Julia Fentem interview Application Tips

Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC

Julia is Head of Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) and has spanned a career within Unilever since 1998. With an academic background in biochemistry and a PhD in toxicology, she has also played a key role in shaping the R&D UFLP and so read about her career so far, tips for being successful on the scheme and maintaining that vital work-life balance: Read more “Senior leader interview: Julia Fentem, Vice President SEAC”

Laura Allsopp profile2 Human Resources

Living and breathing the USLP: Laura Allsopp, HR UFLP

So it’s been just 3 months since I embarked on my UFLP journey, and what a blast it has been so far! For those out there that think HR isn’t a strategic part of the business I compel you to keep reading, as my first placement has seen my working on exciting projects that directly contribute to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. I am part of a team that looks after programmes that we run nationally, from diversity and inclusion to mental health and wellbeing, and in my case youth employability. In the UK and Ireland youth employability is a priority for realising our ambition of increasing our social impact, contributing to a Billion Better Lives. I have had the opportunity to really throw myself into the concept, from meeting lots of other organisations and charity partners to government and industry bodies. This has allowed me to gain some real expertise into not only how we make a positive social impact, but also help to support and build the talent of the future!

So what does this actually look like? Well firstly it involves me having overall accountability for the programmes that we run. This means I have to work closely with both my team and also all of our sites to ensure that we are running activities aligned to having a positive impact on youth employability. This can include work experience, employability skills days, running schools workshops, and also more formal work experience that we run in partnership with a charity such as the Prince’s Trust. As you can begin to see this is a huge amount of responsibility, as it means that I need to regularly engage with and support sites on being able to run these programmes. Similarly due to the continued focus on youth employability by government we also have external pressure to use our scale for good through the running of these kind of programmes. Secondly the role allows me to really think strategically about our social impact and how we can best develop this. Our offering in this area is quite new, therefore I have had to opportunity to design an entire strategy about where I think we should take this concept; this was based on who we should work with, what the external context is and how this aligns to our internal business strategy.

So where does it go from here? I think the rest of my placement is going to be largely focused on really driving forward our youth employability programmes, making sure that we not only meet our commitments, but even exceed them, as well as making a positive social impact to the lives of hundreds of young people. This is a really exciting role to be in and hopefully you can see that in Unilever the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan really is at the heart of the business, as is HR Management!

becky 1 Business areas

My time on the HR UFLP: Becky Coleman

Hi Everyone!

I’m Becky and joined the HR UFLP in September 2014 and I’m currently based at Leatherhead as an HR Business Partner to Customer Management (Sales). So, what have I been up to since joining? Well it’s been pretty busy!

Within the first week of joining we had an HR offsite day. This was great as it enabled me to learn about the structure of HR in Unilever and to network with lots of people. Although judging by this picture perhaps someone had just a little too much fun making a mess when it came to the evening bake off… Although I much prefer the other brown stuff…. Yes Marmite!

becky 1

The great thing about working at Unilever is that you have responsibility from the start. By mid-November, I was running the end of year review process for about 120 people. It was great to hear our talent group representatives in Customer Management have such passionate discussions about people’s development. Although it was a big responsibility to ensure, everyone had a fair end of year review.

In December I worked with the Customer Management Leadership Team and created three events on career development and the training options available. It was great to see senior leaders deliver content that I’d created to the whole of Customer Management. This was approx. 300 people! Then getting to present one of the breakout sessions and taking questions was brilliant, and it was filmed for future use on run one! So, no pressure! Also being allowed to experiment with new, interactive presentation formats for the event which has received great feedback is one of the great things about working with Unilever as people are willing to take your ideas and let you try them out even if it’s for such a large scale event.

I’m currently CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) qualified but I’m taking the next level of my CIPD as part of the HR UFLP programme. It’s great to be able to complete my professional accreditation whilst working. It ensures you get the best of practical and theoretical experiences and you also get to learn from experiences other HR professionals have in different sectors.

But maybe this just sounds like it’s all work? Well, actually as well as working with really great people we do get to have a lot of fun too! My day job is really great fun, but recently the whole of the UK and Ireland were treated to a day at Twickenham for the Gathering. This was a really exciting day as we got to see all the brand cascades for up and coming 2015 advert campaigns and product ideas and we also learnt the Haka! This symbolised bringing everyone together to drive forward as one ready for a successful 2015.

becky 3

On a factory tour during my induction

So, why did I choose HR? I knew I was never going to be in finance…. (Sorry Finance) but that one is best left to the numerical expert’s….. That left me with marketing or HR, and I have a passion for creativity and also people. I was fortunate enough to try an insight day in marketing at a competitor who for these purposes shall remain nameless….. but also to try an HR placement in a car factory when I was 17. I made the choice that HR was something I wanted to explore further as I really enjoyed developing people and seeing how people made a business tick during my time there. So, I took my undergraduate degree in HR and spent an industrial placement year in HR at an FMCG/Pharmaceutical company rotating through diversity, policy and also university recruiting. Having gained this experience, I was then keen to explore as many areas of HR as possible going forward to give my career breadth and to put my passion for talent development to good use. So, the HR UFLP provided a brilliant opportunity to do this in a business with passionate people and great brands so now I guess I get the best of both creativity and great people!

Why did I choose Unilever? Well, for all of the above really, and because Unilever is a business that is firmly rooted in the local communities that it operates in. I got to volunteer recently at the Queen Elizabeth Foundation which was a really great day and made a big difference for many people with disabilities. I also did some fundraising through assisted kayaking on the Thames for their sister charity MERU recently. It was super that Unilever were able to gift match the fundraising. I’m looking forward to going to volunteer in a school shortly to talk about careers and to inspire young people about their future options.

becky 2

In the ball pit from Comic Relief

Also I like Unilever for the great people and great brands, yes, love it or hate it, in my case I love Marmite. You can never have too much of a good thing!

I’m looking forward to continuing to experience the broad range of experiences that the HR UFLP programme brings.

So if you’re interested in starting a HR career or have previous HR experience Unilever is a really great place to develop a HR career.

Application Tips

Why did I even apply?

I’m currently a Finance graduate on the Unilever Future Leaders Program (UFLP). At Imperial I studied Physics (MSci) which isn’t necessarily the most intuitive career fit. Not really having any financial background hasn’t been a hindrance though, where the view is you can learn finance, but your attitude and approach is something you as an individual bring to the table. As I’m sure a lot of students find, when it comes to making your first career choice, it’s incredibly tempting to go and work for a big city bank or continue into further study. I personally wanted to work in an interesting sector that made a real tangible impact on peoples everyday lives. Not many companies can say over 2 billion people use one of their products on any given day. Unilever could, and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.

My first role on the UFLP is business partnering for Brand Building in Ice Cream. I’m going to say right now that this is literally the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I work with brand managers every day to make sure that the decisions we make together have the greatest impact they can, as if we were spending our own money. When you consider we own brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Walls, Magnum etc you begin to realise that the responsibility you’re given from day one effects how well we do in such a competitive and large category. I cannot stress enough how much this job is basically the win win scenario of corporate finance but has lots more to offer.

When applying for the job, like any job, it’s important to highlight your strengths as a rounded individual. It’s hard to come across arrogant when you simply talk through a experience or story which you know like the back of your hand. It’s also important to relate these narratives to the core competencies of the company you’re applying for. Unilever has 5 and in every answer to a question I thought about not only how to answer the competency they’re asking for, but the other 4 as well. Many people are well rounded, especially if you’ve been active outside of academia, and it’s just as important to demonstrate this as it is to align with a company’s core competencies. As always it’s also a wise idea to read as much about the company as possible. I had google alerts set up just on the word “Unilever” for example. What’s also important is how you highlight that as a student you had a strong analytical reasoning and logical approach. In fact I’d say that this is the strongest thing my degree gave me, so be sure to draw from it.

In the future I look forward to working in different parts of the organisation, working on both a global and national level. There’s also potential to work abroad, which in itself bring a new challenge and breadth of experience. I’d highly recommend applying now if you’re interested in working on something different yet career building. Unilever invest a lot in you (for example paying for you to qualify in CIMA) and this in turn really helps place you in a great position by the end of the scheme, where you’re placed in a management position.

Customer Management (Sales)

My First 5 Weeks at Unilever

Hey! I’m Catrin and I recently joined Unilever working in Customer Management (Sales). So why Unilever? And why Customer Management? Read on to find out why I’m working here and what I’m working on…

So what made Unilever stand out for me? I think the fact that the Unilever graduate programme is held in high regard and the vast portfolio of the products (including my favourite Ben & Jerrys!) are the main reasons why I chose Unilever. An important factor for me was also where the ethics of the company in environment issues lie, meaning learning about the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan which aims to reach 2 billion people, making a big impact through small everyday actions gave me reassurance.

I decided to apply to Customer Management (Sales), because my background is in sales and marketing, so for me it was an obvious choice. It combines both working with lots of people to create and maintain relationships, as well as getting down to the nitty gritty to maximise sales. Every day in customer management is not the same, it deals with every other busienss area in Unilever to break or make deals with customers.

So what have I been up to so far? I’m currently completing a 6 week field sales placement which every Marketing and Customer Management graduate does. Day-to-day we visit stores to look at anything from checking stock and promotions to helping smaller retailers with the layout of their store. The placement has given me instant exposure to retailers that sell our products every day. The insight I have gained has been invaluable and will now provide a strong foundation as I move to the Leatherhead office.

 I am very excited for my next placement when I’ll be working on creating new routes to market across all categories. The first meeting I’m attending is a top to top which is a meeting with all of the high level people in both Unilever and one of our customers, so straight away I am being thrown in at the deep end.

Being given as many opportunities as challenges means I’m always going to be developing and at Unilever it really feels like I can take my career in any direction, but one of my main priorities is to get as much experience as possible. I also love to travel, so exploring Unilever’s international business will be something I will be working towards. Wish me luck! The main advice I’d give applicants, as cheesy as it sounds, is to just be yourself.

You being a perfect fit for Unilever is as important as Unilever being a perfect fit for you. Even though the selection day is tough, I also had a really fun day and it made me realise that Unilever was a place I truly wanted to work. Unilever places high regard on our 5 core competencies(which you’ll find on our website) with everybody in the business, so having strong examples of each one is really important.

msvg Business & Technology Management (BTM)

2 Months In


I joined the Business and Technology Management graduate programme in September 2012 and, as someone who has just recently gone through the process, I am excited by the opportunity to provide some insight into my experiences with Unilever so far.

I think I speak for most when I say that all grads felt some trepidation at what lay ahead prior to starting, even up to the point when we all clambered onto a bus to travel to the hotel for our induction week at the start of September. Within a couple of hours, however, I was strapped to another graduate as part of the 3-legged race in the “Unilever Olympics” and, by that point, it’s safe to say any existing barriers had dissipated!

Various social events ensued throughout the week in conjunction with the presentations and activities that had been planned to further our understanding of Unilever. I was surprised by the number of senior leaders who were prepared to give up precious time to welcome us to the company. A personal highlight involved visiting one of our distribution centres in Cannock, before continuing our journey onto Port Sunlight. Perhaps embarrassingly, I had always been intrigued by how they make the Persil tablets so this was a welcome discovery! This was followed by two days spent within our specific business areas – a mix of work and fun – which provided further clarity around our roles and expectations.

My first placement has involved working with global teams in a business partnering role on a project called “Workplace”. This has entailed working on three sub projects; namely around reporting strategy, Master Data and the implementation of an energy monitoring solution for all non-manufacturing workplaces.

I’ve spent the first two months of my placement based out of our global office (100  Victoria Embankment) in central London, which has been great; aside from being an impressive building in a prime location, it has allowed me to gain close proximity to the business, our customers and consumers. There has been a real buzz here and it’s a gentle reminder of why what we’re all doing is so important.

Having said that, along with hundreds of other colleagues, my team will be relocating to Kingston as part of an exciting office move over the next couple of weeks. There has been a huge initiative to refurbish the office in recent months – in line with Unilever’s commitment to agile working – and I feel privileged to be one of the first to enjoy all of their hard work (needless to say, the Unilever shop has been well stocked in anticipation of our arrival!).

Working across three projects, I have been fortunate to meet three times as many people and I have been humbled by the amount of time and effort colleagues are prepared to give up to facilitate my learning and development. My manager is supportive (and patient!) but also encourages me to take ownership for my work – every day brings welcome challenges.

My experience at Unilever so far has surpassed expectations. The wealth of opportunity on offer soon becomes apparent and it’s refreshing to experience this as part of an established and supportive graduate network. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead!

(Thanks to MSVG on Flickr for the photo)

Research & Development

1 Month In

Hi, my name is Jiaxiang (Cherry) Zhang, originally from China.  Prior to Unilever, I obtained my MEng Chemical Engineering from Imperial College London. There were lots of discussions going on between me and my parents regarding my future plans. Unilever’s R&D China Programme just provided us with a perfect solution – spend the first 1-2 years in the UK, and then complete the programme in Unilever China.

It has been four weeks sincer I started my first placement in the Global Hair CTI (Consumer Technical Insight) team in Port Sunlight Research Centre.  My first two weeks were spent on meeting with my team and learning about my role. All my colleagues are very friendly and they are good at taking care of new starters. I never felt uncomfortable to ask questions, and even the personal ones like “Which restaurants in Liverpool do you recommend?” “What products do you suggest me to use for my hair?”

I started my projects on the third week. Rather than doing lab or pilot plant work, my role is all about consumer studies – understand what consumers want and need. I work very closely with consumers, hair salon specialists and research agencies, as well as the formulation and packaging teams. This is totally different from my previous understanding about R&D, but I have to say I am really enjoying it. It is always good to try different options before goes into a final decision – that’s the best thing I like about Unilever’s Future Leaders Programme (UFLP). I have already been asked to think about what I want to do, and where I want to be for my next placement. Changing every six months is very challenging, but it is always the challenge that makes people motivated.

There is one more thing I have noticed during my first four weeks. As a global team, most of our projects are collaborated with our colleagues from all over the world. This is another thing I like about Unilever. Even though I am an overseas graduate in the UK, I am not a foreigner to the global company. I was wrong to think that I will be exposed to a totally different world when I am transferred to Unilever China. It’s probably the same people and will be the same company culture , just my physical location will be changed to somewhere closer to my family. –  How lovely is that!