What made you choose Unilever?
I chose Unilever because it is such a global company with masses of opportunities, but mainly because of its vast portfolio of prestigious brands, that I already value as a consumer such as Sure, Dove, TRESemméand Marmite! Also I felt the company’s corporate values which emphasised taking a wider responsibility for the impacts of the business on people, livelihoods and the environment, was something I admired. Finally, I was excited by the Customer Development programme as it provided a great opportunity to experience and understand how products get onto the shelves, at what prices and how they are presented.
Has it been how you expected it to be?
When people think of a summer placement, they might immediately picture a summer of photocopying and tea making. My placement at Unilever in Customer Development this summer was anything but! The placement started in June for twelve weeks. In comparison to other companies it’s a long placement, but it means you really get to grips with your role and you can get given real responsibility for projects. To top it off, that’s twelve weeks of pay, including holiday too. I worked in the Boots team, specifically on customer marketing. From day one I had a work plan, targets and a full induction programme and was very impressed with how organised my mentor was, I was even given my own laptop! The first two weeks involved absorbing a lot of information, but after individual inductions with members of the Boots team and brands I would be working on, I felt I had grasped the purpose of the business area and what I would be doing. During my first couple of weeks there were a couple of Customer Marketing team days which meant I got to meet lots of people, further enhancing my understanding of the business and I felt like I settled in quickly. I was given a significant amount of responsibility; some of my projects included the launch of a new Impulse body spray exclusively in Boots, this included working with external design agencies to create stylish point of sale materials. I was also responsible for the launch of the new Radox Bath Smoothies. This was interesting as I worked with advertising agencies to design adverts and select magazines for the adverts. My main project was a Dove Masterbrand promotion which included organising demos, magazine advertising, working with PR agencies to promote on Facebook and competition ideas to increase sales. Those were some of my in store projects, on top of that I was responsible for the running of Boots.com; working with the Boots online team to ensure that all Unilever visuals and messaging were correct.
How has the Programme changed you?
Doing a Summer Placement at Unilever has really increased my confidence in new and challenging situations. It has also given me significant insight and experience into the world of business and into the Consumer Goods sector, which in itself is a real boost to my CV. I now have a much clearer idea of where I want my career to go.
What have you enjoyed most?
I was really lucky with my placement in that I got to work closely with the brand teams, but I was in a customer team so I experienced the sales side of things too. For example, I got to attend a Toni & Guy relaunch meeting at Boots head office which was another great experience. I was based in the Leatherhead office which was a really cool working environment; it had lots of funky breakout areas, free Ben and Jerry’s, a huge free gym and a shop selling cost price Unilever products . This just added to a fantastic experience. I know all the other summer placement students felt really privileged to be based in such a cool office.
How has it stretched you?
As I was given such significant responsibility to deliver my own projects, it was definitely stretching as often there would be meetings which you were expected to lead and update the rest of the team on progress, despite only having been in the business a matter of weeks!
Has anything surprised you about it?
I wasn’t expecting to be treated so much as an equal to the rest of my team. In that way I felt a valuable member of the team, not just a placement student.
What were the people like?
The people were great. Definitely one of the best things about the programme, very like minded, enthusiastic, inspiring and team-focused people.
What have you learned? How quickly have you learned?
I learnt so much from my placement and in a really short period of time. Some of the things included technical skills in terms of managing budgets and forecasting accuracy, how, where and why products are displayed on the shelves in the way they are. How to get an advertisement into a magazine or on the television to who the targeted consumer was for the various brands I worked on. In addition, I gained skills in ways of working, from time management to communicating with customers and appreciating how different people in your team work and adjusting to this accordingly. You really do get real responsibility and have a specific role to play in the company; essentially the amount of responsibility you are given during the placement reflects how quickly you can pick things up. I feel I’ve got a real understanding of how an FMCG works and what works and what doesn’t in the marketplace.
What are you doing now?
Currently I am in my final year at Nottingham University studying Geography, but I am also doing a part-time role as the Unilever Student Campus Manager at Nottingham. In this role, I work with Unilever graduates to promote the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP) and organise events on campus for students to learn more about Unilever and the opportunities the company offers.
How are you putting into practice what you learned on the Programme?
I’ve been trying to use some of the skills I acquired over the summer in doing group work on my course and in my role as Unilever’s Student Campus Manager. I now have a better understanding how members of my group prefer to work and being sympathetic to this in order to get the best results. I am also focusing on understanding the type of student Unilever are trying to recruit in order to organise bespoke careers events tailored to attract this certain type of person.
Do you have any anecdotes in particular that illustrates how valuable the Programme has been for you personally?
Early on in my placement, I was fortunate enough to go on a team away day down to Dorset. We undertook a series of group challenges and fun exercises and at the end of the trip, I was chosen as best group leader by the account director. This really gave me confidence in my own ability and also showed that you don’t have to have the most experienced to show a high level of commitment and to motivate people to achieve a goal. I have also built up a series of great contacts and kept in contact with many people in the team I worked in.
How international has your experience been?
I was based in the UK Headquarters in Surrey and was working on a UK retail account so opportunities for travelling abroad were limited. However you are very aware of the global scale of the business and international opportunities available.
Do you get a real feeling that you’re being fast-tracked to management and leadership positions?
As with most things, you get assessed during the placement and if you are successful, then you get fast tracked to the final stage of the graduate recruitment process. There are lots of different summer placement and industrial placement opportunities (for those of you who have a year in industry), but I would highly recommend the summer placement to anybody who is motivated, enthusiastic, keen to learn and gain experience in a global company or insight into the world of consumer goods.
How are you managing to balance your work and life?
Unilever make it really accessible to get a good work life balance. I think that is one of the things I valued most in the company, from flexible time to working from home on certain days. They want to make going to work as enjoyable and easy as possible to get the best results.
(Thanks to R/DV/RS on Flickr for the photo)