during their student days. I want to encourage everyone to apply, because if you don’t you will regret it for a long time!
Of course I’m going to apply for the UFLP! After participating in this week there is no doubt about it. If only it is to see all the participants and the organization once more. All participating students are very supportive towards each other, we hope to encounter each other again soon as trainees within Unilever.
(AND SHE GOT IN! SHE IS NOW A MARKETING TRAINEE FOR LIPTON, AND STARTED ON THE 1st OF SEPTEMBER)
If you’re interested in joining the UFLL visit https://unilevereuropefll.com/
Hi I’m Dan. I’m currently in my last month working in R&D at Unilever’s Seacroft site in Leeds as part of the summer internship scheme. After I finish my placement in September I will be going back to the University of Sheffield to complete a masters in molecular biology.
Leeds is the GDC for Unilever’s deodorant portfolio. One of its most recent high profile inventions has been the development of compressed aerosol technology which has revolutionised aerosols making them more sustainable for the future and drastically cutting wastage and CO2 emissions which is such a crucial part of Unilever’s sustainability plan.
A positive about working at this site has been the access to the live factory that produces more than half a billion deodorants a year for global brands including Axe, Dove, Rexona, Vaseline, and Impulse. This access allows you to gain first hand appreciation of how the work you do here can impact the production, as well be giving perspective on the scale of the project you are handling.
My placement in packaging development exposed me to new projects that are highly confidential and very interesting. As you can imagine packaging development isn’t at all related to my degree which at first was a little daunting, but after getting in to my projects and being brought up to speed I found myself adapting quickly.
I’ve found myself working mostly in the office, but I have also spent time in the labs. This has really suited me because I would like to move in to a managerial role in the future. Working in packaging is also a very diverse environment with a vast array of projects going on all the time which has given me great exposure to the business side of R&D too.
I have been put in control of organising and driving projects which have enabled me to make contacts all over the world. This exposure to international businessmen/businesswomen from a variety of disciplines has enabled me to grow a more global view of the business and has forced me to adapt the way I engage with people in order to ensure that information is transferred effectively and a common outlook is retained.
Thoughts on the placement
One thing I am amazed at is the level of detail that the company goes to in order to ensure linearity across their suppliers worldwide. The team is constantly travelling to suppliers to ensure they are keeping within the acceptable ranges expected by Unilever. Further to this I also never appreciated how much effort is put in to develop packaging, and how much goes on to drive sustainability that consumers would probably never realise.
Something I have really enjoyed during my placement is the level of responsibility given to me from day one. Within the first few days of starting I was given tasks to complete for a major project within the team. I then got the chance to present my findings to senior stakeholders, which was a great experience to have so early in my placement. As the placement goes on the work level increase as does the level of responsibility, which is a real test as you are always learning new skills rather than on some other placements where you can find yourself shadowing people a lot.
The timing of my placement here was very fortunate with the first few weeks being very busy with the ‘R&D summer event’ where everyone from the site came together to celebrate a successful year. Further to this I was lucky enough to be here for the visit of Alan Jope (President of Unilever’s Personal Care), David Blanchard (Chief R&D Officer), Santiago Iturralde (SVP Deodorants), who gave a great Q&A session, it was interesting to learn about their careers and their opinions on the future of Unilever and was a great way to start the placement. Further to this I’ve also been lucky enough to talk with Alan Palmer (Global Vice President R&D, Deodorants) and former UFLP graduates (some who are now managers) within the company and getting some very valuable advice on careers in Unilever. Being able to network with people in these positions from very early on has given me great insight in to what I can expect from a career in Unilever as well as how to get the most out of it and reach my goals.
My top tips for working at Unilever would definitely be to meet as many people as possible from the start. Throw yourself in to your projects and make as many new contacts as possible. If you can get involved with training, or other projects that aren’t directly related to your goals then do because it gives you a more rounded view of what goes on in R&D. Further to this, don’t shy away from any responsibility, I remember on my first day my line manager told me to ‘fill my boots’ and I have tried my best to do just that, throwing myself in wherever possible.
The best tip though, is to simply enjoy it. Everyone here is really welcoming and friendly and is a testament to the recruitment process that everyone fits in to the team so well. It’s coming to the end of my placement now and I don’t want it to end, I feel settled in to the team and enjoying my work. It will be a huge shame to not see some of the long term projects through.
My Favourite thing about Unilever
My favourite thing about Unilever has to be the social atmosphere. The relaxed nature of the company has allowed me to feel relaxed and able to thrive in this fairly different environment. I have found the sociable nature of my colleagues really helpful as I know that if I require any help then everyone is available and more than happy to help, or point me in the direction of someone else who could help.
I hope to apply to the graduate scheme after my placement and take advantage of the fast track on to the UFLP which is a very attractive prospect for me. I look forward to the selection process again as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last time, and hopefully this placement won’t be the last time I work within Unilever.
I recommend this placement to everybody. Unilever is well deserving in its rank as one of the best graduate employers and you will be able to tell from day one that their goal is to not only test you, but to improve you as well. I didn’t know the FMCG industry particularly well before I joined, I now see it as a potential long term career path.
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your applications and potential career in Unilever.
Here you’ll find our A to Z of tips for applying to Unilever. Some tips are general, some are more specific and some are not just applicable to your initial application but also the rest of the process. We hope they give you some help and reassurance in seeing the application through. Enjoy!
Apply as soon as possible – our jobs are given on a rolling basis, the quicker you apply the higher the chance that there will be jobs remaining, you don’t want to get half way through the process to find out the opportunity has gone.
Be yourself – if you’re not genuine, you’ll get sussed out eventually!
Check your application before submitting – poor spelling and grammar won’t impress; double check everything.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Unilever is a fantastic company to work for but you have to be sensible. Apply for as many jobs as you can instead of relying on one application at a time.
Emphasise the competencies which demonstrate the Unilever Standards of Leadership.
Feedback – if you don’t feel confident submitting without a second opinion get feedback from a friend, family member or a careers advisor.
Generic application? Try and be more imaginative, you need to stand out.
Honesty – don’t lie in your application.
‘I’ not ‘We’ – It is your application, if you’re writing about when you worked in a team make sure you’re talking about what you did and not what ‘we’ did.
Just be aware that Unilever can’t guarantee your work location until closer to your starting date. UFLPs (graduates) may have to do various placements in different locations throughout the scheme, depending on the function, but placement students will be in one location for their full period of working. You can give your preferences to location but nothing can be guaranteed. If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable then applying to Unilever may not be right for you.
Know about the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG as you will hear it abbreviated) industry and why you want to work within it.
Lists – these will be helpful to create before starting applying for jobs and will ensure you’re never forgetting anything. List everything you’ve done, the skills you’ve learnt, your strengths, your weaknesses (and how you’re overcoming them, see N) and what you want to gain from your placement/ a company. A lot of these things will already be on your CV if you already have one.
Make sure the function you’re applying for is right for you.
No negativity – don’t talk about yourself in a negative way. If you talk about a weakness, highlight how you’re overcoming it.
Overuse of examples – try to have various examples of when you’ve demonstrated the Standards of Leadership and competencies in general. Throughout the process you should try not to use the same examples over and over again as this will make you seem limited in experience.
Passion – if you have it, this will come through in your application. Unilever loves people with passion. If you’re not passionate about the company then maybe Unilever is not the company for you!
Questions – make sure you understand what’s being asked of you and that you answer all parts if the question is asking you for numerous things. Be relevant and don’t waffle.
Research before you start writing.
S.T.A.R. – if you give an example of an experience or competency use the Situation, Task, Action, Result format to structure so that you are clear and concise. This doesn’t just apply to the application process but to interviews too.
Tailor your application to Unilever and specifically why you want to work in your chosen function at Unilever in particular.
Understand what Unilever does and why we stand out from our competitors.
Visit our website, our social media portals and Google us! Everything you can get your hands on to read will just help you throughout the application process.
Word limit – try and get as close to them as possible. This is not to say if you write 200 words for a 500 word max question you won’t get through to the next stage but it should look like you’ve really thought about what you’ve written and put a bit of effort in. Remember this is your first opportunity to make a good impression so give as much detail for each question as possible.
Xtra mile – putting in that little bit more time is worth it to submit a well researched, well thought out and well written application.
Your examples don’t just have to be work or education related, you can use experiences from hobbies, volunteering, home life etc.
Zen – be calm and enjoy the process!
We all know that job hunting as a graduate isn’t easy. The process is constantly growing in length with extensive application forms, multiple psychometric tests, telephone interviews and of course, extremely demanding selection boards. The process is most definitely challenging and on top of other deadlines that you may be facing (exams, coursework deadlines etc.) it can be a stressful time. As a recent graduate who started at Unilever in 2013 I remember clearly the pressure of job-hunting and the challenges it created. I thought therefore it would be helpful to offer my top ten tips for graduate job-hunters. Some are specific to Unilever and some are slightly more general. These are by no means the holy grail of securing a graduate job but hopefully for those who are feeling the strain they may help;
1. Know yourself
It sounds so simple but isn’t always something that people remember to consider. Joanne Lucy (Capability Director, Enterprise Technical Solutions at Unilever) who is regularly involved in Selection Boards highlighted the importance of candidates understanding and being able to articulate their own Unique Selling Point (USP). Know what makes you stand out from other candidates and don’t be afraid to share this. Consider your strengths but also be able to identify any areas where you would like to improve. Most importantly, be yourself. It’s easy to recognise someone who is saying what they think recruiters want to hear so honesty really is the best policy.
2. Avoid generalisations
You don’t have to be a ‘certain person’ to fit a particular role. My degree was in Sport Management and my work background was mainly focused around Communications and Marketing but I am currently a HR Management Trainee. Unilever do not look for specific backgrounds but rather where the individual wants to be in the future. Don’t be deterred if you have studied something that isn’t naturally connected to the role you’re interested in. As long as you can justify your interest and demonstrate potential you have a chance.
3. Preparation is key
Preparation is important for every stage of the recruitment process and should never be underestimated. Make sure you’ve done your research on Unilever as a company, our history and our culture. Keep up to date with news on your chosen function and be able to justify your opinions. Understand the function that you have applied for and how it applies to other areas of the business. Ask yourself why you are interested in this area and what can you bring to the role and to the company. It’s also worth making sure that you have an awareness of the external market – how are Unilever performing against our competitors? How are we navigating the challenges faced? Sources such as The Economist can help with this. Finally, ensure that you have a good grasp of Unilever’s Standards of Leadership as these are a critical part of the selection process.
4. Be specific – use examples
Think carefully about the examples that you can use to back up the skills/strengths that you have. Interviewers want to hear about specific challenges/experiences that you have had and how you reacted in this situation. Try to structure your answers using the STAR technique;
S – Situation – What was the task/challenge?
T – Task – What did you need to do to complete the task/overcome the challenge?
A – Action – What actions did YOU take to complete the task/overcome the challenge. Be specific here. Think in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’.
R – Result – What was the outcome? What did you learn during the process?
It may help to think about examples around key competencies (e.g. communication, leadership etc) in advance as this will help you to develop a sense of self-awareness that can be extremely useful in interview situations. Also where possible try to use a broad range of experiences rather than the same scenario in every example. This can help demonstrate versatility and breadth of experience.
5. Be confident but realistic
Confidence in your own ability and what you can bring to the company is key. Be proud of your achievements and learn to sell yourself and your skills. You are your own best advocate and this is an opportunity to share the reasons why you stand out from other applicants. You should however be realistic in what you are saying. Exaggerating your skills is unlikely to get you far and is a risky approach. Also be aware of areas where you may need to improve. These may not necessarily be ‘weaknesses’ rather areas that you recognise as not being as strong and would like to improve on.
6. Be flexible
As a Unilever Future Leader a certain degree of flexibility is required. For some functions this means geographical flexibility (e.g. Supply Chain, HR, R&D). For all functions flexibility in the roles carried out and the tasks within these roles is a must. Take time to consider if this sort of flexibility is something you are willing to take on. Personally, the opportunity to move around the country experiencing different elements of HR is one of the key reasons I chose the scheme. It’s exciting and a fantastic learning opportunity but this may not be for everyone.
7. Ask questions
I can’t advocate the importance of asking questions enough. Yes, this can include prepared questions that you have thought of in advance, but also ensure that during your interview/assessment day you listen to the interviewer and respond where possible. Asking questions helps demonstrate engagement and enthusiasm which is important. When asked for his top tip for graduates at Selection Boards, David Sprent (Vice-President Customer Supply Chain UK and Ireland) spoke about looking for ‘genuine enthusiasm and energy around Unilever and its brands’. Asking questions is a great way to demonstrate this. However, do make sure that your questions are relevant and situation-appropriate. Also try to avoid the ‘obvious’ questions that are answered elsewhere as this could imply that you haven’t done your research.
In addition, if you have any questions before your telephone interview/selection day feel free to contact Unilever’s current graduates via our Twitter / Facebook pages.
8. Make a contribution
This is specifically in regards to the ‘group task’ element of Selection Boards which are never the easiest tasks to get through. The best advice is to make sure that you make a contribution. You are being assessed against key competencies throughout the group task and if you say little or nothing this will inevitably affect your rating. Be assured and confident throughout the discussion and try to demonstrate interpersonal and team skills. Working as a team rather than as competitors will stand you in much better stead so consider your team mates and try to engage with those who may be struggling to find their voice. If you do disagree with another comment, explain why this is a case and suggest an alternative. Try not to become too consumed with finding the ‘right’ answer. How you get to a final solution is often the most important part.
9. It’s never too early to network
The word ‘network’ is constantly used in the business world and whilst at first it may seem intimidating or irrelevant to where you are at, the importance will quickly become clear. It really is never too early to start building your own network. Keep in touch with as many people as you can – course-mates, past employers and lecturers as well as friends. All can be a good source of information and may be able to offer inside knowledge about the function that you are looking at. You might want to consider building a ‘LinkedIn’ profile so you can connect with people in the sectors that you are interested with. It’s also a great place to document your work history, show yourself off and find out about different careers.
10. Stay calm
Interview processes are not the most relaxing of experiences but it is important that you stay calm. Whilst nerves are usually inevitable try to not let them impact your performance. If possible, arrive to the venue with time to spare to enable you to familiarise yourself with the surroundings and avoid any last minute panics about being late. Specifically in regards to the assessment centre remember that there is more than one task during the day. Don’t panic if you feel that you have done badly in one task – this won’t ruin your chances of success and the chances are you are judging yourself harshly. Move on and tackle the next task as a new challenge. It’s a long day but whenever possible try to remain upbeat and interested until you’re on the train home. Remember, you can only do your best and the assessors genuinely want you to do well!
I hope this has been helpful. If you would like more specific tips about Unilever’s recruitment process take a look at Nick’s blog from February this year. If you do have any questions about the recruitment process feel free to ask in the question box below or contact the current grads via Facebook/Twitter. We are happy to help where possible and reply to all questions!
Good luck to everyone!
‘I love working with people’ – that often heard phrase from those considering a career in HR is a good place to start but it is simply not enough. I have recently joined the HR graduate programme and have quickly learnt that beyond your people skills, HR professionals need to have a strategic mindset and a strong grasp of systems.
It is a really exciting time to be considering a career in HR. HR has moved in recent years from simply being a support area in an organisation to adding real value, by helping to make strategic decisions for the whole organisation at the most senior levels.
If you fancy the idea of sitting at that board room table, Professor David Ulrich is the “go to” man for understanding what it takes to make it big in HR. Here are the 6 core competencies (strengths) that Ulrich and his team have identified amongst high-performing HR professionals, and my own reflections on what that might mean for you if you’re looking to apply for graduate roles:
– Credible Activist This is extremely important. Being a credible activist means that you should be able to get along well with people and easily gain people’s trust. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given about being a credible activist, is to come to situations not only with options but with recommendations and be willing to state your opinion.
– Cultural Steward Culture is an important area for HR and you should already have an awareness of how different teams you are part of function and understand what it means to motivate people.
– Talent Manager/Organizational Designer You’ll exhibit this if you enjoy helping to develop people. If you have been on a committee or part of a team at university you might display this competency if you have helped to structure the team and its tasks so that it worked at its best.
– Strategy Architect That this competency is on the list reflects the fact that HR leaders need to recognise business trends and understand their impact. Whilst at university you may have come across problems that forced you to look at the big picture to form a strategy of how to deal with them. It is good if you can do this and if you have a broad interest in business.
– Business Ally To be successful, your understanding needs to go beyond the specifics of HR to an understanding of the business, its strategy and the finances. Although HR is often seen as internally facing, you should have a strong interest in our consumers.
– Operational Executor This competency refers to the basic HR skills. The Unilever Graduate Programme fast tracks you to a management role but you must still be able to absorb all of the important HR transactions.
If having the opportunity to learn business fast and develop those key HR skills sounds appealing then don’t hesitate to look at the HR area of the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP)
Eleanor, 1st year HR Grad
(Thanks to David.NikonvScanOn on Flickr for the photo)
I work within the Graduate Recruitment team and look after the selection process from the application through to the assessment centre. This is my first attempt at blogging and I’m hoping to give you some helpful hints about how to tackle the trickier parts of the application process.
Something that seems to stump people is answering competency based questions – The ‘Tell me about a time’ type questions that ask you to describe how you behaved in certain situations. The main aim is to see whether you are able to give examples of the behaviours that Unilever calls its Standards of Leadership – which are really just the traits we want all employees of the company to demonstrate.
My top tips are as follows:
1. Have a good look at the Unilever Standards of Leadership on the website and think of examples of times you have displayed the behaviours described. When you are asked a question – think about which Standard of Leadership the question is centred around and answer with that in mind.
2. The examples you use do not have to be work related – if your best example is from an extra- curricular or even a personal situation then use that! It’s all about how well the example reflects the behaviour that is being assessed.
3. Respond to all parts of the question. If the question has sub or probing questions – make sure you respond to all the elements asked.
4. Structure your response clearly using the STAR method. Describe:
– The Situation
– The Task
– The Specific Action Taken
– What happened as a Result
5. Take your time – during the telephone interview if you need some time to think of a great example then take it! Tell the interviewer you will need a couple of minutes to think about your answer