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Supply chain

Eight FMCG and consumer goods career options

Looking to work for a company such as Unilever, Johnson and Johnson or L’Oréal? We let you in on eight of the most popular roles on offer, so you can choose the one that suits you.

Supply chain | Procurement | Distribution and logistics | Management | Finance and financial management | Research and development | Engineering | Marketing | Sales and commercial | HR and recruitment

In consumer goods and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), you’ll likely be working with products that help many people in their everyday lives – whether that’s what they eat, what makes their hair shiny or what stops them from sweating. This might sound enticing, but do you know which type of role you’ll enjoy most? Whether you’re lured by the logistics side or research and development suits your innovative mind, we hope you find something for you among these eight ideas.

While we give a brief summary of the kinds of skills and academic attainments required for each of these areas, these can vary from employer to employer; as always, it’s important to check job descriptions. For graduate schemes with large employers, it's likely that you will rotate around different types of work within that function – so you'll get a feel for the specific roles you might prefer.

Career area one: supply chain/logistics

The supply chain is the series of processes involved in the whole life cycle of a consumer product. While logistics refers mainly to the transportation and storage of goods as one process within the overarching supply chain, many employers use ‘logistics’ and ‘supply chain’ interchangeably for graduate schemes or career areas.

Working in supply chain or logistics, then, could mean a number of different job titles and roles – such as sourcing materials, ensuring health and safety guidelines are appropriate and followed across stages of the supply chain, and working in the transportation and warehousing of materials. Customer service and distribution are also areas that can come under this broad area.

Whatever your role, you’ll be thinking about how the processes you preside over fit into the rest of the supply chain – and so are carried out effectively and efficiently enough for the whole system to run smoothly. You may have opportunities to research and implement ways to reduce the environmental impact of products, while ensuring that those changes make commercial sense.

So, the ability to look at the ‘big picture’ is important. Skills in organisation and communication will also come in handy, as will the ability to work well under pressure. Some employers – but not all – specify degree subjects, most commonly in engineering, sciences, IT, supply chain, logistics and business-related subjects.

Career area two: procurement/purchasing

Over the last few years, procurement has become a particularly important area of the supply chain for businesses – and one that they have increasingly been including within their graduate programme opportunities. Someone working in procurement will be responsible for sourcing and buying. This can involve any of the materials a business will use. You could work in a number of different teams; the graduates we interviewed about their experience on the Kerry Group procurement graduate scheme worked in packaging and travel, for example.

Your responsibilities could involve negotiating deals with suppliers, carrying out data analysis and producing reports, and working with colleagues across the supply chain to ensure that the right types and amounts of materials are provided. Identifying, monitoring and mitigating risk – such as considering the risk the reputation of the company caused by buying cheaper, but less environmentally-friendly, materials for products – could also be part of your day-to-day work.

The ability to understand processes and get to grips with how a business works as a whole is important to be successful in this area of work. Interpersonal skills, including the ability to negotiate and cooperate with people from different teams and companies, will also be beneficial. You may be able to start out as a graduate with a degree in any subject, although some employers will prefer certain subjects (eg business-related ones).

Career area three: finance and financial management

Working in finance for a consumer goods company, your work will essentially tie into one of these objectives:

  • providing the business with financial information that they need in order to operate and make a profit, adhering with required regulations and legislation
  • providing financial analysis and expertise to support business and investment strategies, new ventures and so on.

You may therefore undertake any of the following and more: internal audits (where you assess financial activities in preparation for external auditors); monitor and manage cost for one business area or one manufacturing site; produce management reports or statements; analyse the performance of products and trends; monitor, manage and report on financial risks; and research and feed into investment decisions. Depending on your role, you might be based in a head office or on a manufacturing site.

It is typical for you to be supported towards your CIMA (the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) professional accountancy qualification.

You’ll need numerical competence and good communication, problem-solving skills, negotiating and interpersonal skills, and initiative. Being results-driven and having good attention to detail are also important traits. Some recruiters require a minimum 2.1 degree and a related subject, such as finance, accounting, economics or a business-related degree, may either be required or preferred. Graduate schemes tend to be open to applicants from all degree backgrounds, but you’ll need to be comfortable with numbers in order to cope with a management accountancy qualification.

Career area four: research and development (R&D)

Consumer products companies are very forward-looking and innovative, and R&D is vital when it comes to staying ahead of the competition. In a graduate career in this sector you might be asked to improve existing products, develop new products, evaluate competitors’ products, liaise with raw material suppliers or supervise factory trials.

Scientific and technological investigation and testing are central to graduate R&D jobs, but you shouldn’t expect to spend all your time locked away in the lab – you’ll probably have plenty of contact with teams from other areas in the business, such as manufacturing and marketing, and graduate training programmes may be structured to support this. Other aspects of your work could include patent protection or ensuring that products have the lowest possible impact on the environment.

A degree relevant to the types of products and employer, for example in engineering, chemical engineering, food science, maths, sciences or design, is likely to be required. Recruiters want curious, analytical people who are willing to ask questions and follow them up in order to ensure that products evolve to meet consumer demands. Creativity and the ability to understand what customers want are also useful.

Career area five: engineering

When a new product is being launched, graduate engineers are involved in the process design for manufacturing it. They decide what machinery and equipment will be needed and how it will be maintained. Roles in production involve working on creating the product and ensuring it meets the required quality levels. Production supervisors manage the equipment and teams of people who run the production lines, and also liaise with other areas of the business and with external suppliers and distributors.

For engineering roles you’ll need a degree in an engineering discipline. You’ll need good communication skills, the ability to think on your feet, resilience and analytical ability, and the motivation to drive continuous improvement. You may need to be able to cope with shift work as production lines usually operate on a 24-hour cycle. For production roles, a slightly wider range of degree subjects may be considered.

Career area six: marketing

Working in marketing for a consumer goods company, you might find yourself marketing directly to consumers (business-to-consumer) or to businesses such as major supermarket chains (business-to-business).

If you work on marketing plans for particular products, you’ll cover the range of points at which consumers may come into contact with them: in stores, on the internet, through direct marketing and the media. You may have to take into consideration what happens after the consumer buys the product, too.

Marketing graduate schemes in the consumer products sector tend to be open to graduates from any degree discipline and you are likely to need at least a 2.2. Some organisations require a 2.1. You’ll need to be both creative and analytical, with good commercial awareness. You will also need strong negotiating skills. It will help if you can think strategically and on your feet, and communicate well with people at different levels.

Career area seven: sales and commercial

Work in sales and commercial can involve a partnership approach, in which sales representatives from the FMCG company work together with retail outlets to ensure that products have the maximum possible appeal for consumers, ensuring greater profitability for both.

Consumer goods companies seek to build relationships with a range of customers, from retail outlets such as major supermarket chains to distributors, influencers and consumers. Whatever type of consumer goods you are working on, you will be expected to develop an understanding of the market, the competition and the consumer.

Sales and commercial jobs are usually open to graduates from any degree background. Aptitudes for leadership and communication, working with diverse groups of people, negotiation, organisation and problem solving are likely to be highly regarded by employers. Financial competence and commercial awareness are also useful for work in this area.

Career area eight: HR and recruitment

Although consumer goods companies may seem like they are about products, they are actually about people. After all, products don’t come without the right people working on them. HR is therefore a key function of any consumer goods company, whether the HR professional’s role is to recruit the right people or to advise on employee relations (which covers everything from employee engagement initiatives to performance management issues).

You could be given your own HR projects to run within the first year of joining a consumer goods company as a HR recruit. For example, you could be asked to assess the working environment in a business unit to establish what is working well and helping employees to perform their best, and what needs to be improved.

While emotional intelligence will come in handy in this area of work as you’ll have to be able to effectively influence and advise employees, it’s also important to have the ability to make difficult decisions that will further the interests of a company – such as redundancies – without taking the feelings or frustrations of employees to heart. You’ll have to get to grips with and follow processes and legislation, and inspire confidence in managers and managees alike.

Recruiters will also look for a strong academic record and general market knowledge and interest. They will usually be willing to consider applications from a range of degree backgrounds.

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