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”

Rosie profile pic 2 Business areas

Surviving the Scheme: Rosie Smith, R&D UFLP

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”

Tom Heathcote desk profile Research & Development

One year in, one year to go: Tom Heathcote,…

I joined the R&D UFLP just over a year ago. When I joined Unilever, the R&D scheme was comprised of four different six month placements.  Usually one of these placements is situated in a function outside of R&D, such as marketing or supply chain, but it doesn’t have to be.

My first placement was in the Hair category as part of the Discover department in Port Sunlight. I was asked to investigate a new consumer trend in the marketplace and propose a strategy for how the company could respond to it.  A very open brief, and lots of freedom to shape and influence the actions Unilever will take in the future.  My days were spent learning the science of haircare, the needs of our consumers and making shampoo formulations in the lab.

Three months in to my first placement, I signed up for Dove Day, where Unilever employees across the world go into secondary schools to teach children about the importance of self-esteem and not falling for the unrealistic beauty standards set by the media. The thought of teaching a class of adolescent teenagers about a sensitive issue was pretty daunting, but I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done during my time at Unilever so far.

For my second placement, I moved to Leeds to work for the Design department as part of the deodorant brand Axe, or Lynx as it’s called in the UK. Here I took on a much more varied work plan.  I worked as a technical project leader for a couple of new products we plan to launch in various parts of the world.  I found knowing that I’ll be able to see the product I worked on in supermarkets (eventually!) is really motivating.  I also had a project investigating how to improve the scale up of our innovations; from formulating deodorants at lab-scale all the way up to factory scale.  For that project I worked very closely with the factory team we have in the US, and gained some great insights into the process required to ensure our products reach as many people as possible, in the best condition possible.  When I wasn’t working, I was training for a charity boxing match and trying to eat a little less chocolate than I usually do!

As I move into my out-of-function placement in the Walls ice cream marketing team, I’m looking forward to experiencing a whole different side to the company. I’ve loved every minute of the scheme and it’s already amazing to look back and see how much I’ve developed as a person.  The scheme throws you out of your comfort zone and will challenge you constantly.  It’s a huge challenge when you join a new department, in a new city, and get hit with a demanding set of goals to achieve.  But this is easily outweighed by the sense of excitement found in a new chapter, and there is always a solid support network around you in case you get stuck along the way.

Check out some of the other blogs for some great tips on applying for the scheme!

Emilia profile2 Customer Management (Sales)

My first few weeks as a Customer Development UFLP:…

Hi Everyone,

My name is Emilia and I have just joined the UFLP in Customer Development, or Customer Management (Sales) as it’s called in the initial stages of application. I’m currently based in Leatherhead, as a Customer Account Manager on Impulse and Out of Home Ice Cream. Like Alex did, I’m going to give you a bit of an insight into what I’ve been up to in my first few weeks and provide a glimpse into what life is like on the UFLP!

I joined the UFLP following a placement year in 2013/14 between my second and final years at Sheffield Hallam University, where I studied Business and Enterprise Management. On placement I was part of the eCommerce team working with ‘Pureplay’ customers (online only retailers), which was completely different to the current role I’m in!

In the build up to your first/induction week at Unilever, Unilever have a real hands on approach. Whether that’s through providing you with a functional buddy to provide an informal way to answer any of your questions, to relocation support, to organising events/times to meet others beginning the UFLP. By the time I reached induction week I had already met quite a few of the other people joining the UFLP which was great for dispelling any initial nerves.

This year the induction week kicked off in Liverpool, where amongst other activities we were given a tour of the Port Sunlight Factory, which was amazing. This year’s intake all had a photo on the steps of Port Sunlight. It was surprisingly difficult to get a group of adults to pose for a photo, all looking the same way and with our eyes open!

UFLPs 2015

The evenings of the induction week were filled with activities to help us all to get to know each other, from a murder mystery to a night of bowling and karaoke. It was great to not only meet those who were beginning the UFLP alongside me, but also to meet those further on in their UFLP path and talk to them about their experiences so far.

For CD and Marketing, our first few weeks are structured slightly differently to all the other functions, in particular because we complete a field sales placement prior to beginning in role. Field Sales involves many aspects, from checking stock, to negotiating activations with store managers and everything else in-between. Field Sales is a great introduction into Unilever as it provides real exposure to our brands, consumers and customers. I gained invaluable insight into the operational side of our products in store and it’s proved a great platform to build upon.

Whilst on Field Sales, I had the chance to meet my team prior to fully beginning in role, at a team away day in Newquay. Amongst team meetings, we also explored Newquay, looking at what Out of Home Ice Cream looks like in a seaside town. Newquay is also home to a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Parlour, where we stopped for a photo and an ice cream, or two! It was a great way to begin the transition into my new role, as I was able to meet the team on an informal basis, learn more about what is happening within ice cream at Unilever and also, at a more operational level, get out and about and have a look at what is currently going on in the wider world of ice cream.

Emilia B+J's

Flash forward to my first couple of weeks in role, my first day involved introductions and inductions with the wider team. Everyone was very welcoming and happy to answer all my questions, no matter how stupid I thought the question might seem (Tip: whilst you’re still getting to grips with your role at Unilever, there is no such thing as a stupid question!). I was also introduced to one of the many benefits of working within ice cream from day one… free ice cream! Although everyone here at Leatherhead can have free Ben & Jerry’s every day, the Ice Cream Team also house a freezer full of even more products, which we can help ourselves to, it’s making for a great mid-afternoon treat.

During the first few weeks, amongst getting to grips with my role and responsibilities, I have also had the opportunity to take part in a lot of training, from sessions covering broader companywide initiatives, to specific training for my role. Alongside this, as part of the UFLP, there is a specialised training and learning roadmap for each function. This roadmap builds upon the Unilever training and sets out the further opportunities for training and development all UFLPs have. It’s a really great programme that not only focuses on core development, but also aims to help all UFLPs develop skills that will prove invaluable in the future.

It has been a great few weeks and I’m looking forward to the next few months and beyond!


Ollie Smith-profile Human Resources

Tchaikovsky to TIGI: Ollie Smith, HR 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!

Liam Nutting profile Research & Development

One year into life as a R&D UFLP: Liam…

I graduated from University of Bath with a BSC in Chemistry with Management in 2014 and I am currently a 2nd year R&D UFLP. I enjoy going skiing, watching rugby and I’m quite a foody so I like getting stuck in in the kitchen and trying out new recipes. I am currently in my out of function placement in a Digital role where I am looking at how we can use technology to aid and improve the innovation process, I got onto the UFLP following an R&D industrial placement year (which we’ve now stopped doing) where I worked in the Laundry Liquid category based in Port Sunlight, throughout this placement I was given a great opportunity to not just get stuck into my day to day work but also to see the wider business and it was from this point I knew that Unilever, the work culture and the ways of working was something that matched with me and I was very keen to get onto the UFLP.

My first rotation was a Product development role in Beverages based out of Colworth where I spent a lot of time working on Lipton projects but also had part of a target which was focused on PG tips. I really enjoyed my first role and was impressed with the amount of responsibility I was given from an early stage, this was great as it meant I had to step up early on to ensure my workplan was delivered as I was ultimately accountable. Best tip for the start of any placement but specifically your first role is be prepared that it will all sound like a foreign language early on, what you need to do is keep track of all things that don’t make sense and then use your network to then figure these out. In a matter of weeks that foreign language becomes all too familiar and you will be reeling off all the acronyms as well. I don’t think you ever fully appreciate how much you’ve learnt in any role until you move roles and you switch from an important part of the team to learning a whole new language all over again!

One thing that I believe the UFLP delivers well is a personalised journey where if you are passionate about trying a different role then you can use your network to see if there is a space/opportunity available. I pushed to get my second role in process development in the Hair category in Port Sunlight, the main reason for this was it was completely different, the role, the category and the site. This basically meant that I was definitely going to have a very different placement to my first. I enjoyed this role a lot as it was very hands on and had some good tangible benefits, it also gave me a great insight into the cross-over between R&D and supply chain something that will be very useful to me throughout my career in R&D.

If you are thinking about applying I would recommend looking at the standards of leaderships as a good starting point for structuring responses in interviews and assessments as these are integral to how you will be rated during the process and also make sure you do your research and keep this research updated with things that are happening now not just the history of the business, this may seem a bit like a chore but it works both ways as the more research you do the better you’ll understand your fit to the business and then you will have a greater confidence going into interviews.